South Park aired from August 1997 until ? on Comedy Central.
The most talked about new series of the 1997 season was not on the broadcast networks, or even on one of the major cable networks ( much to the dismay of them all). South Park, the outrageous cartoon about four foul-mouthed third-graders and their twisted little Rocky Mountain town, premiered on Comedy Central, which at the time was seen in less than half of America's TV homes. Word about it spread so quickly that by Christmas it was a smash hit, and South Park T-shirts, posters, and mugs were everywhere.
The setting was the permanently snowbound little town of South Park, Colorado. The kids were Stan ( voice of Trey Parker), the sensible one who threw up whenever he go too close to the object of his affection, oblivious Wendy ( Shannen Cassidy); Cartman (Trey Parker), the fat, cursing bully who was thoroughly spoiled by his single mom ( his favorite food: Cheesy Puffs); Kyle ( Matthew Stone), the Jewish kid who was never quite sure what that meant; and Kenny ( Matthew Stone), the shy little one who trailed along behind the others. Kenny's face was always hidden inside his heavy parka, and his voice was merely a mumble. Poor Kenny was killed in almost every episode in some gory accident, leading to the show's most popular catch phrase, "Oh my God, they killed Kenny."
Everyday life for the kids was filled with encounters with aliens, maniacs, mad scientists, and screaming and/or clueless adults , all of whom they met with a mixture of foul language and wide-eyed childish wonder. Among the town eccentrics were Mr. Garrison ( Trey Parker), the delusional teacher who spoke through a hand puppet he always carried with him; Pip ( Matthew Stone), the British student ;Shelley ( Shannen Cassidy), Stan's bullying sister; Jimbo ( Matthew Stone), a gun toting yokel; Mrs. Crabtree ( Shannen Cassidy), the cranky school bus driver; Officer Barbrady ( Trey Parker), the dense constable; green-haired Mrs. Mayor ( Karri Turner); Canadian TV personalities Terrance and Phillip ( Trey Parker, Matthew Stone), who farted a lot; and Mr. Hankey ( Trey Parker), a friendly little piece of poo ( i.e. feces). A frequently-seen feature on local cable TV was the show "Jesus & Pals," starring you-know-who. Keeping a watchful eye on the boys was Chef ( Isaac Hayes), a black former soul singer who ran the school lunch counter and who occasionally burst into a wholly inappropriate , sexually charged song as the little kids watched uncomprehendingly.
Guest stars sometimes appeared, and celebrities were often lampooned. George Clooney was rewarded for his early support of the show with the role of Stan's gay dog, Sparky ( he only barked). Among the notorious early episodes were "Mecha Streisand," a parody of old monster movies in which Barbra Streisand exploded into a towering egomaniacal monster and stomped on the town until she was stopped by Leonard Maltin, Sidney Poitier, and Robert Smith of The Cure; "Starvin' Marvin," in which the boys adopted a starving Ethiopian boy and met a corpulent Sally Struthers; and " Cartman's Mom is Still a Dirty Slut," in which Cartman discovered that his missing dad was actually his mom since she was a hermaphrodite.
Being slow learners , the boys entered the fourth grade in the fall of 2000.
The constant killing of Kenny became repetitive and in 2001 he was supposedly killed off for good. Replacing him as the fourth member of the group were Leopold "Butters" Stotch and later Tweek ( both voiced by Matthew Stone). Kenny's continuing popularity, however caused him to be resurected and by 2003 he was back-and his "deaths" became much less frequent. Chef was killed off in March 2006 ( Isaac Hayes had quit the show under somewhat murky circumstances, but reportedly because of a November 2005 episode lampooning his religion, Scientology).
The idea for South Park originated with a video Christmas card called "The Spirit of Christmas," created in 1995 for Fox television executive Brian Graden by two young Hollywood animators , Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In it Stan, Cartman, Kyle and Kenny witnessed a knock-down , drag out fight between Jesus and Santa Claus over the meaning of Christmas. The animation was crude, but the twisted sensibility made the tape a cult item, copied and passed around by the Hollywood in-crowd, one early booster being actor George Clooney. The networks predictably passed on the show, but struggling Comedy Central had little to lose and ordered a limited number of episodes. It not only became a major hit but forced cable systems around the country to begin carrying Comedy Central, as subscribers demanded to see "that show"they had been hearing so much about.
A Review from The New York Times
Cartoons About Children Feature Grown-Up Jokes
By CARYN JAMES
Published: August 13, 1997
Like most 8-year-old boys who spend a lot of time together, the friends in the animated series ''South Park'' have a phrase they repeat endlessly. ''Oh, my God, they killed Kenny,'' the boys are always yelling, and they're not joking. Each week, Kenny, the one muffled in a cheery red ski parka, is wiped out while his three pals look on: he is smashed by a U.F.O., stampeded by cows, impaled on a flagpole. In the best cartoon tradition, Kenny bounces back as easily as Wile E. Coyote.
