I’m on-off with South Park, and always have been. Initially I was “off” because I was annoyed by its lowest common denominator scatalogical can’t be bothered puerile humour, and then more recently I was “off” because I thought Trey and Matt’s popularity was pushing them into the establishment (cf. The Simpsons). Now I probably don’t need to tell you how very, very wrong I was both times – South Park’s immature side is but one facet of what I now genuinely believe to be one of the most brilliantly-written television shows ever produced, and if you think their edge is softening (the argument that things becoming popular automatically get worse is always a dangerous one, even when its true), you clearly haven’t seen this.
So after this latest spate of being “on”, I think I can safely say that “on” I will stay. Why? I was engaged in a heated pub-discussion about this very question recently (never engage in heated pub-discussions, they can have consequences) – if any other show, and I do mean ANY other show, showed a nursery schoolteacher having an affair with one of her pupils (maximum age 1 and a half), I’d switch off in disgust. How can a show which forces you to laugh at a crippled child at least once every five minutes be a good thing?
I think it’s largely about an expertly calculated tone, but I offer you three more tangible reasons that sceptics should give the show another try:
1) Cartman – the most complicated character in fiction. If he doesn’t get some kind of physical reaction out of you in under ten minutes, you aren’t human.
2) The Home-made vibe. If South Park has a huge production team who are often ignored, it’s because Trey and Matt ooze out of every scene. The show isn’t written, acted and directed nebulously, it’s made using lots of resources by a relatively small group of people who are both focused and totally in love with what they’re doing. As discussed with numerous friends and colleages recently, this alone will cancel out any shortfall in production values, and I think it goes some way towards negating shortfall in ethical ones as well (just a suspicion).
3) Spritual connection. As I have long-maintained (supported by this), Trey and Matt are the direct artistic descendants of Monty Python – in range and complexity of humour, style of animation, and social relevance. The passage of the years has done much to vindicate the at-the-time scandalously daring Python team, and whilst they never showed a nanny on her knees eating her own excrement, I think something similar could well happen to the South Park team. Here’s hoping.