We’re living in a golden age of television. The world’s best actors, writers and directors are dedicating their talents to the small screen, and studios are spending millions of dollars on single episodes. But the best show on TV looks like it was put together with construction paper by a couple of students.
Now in its 18th season, South Park erupted onto our screens in a blaze of profanity and anal probes in 1997. For many people, it is still that show where the only thing cruder than the animation is the sense of humour.
But five episodes into their 18th season they have tackled crowdfunding, taxi apps, drones and the issue of internet privacy. The next episode to air is called ‘The freemium isn’t free’. It’s like they’re slowly working their way through Techly‘s topics tabs.
Simply put, if you read Techly, or any tech/gadget site, you have to watch this show.
Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have kept a firm hand on the tiller from day one. Matt Groening may have created The Simpsons but he has a total of four writing credits for the show’s entire run, the most recent of which came in 1996. And while Seth MacFarlane continues to lend his vocal talents to a large chunk of the characters on both Family Guy and American Dad, he has chalked up a grand total of five writing credits across both shows in their entire run.
Parker and Stone have a writing credit for every episode of South Park ever, with Parker having also directed 215 episodes of the show’s 253 to date.
However if you were turned off by the early episodes of South Park – Parker and Stone themselves have openly admitted season two was terrible – you need to give it another go in the present season.
First, while Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman remain the show’s four main characters, the cast has expanded enormously. Stan’s dad, Randy, now receives significant air-time and his struggles coming to terms with the modern world are topical, often touching, and consistently hilarious.
How they are able to be so topical is the second reason you need to give South Park another go.
The show was initially created using hand-cut construction paper, a pain-staking process which meant a 22-minute episode took months to finish. Computers soon replaced the hand-made method, but the creators insisted on maintaining the extremely basic animation. This meant the animation didn’t have to be farmed out to studios in Korea, like other cartoons, but could remain in-house at South Park Studios.
In fact every aspect of South Park – all the writing, animation and voices – are created in-house and the process has been streamlined to the point that each episode is created from scratch in the space of six days.
(The insane production schedule was shown in the documentary ‘Six days to air‘, which you should absolutely watch.)
This crazy-fast turnaround is how they can be so topical – they had a reference to Saddam Hussein being caught in a spiderhole the day after it happened, and used lines from Barack Obama’s 2008 election victory speech the night after he beat John McCain.
Their way of taking on these heady issues is by being as basic and at times offensive as possible.
And while they set out to offend – in a recent episode they had Elon Musk slap a developmentally challenged child – it’s actually a tremendously principled show. The ethos of ‘if everyone’s offended then no one’s a victim’ rings true, but by the end of an episode they tend to have landed on one side of a particular issue.
To taxis and other services who complain apps like Uber are squeezing their business? “Maybe [these apps are] a kind of economic natural selection where the more diligent workers are weeding out the useless ones.”
Of internet privacy? “When you start invading people’s privacy, thinking it’s harmless to put up pictures of them they didn’t want up… You start a domino effect that eventually screws everything up for everybody.”
What the process is for companies getting funded via Kickstarter?
Of course if it comes out of Eric Cartman’s mouth, it’s generally the opposite of what they believe – “Jennifer Lawrence’s butthole didn’t take a picture of itself. It started with her.”
Yes, I’ve been a fan of the show for years, and really I’d say it’s grown with me. Season 1 spoke to me because it featured a talking poo and I was 12, so that was comedy gold. However, while they have fiercely held on to their toilet humour, these days the childish and immature laughs contrast with their message, serving to underline it.
Last year’s season finale was called ‘The Hobbit’, and was about the ways celebrities use photoshop to manipulate their image. Kanye West appeared throughout, ranting about why Kim Kardashian (who is short, fat and hairy – a hobbit) isn’t a hobbit. It was tear-inducing funny.
But the final scene of the episode saw eight-year-old Wendy Testaburger use photoshop to make herself appear more ‘attractive’ online after relentless pressure. It was poignant, powerful, and I again had to wipe away a tear.
South Park is an incredibly divisive show – it’s vulgar, violent (seriously, they do more graphic violence than Game of Thrones, it’s just funnier), and offensive. But if you haven’t seen it in years, maybe it’s time to give it another go.