That may be the only traditional element in ''South Park,'' the appealingly irreverent, decidedly adult yet uneven new series. The show is based on a hilarious short that was created two years ago as a Christmas video and was quickly passed around Hollywood. In ''The Spirit of Christmas,'' Jesus and Santa Claus duke it out, rolling on the ground and punching each other as they fight about who owns the holiday. The round-faced, innocent-looking little boys wonder which one to root for. That's when Kyle figures out what an advantage it is to be Jewish.
Already the characters had taken the shape they have in the series. They are made of bright construction paper cutouts and set against the snowy backdrop of South Park, their small Colorado town. Kyle, in the nerdy green cap with earflaps, and Stan, in the blue hat with the red pompom, are the most ordinary. Cartman is the tubby one with the whisky voice. Their language alone would be enough to earn the show its TV-M rating. In ''South Park,'' calling Cartman ''the fat kid'' would seem positively polite.
Making fun of Santa and other sacred cows is still the essence of ''South Park,'' which, like the Christmas video, was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. They also provide the boys' voices. But a regular, half-hour format makes it tougher to sustain wit and shock value. The series often seems more crude than irreverent, and its satirical targets too familiar and easy to hit.
Tonight, aliens abduct Kyle's baby brother, Ike, and visit Cartman. In the episode, called ''Cartman Gets an Anal Probe,'' flatulence takes the shape of giant flames that shoot out from Cartman's behind. In a future story, Kathie Lee Gifford comes to town. The spookily mild-mannered teacher, Mr. Garrison, decides to kill her because she once beat him in a children's talent contest. A hand puppet called Mr. Hat speaks for Mr. Garrison's psychotic side.
But in next week's episode, ''South Park'' takes a more consistent, surprising satiric tone. When the boys go on a hunting trip with Stan's uncle, Cartman says with complete and absurd sincerity, ''This is like the gun I used in 'Nam.''
So far, ''South Park'' succeeds best in small touches. The school cafeteria's chef is the town's only black man. His voice is provided by Isaac Hayes, and he is always bursting into inappropriately suggestive songs with lines like ''Kathie Lee, you're my sexual fantasy.''
However uneven it is now, ''South Park'' seems to have a future. It certainly has lucky timing. With the announcement that ''Beavis and Butt-head'' has stopped regular production on MTV, Kenny and his friends come along just in time to be the rude cartoon boys of the moment.
Comedy Central, tonight at 10
Animated series based on the short ''The Spirit of Christmas,'' created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Mr. Parker, Mr. Stone and Brian Graden, executive producers. Debbie Liebling, executive in charge of production.
An Article from Time Magazine
THE NEXT GENERATION
Monday, Aug. 18, 1997
By GINIA BELLAFANTE
Trey Parker, 27, and Matt Stone, 26, have had the sort of Hollywood good fortune that must rank right up there on the wish list of slacker filmmakers with dinner invitations from Parker Posey. Former film students at the University of Colorado, Parker and Stone were trying to make a go of it in the movie business in 1995, when they got a call from Brian Graden, then an executive at Fox 2000, who offered them an intriguing project. In search of livelier-than-average holiday greetings, Graden commissioned the pair to make a video Christmas card for him to send to friends and colleagues. The result was The Spirit of Christmas, an animated short film that centered on four crude-acting, blob-shaped third-grade boys forced to intervene in a nasty fistfight between Jesus Christ and Santa Claus. The tape was a smash, passed around and copied endlessly in media circles in Los Angeles and New York City.
Parker and Stone soon amassed fans including George Clooney, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins and a number of Comedy Central executives who offered the pair an animated series based on characters in the film. The result, South Park, debuts on the cable channel Aug. 13 (10:00 p.m. ET).
The show is clearly the product of two minds that have clocked a fair number of hours watching the work of Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-head) and Matt Groening (The Simpsons). The four main characters--Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny--have grating voices and feeble minds and show no aversion to scatological humor. The title, South Park, refers to the setting, a small hamlet where teachers are dolts, the mayor's first move in times of crisis is to call her personal stylist, and the school cook, in the show's wittiest turn, often breaks into imitation Barry White songs for no apparent reason.
What Parker and Stone want most, it seems, is to achieve the brilliant, bizarre randomness of The Simpsons. In one episode the boys encounter a mountain beast that weaves baskets. One of its arms is a stalk of celery; one of its legs is a full-figure replica of Step by Step star Patrick Duffy. Parker and Stone are not without broad imaginations, but South Park ultimately comes off as just so many out-of-nowhere jokes and images that don't take us anyplace.
