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South Park Review

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by Simon Crust Oct 1, 2005

    Many a true word is spoken in jest.

    Just as science fiction can pass comment on contentious subjects by placing them in fantastic story lines, so too can the humble comedian. By discussing contentious, political or other subjects but interweaving it within humour, serious points can be made. Satire became hugely popular in the early sixties with the Beyond the Fringe team. From its debut on the stage, Beyond soon made its way onto television and opened up the talents of the four writer/performers Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore to a whole new audience. The British have long been able to laugh at themselves and the establishment, it is why there where so many successful comics of that time. Things have changes a great deal over the years, British comedy, more specifically new comedy, doesn't contain the edge it used to. The satire flag was raised a little in the early nineties with The Mary Whitehouse Experience, by Mark Thomas albeit with a far more political 'show and tell' stance, and more recently Christopher Morris, but all these shows were relegated to late night second channel positions. The American sitcom now sits proudly on top of the world; giants such as Seinfeld or Frasier, although now finished, still remain a bench mark. Yet Americans have never managed to crack the satire nut, that is, not until 1997. For that was the year when the Trey Parker and Matt Stone's collaboration of South Park first hit the TV screens.

    South Park started life as an indulgent animated short for its two creators and since then has matured into a sophisticated satirist show. It has the reputation for being vulgar, crude and shocking and it is, but it is also smart, well written and original. In amongst the homosexual, poo, fart and swearing gags there are some serious underlying issues. Nothing is held sacred, nothing is beyond reach and all are brought to life with that wonderfully 2d animation that belies its cheap look. It is this simple animation that allows Parker and Stone to indulge their every whim, violence and pornography when viewed through this medium seems as innocent as the eight year old characters themselves.

    Originally started with four main characters, Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny, who had the unfortunate habit of being killed in every episode, in this the six season Kenny remains dead after his demise at the end of season five. This marks a turning point in the series as the characters spend time out to deal with that fact. This season then has the overall arc of the three remaining characters trying to find a replacement for him. Enter first Butters, whom the boys treat really badly then dump in favour of Tweek. Within this, extremely vague, arc there are episodes that deal with some extremely sensitive material; the exploitation of genetically deformed people from birth sensitive enough? How about child molestation? Or AIDS? The skill of Parker and Stone not poking at these subjects, but at the attitude towards them is never better realised than having adults discuss atheism while crapping out of their mouths, literally talking shit. By skilfully blending vulgarity, sincerity and issues each individual episode has something new to say, the show has matured greatly from its beginnings and is all the better for it. With little or no interference from Comedy Central the cable channel that supports South Park, Parker and Stone have carte blanch over their content, they really are advocates of free speech and use their platform to the fullest. For example, both abhor the alteration of Star Wars and E.T. by their respective directors, what better way of expressing their hatred than by broadcasting their feeling to a wider audience, many of whom feel the same. It is this self indulgent attitude that some point to as the limited appeal of South Park; whilst there is an argument for that, the appeal for South Park is always going to be limited. This is a real shame, just as British terrestrial channels marginalise our own satirists, South Park manages to marginalise itself by veiling all its worth under a cover of Smut. Many can't get over the South Park film Bigger Longer and Uncut. Perhaps the worst advert for the series there is.

    However, the series does still live on, now into its ninth season, and still going strong. In this the six season there are some classic episodes, one of which The Return of the Lord of the Rings to the Two Towers is regarded by many to be the best of the entire series run, also hailed by its creators as the best South Park can be. And rightly so, it is a tightly written comedy skit in which the boys try to return the Lord of the Rings tape, in actually it a porn film, to the store, on realising its potential for evil, i.e. everyone that sees it becomes corrupted by it, they venture to destroy it. Another instant classic is the Simpson's did it, where the creators take a bow at their rival. Each episode of the season has something to say and each episode is funny with it. In taking ideas from current events it is possible that the show could continue indefinitely. I hope it does, both Parker and Stone have a talent for comedy, be it vulgar or not. Stan, Kyle and Cartman will continue to spout there inane and bleeped dialogue all the while getting us to look at there serious issues that underpin our world. After all in such a world all you can do is laugh.