Time Sensitive: South Park Finally Fails to Deliver
"So much of what you see now in Hollywood is written and directed by a committee, and you can see it."
Remember when South Park initially hit the airwaves and was immediately compared to The Simpsons? It seemed (kind of) appropriate at the time. Both shows were animated. They both delighted in taking irreverent shots at our nonsensical reality. And they both managed to demand the national spotlight in spite of their silliness.
Years later, against the odds - not to mention the predictions - South Park has managed to remain a vital part of the collective cultural conversation, while The Simpsons is probably still on the air only as a consequence of our hopeless allegiance to sentimentality. This is not to say that The Simpsons is not a genius program in its own right, but there's a reason that other shows fade over time while South Park continues to feel fresh: Matt Stone's and Trey Parker's absolute adherence to immediacy.
Sadly, this past week was one that found that adherence impossible to maintain.
Despite some difficult times, South Park has always refused to pander to their audience. They've never cheated them. They've refused to manipulate them into watching something that didn't deserve their attention. Instead of relying solely on the audience's connection with the characters (Friends), the lewd nature of their subject matter (Always Sunny), or the public's innate interest in sexual dynamics (Cheers), South Park carved their niche and earned their following by totally reinventing the formula for a weekly 30-minute comedy program. At first people mistook this for crude edginess, but over time, South Park has proven repeatedly that it's worth watching because they focus on real-world narratives from an exaggerated world's perspective through a plausible, freshly-Windexed lens.
People don't watch South Park because Cartman is funny. People watch South Park because Cartman is funny when he points out how utterly pointless the existence of Jennifer Love Hewitt (or Britney Spears, or Christina Aguilera, or Paris Hilton, or Jennifer Lopez, or Kim Kardashian, or Selena Gomez, or Miley Cyrus) really is. The show never misses an opportunity to mock the current trend, even if that means working non-stop to consistently point the finger in the face of global stupidity.
The secret here is that the joke is on us as cultural consumers; it's on our obsession with the shifting larger cultural forces at work that allows the show to resonate across a wide range of demographics. But since we're all in on the gag, it never gets old. We roll our eyes at the world around us all the time, but occasionally it takes a South Park episode to illuminate just how insane we really are.
Ignoring the entirety of the first three seasons and the majority of the fourth, South Park has always managed to seamlessly weave trademark examples of nuanced irony, incomparable wit, and obtrusive rhetorical discourse into every absurd episode, which has a lot do with it establishing itself as the defining TV show of Gen Y. But perhaps the ultimate reason for this enigmatic occurrence, which once seemed as ridiculous a possibility as their subject matter, can be linked to the show's creators' steadfast insistence on remaining topically relevant week in and week out.
Like The Daily Show, South Park is fun and pertinent because it's a narrative form of journalism craftily disguising itself as entertainment, allowing for the very real ridiculousness of modern society to be presented to us as satire, parody, and polemic. Unlike The Daily Show, which often takes heat for walking the line between actual news and farcical news, South Park doesn't bear nearly the same relative responsibility for their subject matter (unless, of course, the FCC throws a hissy fit over the numbers of fart jokes on a given episode). Instead, they deftly avoid it by disguising their commentary through the mouths of 9-year old boys, and they do so in a strictly non-partisan fashion, taking equal shots at anything that common sense dictates as absurd, which helps them avoid hurting their demographic's feelings. I don't know if this is intentional or not, but it's certainly effective, even if only accidentally so.
About Last Night...
Over the last 13 years of the show's 17-year run, every single episode has been written, animated, produced, and distributed during the six days leading up to their air date, ensuring public interest by capitalizing on current events - political, cultural, and otherwise. Then Wednesday came and went.
No new Randy. No new Butters. No new Garrison. Nothing.
On Tuesday night (crunch time for the show's producers), the famed South Park Studios lost power for three hours, causing its inhabitants to miss their deadline for the first time in the 240-episdode history of the program. To put this into perspective, the only streaks I can think of that rival South Park's intensity and sheer length include the endless guitar solo in "Freebird" and Cal Ripken's "Iron Man" run of 17 consecutive MLB seasons without missing a game.
This power outage resulted in the first missed deadline since the South Park staff undertook their insane and self-enforced work schedule more than 13 years ago (chronicled on 60 Minutes and a documentary entitled 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park). Citing the unpredictable nature of the staff's work schedule, Parker stated, “It sucks to miss an air date but after all these years of tempting fate by delivering the show last minute, I guess it was bound to happen.” In lieu of an original episode, the creators decided to broadcast a rerun in its place. Thankfully, they made a wise move in airing the Cartman-centric classic "Scott Tenorman Must Die" along with live tweets from Matt Parker and Trey Stone.
The episode in question, "Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers" will now air next Wednesday, and don't be shocked if the famously self-referential show takes the opportunity to acknowledge the mishap in some fashion or another within the plot. After all, they've cleared their schedule for the first time in over a decade, and they now have another six days to come up with a fresh take on something stupid trending in the world, which, as of last night at 10:01 pm EST, happens to be South Park itself.