The amalgam of clever references never really comes together, and it's hard to figure out what Parker and Stone are using their show to say beyond the fact that eight-year-old boys are silly and the world is filled with many useless celebrities. Unlike The Simpsons and Beavis and Butt-head, South Park is devoid of subtext--it isn't really about the emptiness of suburban life or the ugliness of youthful nihilism or the perniciousness of popular culture. Nevertheless, it can deliver many funny moments, and Parker and Stone may very well grow up someday to be a Judge or a Groening
--By Ginia Bellafante
A Review from Entertainment Weekly
Published January 16, 1998
Frat's entertainment at Comedy Central, home of the vulgar South Park and smut-mouthed Daily Show host Craig Kilborn.
A-By Ken Tucker
COMEDY CENTRAL South Park 10-10:30 pm WEDNESDAYS
COMEDY CENTRAL The Daily Show 11-11:30 pm WEEKDAYS
Comedy Central, until recently best known as the birthplace of Politically Incorrect plus your cable channel of choice for Penn Gillette voiceovers and hellishly endless reruns of Absolutely Fabulous, is now bustlingly busy coping with controversy -- in trying to make a distinction between attracting attention and going too far. At the moment, the big winner in the former category is South Park, the minimally animated cartoon series that scores Comedy Central's largest ratings with talking-poop jokes and the sight of third graders mooning each other. Big loser in the latter category is Craig Kilborn, chastened host of The Daily Show, recently back from a weeklong suspension for making sexist gibes in Esquire magazine about Lizz Winstead, cocreator of the satirical news show. (She's in negotiations to leave.) Given that PI's Bill Maher is another sweetie-baby-honey condescender who found a home on the channel, Comedy Central president and CEO Doug Herzog could chisel a credo over the door to his office: Home of Wisecracks and Butt Cracks.
South Park, the ongoing chronicle of four genially vile, mitten-wearing 8-year-olds, has replaced Beavis and Butt-head as America's premiere gross national product. The creation of two post-8-year-olds, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Park features animation so intentionally crude it looks as if children had made it, which only heightens the initial shock effect when the show's kids curse or emit flaming posterior gas.
I think one reason Park has such enthusiastic word of mouth -- didn't an awful lot of your friends jabber to you about the show's excrement-smeared Christmas episode? -- is that, because the show is tucked away on a still relatively obscure channel, each viewer thinks it's his or her own private discovery, and seeks to share it with the world. But South Park is also the essence of a novelty act: If you've seen one episode, you've seen 'em all. Parker and Stone are onto something in one respect, though. They divide the world into two obsessions: fecal matter and organized religion; their gamble is that if one doesn't slay ya, the other will. Accordingly, I will say in tones of grave disapproval that I find their turd-'n'-puke gags a threat to civilized society. I will also say that I find their regular portrayal of Jesus as the Son of God Eternally Peeved -- about the gullibility of the faithful; about that fat myth, Santa Claus -- wickedly hilarious and perversely moral.
The T-shirt-selling cult status of South Park has apparently boosted ratings for The Daily Show, which follows it a half hour later on Wednesdays and which will never approach Park's appeal if only because it requires a basic knowledge of the world beyond the bathroom. As a deft reader of often extremely funny satiric news items, Kilborn (a sort of Greg Kinnear corrupted by James Spader) is the latest in the increasingly long line of smarty-pants descended from Saturday Night Live's ''Weekend Update'' segment. But where Dennis Miller and Norm Macdonald are eager to prove they're above their snarky Paula Jones jokes, Kilby, as he likes to refer to himself, seems really into it; he looks like he gets off on being mean.
Which is where he ran into trouble with his bosses. The Esquire piece emphasized that Kilborn's swinishness is an act he works embarrassingly hard at and included obscene remarks about what favors Winstead might perform for him. This perturbed the same Central suits who apparently delight in South Park's coprophiliac cutups. (Memo to Kilby: When it comes to your workplace, oral sex bad, poo-poo good.)
Because men are so rarely called on sexist bad behavior, there was something satisfying about Kilborn's suspension, which occurred at precisely the time when I would imagine the Daily Show writers were amassing a big store of jokes about the ''Smack My Bitch Up'' Prodigy video. Plus, there was the added benefit of seeing the amusing Beth Littleford substitute-anchor the show and introduce a John Wayne Bobbitt story with ''Finally, a guy who doesn't think with his penis...''
