South ParkRemember when you were in college, or maybe when you were in high school, and you had some dumb, bizarre ideas that you were convinced would be the Next Big Thing, if only you could get your big break?
Well, Trey Parker and Matt Stone got that big break. Their dumb, bizarre idea was a tasteless cartoon animated from construction paper cutouts with rather more enthusiasm than skill. As film students at the University of Colorado, they made a short feature featuring the foul-mouthed children of a town called South Park.
Their first cartoon featured Frosty the Snowman going on a homicidal rampage through the town, until Jesus arrives to do battle. While other aspiring film-makers slaved away sending out samples of their work to executive after executive, Stone and Parker lucked out when someone in Hollywood saw the feature and commissioned a follow-up to be used as a video Christmas card, which was sent out to the entertainment industry's A-list. Pretty much instant success followed.
The duo signed with Comedy Central, and a legend was born.
South Park follows the adventures of four little boys, Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny. Unlike most TV children, these kids were actually a lot like real children.
This was the genius of the show, and a significant element of its ongoing appeal. Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny weren't cute, precocious, smart, well-behaved or even likable much of the time. They were foul-mouthed, cruel-to-their-peers, badly behaved delinquents who nevertheless had good hearts underneath it all (except Cartman).
Stan is Everyman, the most normal of the kids, terrorized by his sister Shelley and misunderstood by his parents. Kyle is a conscience-stricken Jewish boy with a lot of issues, stemming from his domineering mother.
Eric Cartman is... well, he's Cartman. He's a vile unpleasant fat boy (or as he would say, "big-boned"). His mother is the town slut, his father is... OK, let's not go there. Suffice it to say, it's a long story.
Then there's Kenny. Kenny's parents are poor, and he himself eternally wears an orange jumpsuit that muffles every word coming out of his mouth. Oh yeah, and he dies. In every episode, Kenny dies, and the next week, he's back good as new (with a few notable exceptions). It's a ritual. Kenny meets horrific death week after week, prompting Stan to say, "Oh my God, they killed Kenny!" and Kyle to follow up with, "You bastards!" Despite how this reads in an article, it's actually insanely funny. Every time.
The support cast of the show is even more bizarre than its stars. These include:
When an independent film festival overloads the town's infrastructure, Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo makes an appearance and envelops the offenders in a shit storm. Literally.
In the South Park movie, Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Satan and Saddam try to take over the world, amid a flurry of inspired musical numbers and as much swearing as any movie has ever featured.
When Kenny gets chickenpox, the parents of the other boys send them over to spend time with him, so they can all get chickenpox and get it over with. The boys find out about this, and pay a herpes-ridden whore to smear her sores all over the parents' belongings to get even.Then there's the time Mr. Garrison attempts to pick up one of the boys on an Internet chat room. When he's arrested, the Man-Boy Love Association comes to town to make him their hero and Eric Cartman their poster boy. Despite what you might be thinking, this episode is one of the most hilarious things ever committed to film.
As the above examples may illustrate, a particular strength of the show is its ability to take on virtually any issue, from the existence of God to Osama bin Laden to priest-pedophiles to starving Ethiopian children, without ever failing to be funny. No matter how pointed the satire, and sometimes it is pointed indeed, the show almost never fails to put its priority on being funny first.
South Park began as a cult favorite on cable, but its reach has become pretty substantial, with many of its catch-phrases spreading to the national stage, and its merchandise cluttering store shelves everywhere. More than 3 million people watch the show on cable every week, consistently beating its broadcast TV rivals.
With a new broadcast syndication deal in the works, estimated to be worth $100 million, those few people who haven't already experienced the shameful joy of laughing at atrocities will soon get the chance.
And as for Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whose non-South Park credits include such stinkers as Cannibal: The Musical (a biopic of Alfred Packer), Orgazmo, and the short-lived television series That's My Bush (a sitcom about life in the George W Bush White House which was scrapped after September 11)? Both are now multimillionaires, and that was before the aforementioned syndication deal.
And your dumb, bizarre, million-dollar idea from college? Oh, just give it up for Christ's sake! These guys are funny! You? You're just an ass... Besides, working at Home Depot isn't really that bad, is it?