Still, Kilborn must have been a tad perplexed at the disciplinary action, since the entire point of The Daily Show is to be mercilessly rough on everyone, with Winstead herself writing some of the show's most slashing jokes (that sharpness will be missed). Meanwhile, South Park gets off scot-free. Well, not completely -- professionally bitter Ren & Stimpy cartoonist John Kricfalusi has accused Parker and Stone of ripping off his piece-of-talking-poop character, Nutty the Friendly Dump, to create their piece of talking poop, Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo. Hey, remember when everybody thought Absolutely Fabulous was kinda racy? South Park: B- The Daily Show: B+
An Article from Time Magazine
Gross And Grosser
Monday, Mar. 23, 1998 By JAMES COLLINS
To understand South Park, it is necessary to understand Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo; and to understand Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo, it is necessary to understand his origins as recently described by Trey Parker, one of the show's creators. Now, it may not be immediately obvious why anyone would want to understand a series that features a stool specimen wearing a sailor hat and speaking with the voice of a castrato ventriloquist. But South Park, a cartoon about four profane third-graders, is the latest giant asteroid to slam into American pop culture, and so it requires our attention. Fortunately, it is also very funny, and Parker, 28, and his partner Matt Stone, 26, are the most genial purveyors of poo imaginable.
"One day, I think I was three or four," Parker recalled, speaking at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo., two weeks ago, "I guess I had a problem with flushing the toilet. Like I would go poo and then wouldn't flush it. And my mother would yell at me and yell at me. And so my dad--the geologist on South Park is my dad--my dad said, 'Well, Trey, you need to flush the toilet because if you don't, Mr. Hankey is going to come out and kill you.' And I'm like, 'What do you mean?' And he goes, 'Well, it just sits there, and you flush it. But if you don't, he'll come to life, and he sings a little song, and he kills you.'"
So Parker and Stone's most shocking invention is actually autobiographical. That is very revealing and confirms what one suspects while watching the show: that its creators are not simply out to offend people but are exploring the surreal terrors of childhood. The show would not be so funny, and its outrageous humor would not be shaded by such fear and poignancy, if it weren't an imaginative re-creation of authentic experience. Speaking to the Aspen audience, Stone said, "Face it, fart jokes are funny." This is profoundly true, and no one would want to take these jokes away from South Park. But, yes, it offers still more.
The show concerns four friends--Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny--who live in the small town of South Park, Colo. Obsessed by bodily functions, sometimes cruel but with a core of innocence, Kyle and Stan are modeled on Parker and Stone, while Cartman, the greedy fat kid, is a deranged fantasy figure and Kenny, who talks in meaningless muffled squeaks, dies violently in each episode (except the Christmas one). Kyle's exclamation, "Oh, my God, they've killed Kenny!," has become a catchphrase. The only sympathetic adult is Chef, the cook at the school, who drifts into a racy R.-and-B. number whenever he tries to give the boys a wholesome lesson in song (Isaac Hayes does the voice). As for the plots, in one episode aliens send a huge anal probe into Cartman; in another, "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride," Stan follows his dog to a sort of amusement park for homosexual pets. "Stan's dog's a homo!" is a typical line from that show. While the series is now created on a computer, Parker and Stone first used construction paper in their animation, which retains a flat, crude look with leaps into the fantastic. Altogether, the effect is Peanuts by way of Tim Burton.
South Park mania began almost as soon as the show debuted on Comedy Central last summer (it is shown on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. E.T.), and it has become the top-rated series on cable, seen by some 5 million people every week. While that is less than a third of the audience for the other animated adult hits, The Simpsons and King of the Hill, it is an impressive number, since Comedy Central is available in only about half the nation's homes. Not surprisingly, South Park is particularly strong among the 18-to-24-year-olds so coveted by advertisers. Viewing parties are the rage on many college campuses, where activities grind to a halt at showtime. Five percent of the audience is under 11 years old. It is the only regular series on TV to carry a Mature or MA rating, the harshest, and it can be blocked by the V chip. The best-selling T shirt last year was based on South Park; a movie deal is all but set; a sound-track album is being produced--can a theme-park ride be far behind?
Parker is from a small town in Colorado, and Stone grew up in a Denver suburb; they met when they attended film school at the state university in Boulder. In 1994 Brian Graden, who was an executive at Fox, saw their live-action film Cannibal: The Musical, and the connection that led to South Park was made. Graden says he couldn't get anyone interested in Cannibal, South Park or other ideas he tried to develop with Parker and Stone, among them a TV series about two apes who hang upside down and sing. To help his proteges pay the rent, Graden hired Parker and Stone to make a video Christmas card for him.
The result was The Spirit of Christmas, a 5-min. animated short in which Jesus and Santa Claus fight and curse each other over who has the bigger claim to the holiday. "I was supposed to send it to 500 people on my executive kiss-a__ list," says Graden, who has since moved to MTV. "And I saw it and thought, O.K., this is the funniest thing I've ever seen, but I can't send it to studio heads. So I sent it to about 40 friends, most of them not even in the business." Nevertheless, the tape was copied and passed around, and became an insider sensation.
Now everybody wants a piece of Parker and Stone. All the networks are interested in whatever they do for their next TV show, as are various production companies ranging from DreamWorks to Warner Bros. to Fox to Paramount. But Comedy Central isn't about to let them go. The network is renegotiating their contract upwards, and will make the change retroactive to South Park's debut. It is also seeking a long-term commitment from the pair.
Meanwhile, October Films will bring out Orgazmo, a feature-film porn parody written, directed and starred in by Parker, and produced and acted in by Stone. They are writing the screenplay of the prequel to Dumb and Dumber for New Line Cinema, and they are acting in BASEketball, a film by David Zucker, part of the team that made the Airplane! movies, which Stone and Parker greatly admire. BASEketball is shooting now, and Zucker says of his stars, "They're up all hours. They work all day on this movie, then they go and write South Park. They have people on the set constantly coming up to them with plotlines and other things that demand their direction."
Graden says Parker and Stone are two of the sweetest people he has ever met, and others use the same words about them. They seem to be easygoing and unpretentious. Despite their irreverence, they aren't a pair of would-be Lenny Bruces living on comedy's dangerous edge. Whatever one's view of South Park, it's hard to dislike two filmmakers whose greatest heroes are the members of Monty Python and who talk about them with such enthusiasm. "To this day, when our heads are getting a little big," Stone says, "if we go and put on an old Flying Circus or something, you just watch that and you're like, 'What the hell are we doing?'" The two take an appealingly humorous view of their success. In Hollywood, executives sometimes actually pay to be the first to hear a hot writer's ideas, and Parker and Stone joke that they're going to charge $40,000 and then just go in and improvise.
All in all, then, the South Park phenomenon is a benign one. Nevertheless, there is a problem: while the show has many virtues, it should be smarter and more surprising. It's a pretty stale idea now to think that Streisand and David Hasselhoff and MacGyver are instant punch lines, and in general Parker and Stone express too much fascination with cheesy pop culture, a subject whose interest has been exhausted. As for their "satire," is it really so very clever to give Jesus a public-access show? Were not stoned sophomores dreaming up this sort of thing 20 years ago? Most troubling is that the series already seems to be running low on imagination, which even the most maniacally contrived sequences cannot hide.
Still, South Park can be inspired, and not only on account of its vibrant vulgarity. It has subtle touches too, like the traffic sign that looms above the boys as they wait for the school bus at the beginning of most episodes. The sign, one of those iconic warnings to drivers that children are at play, shows a little girl and boy running hand in hand. This is the kind of vernacular image that Parker and Stone, like so many visual artists, love to use, and here it quietly sounds the notes of childhood and danger, two subjects at the heart of South Park. Just ask Kenny.
--Reported by Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles
An Article from The New York Times
TELEVISION/RADIO; A Study Guide for 'South Park'
By LISA ZEIDNER
Published: November 19, 2000
I TRIED to go database-shopping for some scholarly articles on Comedy Central's ''South Park.'' After all, in a time when academics will solemnly analyze any contemporary ''text'' -- even cigarette advertisements -- ''South Park'' offers enough cultural allusions, and fancy feints of irony, to keep legions of critical theorists busy. I was hoping for titles like ''Big Gay Al, Homoeroticism, and the Semiotics of Masculine Desire'' or '' 'Oh My God, They Killed Kenny': Repetition and the Ideology of Closure in 'South Park.' ''
Alas, the American academy has not quite caught up with the show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. One downloadable term paper, Melinda Hsu's ''Complicity and Distance: Postmodernity in South Park,'' analyzes how the show ''seriously transgresses regimes of meaning and order.'' Another article, ''The Innocence of Children: Effects of Vulgarity in 'South Park,' '' by Emily Ravenwood, a doctoral student at Ohio State, deems the show Rabelaisian in its use of motifs of ''digestion, defecation and copulation'' and rightly notes that we mostly call a work ''vulgar'' when our aim is to dismiss it as low art.
As ''South Park'' entered its fourth season, I spoke recently with Mr. Parker, 31, and Mr. Stone, 29, about their work, starting from my conviction that despite the flatulence jokes, the show is most assuredly capital-A art. ''The boys'' (as their publicists call them) were quite capable of going what they called ''high-falutin' '' with their commentary, even if they're more likely to talk about ''ripping on a celebrity'' than about renegotiating their relationship to cultural commodification.
Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone think so much in tandem that they can finish each other's sentences, and since they also happen to sound very much alike, an interlocutor on a conference call is treated to a seamless, hyped-up Ping-Pong of verbiage. It's sort of like talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Part of what makes ''South Park'' unusual is the closeness of the collaboration. ''The jokes are for each other,'' Mr. Parker says. ''I say something and Matt laughs or vice versa. We never say, 'Kids are going to like this,' or, 'Better stick this one in for World War II vets.' '' Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone still write, direct, edit and do most of the voices for each episode in an intensely improvisational way, often going from idea to air in as few as four days.
THE JOKE'S ON YOU: DECONSTRUCTIONISM AND EVADING EXPECTATION.: Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone met as film students at the University of Colorado in Boulder. While their classmates reverently watched black-and-white foreign films, ''the outcasts'' were likely to be comparing notes on ''Monty Python,'' which they'd worshipped as 8-year-olds ''without even knowing England was a country,'' Mr. Stone says; ''we just thought if you did comedy you talked funny.'' Mr. Parker puts his finger on the paradox of risk-taking art when he declares that ''you can't make experimental work by copying past work.''
''It was so funny for us to watch how avant-garde work, out to break the rules, became this establishment thing,'' he says.
Mr. Stone explains, ''We've been calling ourselves deconstructionists since we started, because we were just two guys and we didn't care.'' Both hated the formulaic nature of sit-coms. ''We set up a cliffhanger -- 'Who's Cartman's Father? Find Out in Four Weeks' -- then never said who the father was, thinking that's so dumb that shows do that and if we did it on 'South Park' people would think, 'That's so sweet,' because the whole point of 'South Park' is to deconstruct the whole thing of television. Instead we got flooded with phone calls. Our audience didn't want a joke played on them.''
But they're adamant about being willing to alienate their fans. ''We aren't about to say, 'You know what, people like to hear Chef sing and watch Cartman eat Cheezy-Poofs, so let's keep doing that because it works,' '' Mr. Parker says. Mr. Stone, who studied math in college, has thumbed his nose at television executives' hunger for a successful formula by somberly informing them that ''there's a mathematical pattern for comedy and it's 37 jokes per hour across a Fibonacci sequence or something, and a couple actually said: 'Wow! That's interesting!' ''
Not only do Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone avoid identifying the winning formula; they're most attracted to ideas that seem like poor ones. This season's episodes include a complete animated version of ''Great Expectations'' with no regular ''South Park'' characters except one extra, the little English boy conveniently named Pip. ''The formula thing,'' Mr. Stone says, ''would be to bookend it with the kids or have the kids listening to the story, but no, we're just doing it from beginning to end. Why?'' Mr. Parker jumps in: ''Because it's a bad idea.''
Mr. Stone explains: ''Our college film about cannibals everyone said was a horrible idea. We did a film about the porn industry that had no female nudity. Terrible idea. So now every time anyone tells us something's a bad idea, we're like, 'Cool!' ''
They have further called their slap-happy star-bashing ''deconstructing celebrity,'' and claimed for it a high moral purpose. The American devotion to the intrinsic goodness of its Hollywood royalty, Mr. Parker believes, ''has crossed the line into a national pathology.''
''Our whole thing is that we rip on anyone -- even people we like,'' he continues. ''At the beginning it was considered heretic.''
SURREALISM, POSTMODERNISM AND A PINK SPIDER WITH THE HEAD OF CHRISTINA AGUILERA.: I asked Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone whether they had any feelings about Bunuel's films, Dali's dripping clocks or any other works of Surrealism (the avowed influences of Monty Python). After all, a show that features a legendary monster named Scuzzlebutt with a celery stick for one leg and ''Television's Patrick Duffy'' for the other, or children on Ritalin who hallucinate pink spiders with the head of Christina Aguilera, seems related to all of the techniques of postmodern collage. The references generally mix high and low (one episode alludes to both ''Moby-Dick'' and ''A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum''). Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone also delight in juxtaposing absurd inventions (tampons made out of Cherokee hair) with absurdities that are in fact true (the North American Man-Boy Love Association), and blurring the distinctions between truth and invention.
''We do make a point of doing unexpected things,'' Mr. Stone says, and even admits to flinging the word ''Dada'' around occasionally. ''But on the other hand there is a logic to character and emotion. Because it's animation, we could say, 'Hey, let's have an elephant walk through the frame right now'; why not? But we don't. We don't use any cartoon sound effects'' -- here Mr. Parker provides a very compelling ''doink.''
Nor, Mr. Parker adds, do they use cartoon visuals: ''Cartman's eyes never bulge out of his head or anything like that; the characters aren't stretchable.'' By using high-tech computer animation methods to get their distinctive low-tech look, and by having such unrealistic-looking little boys talk so much like real little boys, Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone rewrite the relationship between animation and reality in a highly original way.
Thus it was actually shocking, last season, when Elian Gonzalez went from that closet in Miami right to cartoon character. If Mr. Stone and Mr. Parker have their way, it'll be equally jarring this new season as Cartman, Kenny, Stan and Kyle advance to fourth grade and get a new teacher. Why? ''Because it's a bad idea,'' Mr. Stone says. ''There's no reason you have to have them get older. No other cartoon character really does that.''
''SOUTH PARK'' AS A CRITIQUE OF HEGEMONIC CAPITALISM, OR, AS THE BOYS CALL IT, THE BACKLASH AGAINST THE BACKLASH.: Can you say ''Hegemony''? In other words, can a show really expose the inanity and hypocrisy of culture when it becomes this popular with the very types of people it sets out to mock? The audience, after all, sports a demographic that delights advertisers, and its fans are as schooled in the in-jokes as any audience of the ''Rocky Horror Picture Show.'' Could ''South Park'' be defeated by its own success?
Not, Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone believe, if they manage to avoid taking their position too seriously -- if they maintain the purity of invention that they like to call ''two guys in a room.''
''We got to Hollywood,'' Mr. Parker says, ''and passed the time by ripping on celebrities, and then became celebrities ourselves and now people rip on us. And we're like: 'Good. Good. Do it.' Bring on the backlash against the backlash. Because not doing it is what we're against.''
An Article from The New York Times
Norman Lear Discovers Soul Mates in 'South Park'
By JESSE MCKINLEY
Published: April 10, 2003
At 10 p.m. on March 19, moments before President Bush took to the airwaves to announce the beginning of the war on Iraq, several million Americans were taking in a completely different view of the state of the union and life on Earth.
This audience was tuned into Comedy Central for the season premiere of ''South Park,'' the cartoon whose heroes -- four foul-mouthed fourth graders named Kyle, Stan, Kenny and Cartman -- were being informed by an alien disguised as a giant talking taco that the Earth was not a planet at all but rather an advanced reality television show that pitted species and races against one another for fun.
''Asians, bears, ducks, Jews, deers and Hispanics, all trying to live side by side together on the same planet,'' said the giant taco, enthusiastically. ''Great TV, right?''
''Dude, that's messed up,'' said Kyle.
''Why?'' asked the taco.
''You're playing with people's lives,'' said Stan. ''You're turning people's problems into entertainment.''
''Yeah,'' said Cartman, the most crude, cruel and deadpan member of the group. ''We'd never do that on Earth.''
The episode was the first of several this season teaming the creators of the show, Matt Stone, 31, and Trey Parker, 33, with grand poohbah of American television satire, Norman Lear, the 80-year-old who in his youth -- all right, his middle age -- produced groundbreaking shows like ''All in the Family,'' ''Maude'' and ''Sanford and Son.''
It was Mr. Lear who came up with the idea for the giant talking taco and the reality television theme during a three-day retreat for the show's writers in February in Scottsdale, Ariz., a session that Mr. Lear said was unlike any writers meeting he had ever been to.
''These guys are nuts,'' Mr. Lear said during a conference call with Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone. ''But they're also very, very smart. They throw out a lot in very little time.''
He added that while they spend a lot of time talking nonsense -- he used another, unprintable word -- ''about half the time is spent talking ideas and politics.''
Mr. Lear's involvement with ''South Park'' can be traced to his 11-year-old son, Ben, who forced him to watch an episode about three years ago. Mr. Lear was amazed.
''I couldn't believe what they were getting away with,'' said the man who put the outspoken blue-collar Archie Bunker in people's living rooms. ''I thought it was hysterical.''
Mr. Lear later asked if he and Ben could visit the show's offices in Marina Del Rey, Calif. Soon after, the three began to talk about writing together.
Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone said they figured they'd take a chance.
''We receive many résumés in the mail every day,'' Mr. Stone said. ''I said: 'I like this kid. Let's call him in.' ''
''I didn't tell them I had help with the résumé,'' Mr. Lear responded.
''Norman likes to talk about the same things we like to talk about,'' Mr. Parker said. ''He said, 'Maybe I can come to a writers meeting,' and I said, 'We'll give you $100.' ''
''And I needed the $100,'' Mr. Lear said.
Jokes aside, these are heady times for ''South Park.'' Last night marked its 100th episode, a victory for a show that many people thought was too rude even for cable. (That number also means the series now has enough episodes for syndication, which means a major payday for the creators.) Earlier this week Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone renewed their contract, assuring that the series will continue through fall 2005. The contract also includes an option for a 10th season in 2006, an extension that would make the show the longest-running comedy series ever on cable, said Lisa Chader, a spokeswoman for Comedy Central.
''South Park'' also continues to be the highest rated show on Comedy Central, attracting some 2.5 million viewers every Wednesday. What those viewers see would probably shock someone who never strays beyond the standards-and-practices of network television. ''South Park'' has gotten more biting as it has aged, taking on everything from stem cell research (in an episode that featured a caricature of the paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve as a super-villain) to the television psychic John Edward, whom Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone ridiculed last season in an episode with yet another unprintable title.
Much is still the same as when the show began in 1997, including its cardboard-paper animation (done by a crew of 25 at the show's studio) and the knowingly poor imitations of celebrity voices, many of which are done by Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone. Isaac Hayes is still around doing the voice of the funky, sex-wise cafeteria chef, named Chef.
The show also continues to mock racial and cultural stereotypes with broad caricatures of Jews, blacks, gays and of course white people from Colorado, where Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone met as undergraduates at the University of Colorado.
Mr. Stone said that although he and Mr. Parker were more conservative politically than Mr. Lear -- a founder of the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way -- they shared the sense that television could do more than entertain.
''He's a role model in the way that he cares about this stuff and does stuff about it,'' he said. ''He was telling stories about fighting with the networks during 'All in the Family,' and it was really reassuring. I mean, Trey and I never thought we were the first people to go through this with the network, but it is amazing to know that he was going through it before we were born.''
Mr. Lear said he was interested in continuing to contribute to the show and would like to take on other issues this season, including immigration and the war in Iraq. The 100th episode featured the boys using an antiwar protest to skip school and Cartman trying to have a flashback to 1776 to avoid a history exam.
''You want to know what the most satisfying thing in the world is?'' Mr. Lear asked. ''I have a great son, and to be able to watch it with him and say, 'Look, this has something on its mind.' Hysterical as they may be, it's wonderful to see something serious in the midst of all that tomfoolery.''
An Article from The New York Times
The TV Watch
A 'South Park' Character's Return Becomes an Opportunity for Revenge
By ALESSANDRA STANLEY
Published: March 24, 2006
Isaac Hayes left "South Park" after an episode of the animated series on Comedy Central savagely mocked his religion, the Church of Scientology, and its most famous follower, Tom Cruise.
Earlier this month, Comedy Central pulled a rerun of the offending episode, "Trapped in the Closet," after speculation that Mr. Cruise was displeased. Viacom, the parent company of Paramount, is about to release Mr. Cruise's movie, "Mission: Impossible III." Oh, and Viacom also owns Comedy Central.
It looks like two sides are pretty much even.
Yet the creators of "South Park" didn't make fun of Viacom's pliability on the premiere of the show's 10th season Wednesday night. Instead, Matt Stone and Trey Parker reserved their scorn for Mr. Hayes and the Church of Scientology: the episode was entirely devoted to portraying Mr. Hayes's character, Chef, as the victim of a sinister brainwashing cult.
On "The Return of Chef," the boss of the school cafeteria comes back to South Park strangely altered. It turns out that Chef joined the Super Adventure Club, a ring of globe-trotting, mind-controlling pedophiles. After the boys snap Chef out of his trance (he yells disjointed phrases too obscene to print here), his former captors hunt him down and he appears to die a gruesome death.
"We shouldn't be mad at Chef for leaving us," Kyle says at the funeral. "We should be mad at that fruity little club for scrambling his brains."
Any resemblance to celebrities and religions, living or dead, is purely coincidoodle.
Scientologists can seem peculiar and overly defensive. But so can the executives at Viacom. The media giant has a history of pressuring its subsidiaries to cave under pressure: CBS canceled the mini-series "The Reagans" after a right-wing lobbying campaign threatened a boycott of advertisers' products. (CBS also disinvited Janet Jackson from the Grammys after her "wardrobe malfunction" during a Super Bowl halftime show, which was produced by yet another Viacom company, MTV.)
"South Park" is an anarchic, sophomorically profane series famous for fearlessly knocking all kinds of taboos; most recently it lampooned Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" and the Terri Schiavo case. So once Mr. Hayes left and Comedy Central canceled the offending episode, it seemed natural to expect its creators to poke fun at Viacom as well as Scientology. Both institutions seem equally ready to sacrifice their members' freedom to protect their image and well-being, except that Scientology doesn't pretend to traffic in free speech.
It is silly, of course, to expect high dudgeon from satirists whose show became an underground hit in the 1990's as the voice of a new generation of slackers. But as the show increased its coverage of topical issues, it began being taken more seriously and watched more carefully — a little like "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."
And that makes the tone of Wednesday's episode all the more noticeable. For one thing, Mr. Hayes seems like an odd target for semiserious satire: nowadays, he seems as much a comic nostalgia figure as a performer, the Wayne Newton of blaxploitation movies ("Shaft" is his "Danke Schoen").
It seems that the only way "South Park" could tweak its parent company was to make even more fun of Scientology, almost daring Viacom to censor it. "The Return of Chef" was funny, and it was even more savage about the religion founded by L. Ron Hubbard, than the first, much-contested episode, "Trapped in the Closet," which was originally shown on Nov. 16 and was scheduled to be shown again on March 15.
"Trapped" made merciless fun of Mr. Cruise and Scientology, but stuck mostly to the church's actual beliefs, including such notions as frozen aliens and a Lord Xenu who ruled a galactic federation of planets. (A subtitle read, "This is what Scientologists actually believe.")
On Wednesday, the writers made pedophilia part of the make-believe doctrine of the Super Adventure Club and laid out many other outlandish tenets about the club's theories of creation and immortality. Once again, the writers added a subtitle saying that this is what club members "actually believe."
The parallel to Scientology could not have been more obvious. But it was the parallel between Viacom and Scientology that made this episode necessary in the first place.
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