After thirteen seasons and
195 episodes, South Park remains one of the smartest and most
consistently funny shows on television. In its first season, the
program was a crude, daring bad-boy, willing to do anything for a laugh
- or to generate controversy. But as time passed, South Park's
reputation quickly grew as the intelligence of its creators became evident,
nearly every episode driven by sharp satire. The fourteen episodes
of South Park: The Complete Thirteenth Season
include a bunch of hits, a few that miss the mark, but, overall, add
up to a wholly satisfying season with a number of classic plotlines
I hate to try to demystify
the difficult subject of comedy, but it's interesting to think about
why some shows succeed for so long while other struggle and fail.
Maybe South Park's ongoing effectiveness has to do with the
continued ownership of the program by its creators, Matt Stone and Trey
Parker. Parker is credited as the writer and director of every
episode of the thirteenth season, with Stone serving as a producer and
But the real key to South
Park's success, in this reviewer's opinion, is the way it satirizes
topical material in a broadly inclusive way, which both makes the subject
matter highly relatable and prevents it from dating. Take Episode
1313, "Dances with Smurfs," which takes on Glenn Beck and James
Cameron's Avatar with equal force. In years to
come, Beck and Avatar will probably (let's hope) be a lot less
relevant than they are now, but these jokes will probably still work
- because the concept of Cartman turning the school's morning announcements
into a full-blown politicized chat show will still be funny, and so
will the "plagiarizing" of Cartman's Smurf story, regardless of
whether or not you've seen Avatar. The roots of South
Park's satire are always situational and character-oriented, using
topical references more as a "way in" to the jokes rather than serving
as their explicit basis. In this way, South Park is diametrically
opposed to its sworn TV nemesis, Family
it effectively (and permanently, in my view) eviscerated in the two-part
Season 10 masterwork, "Cartoon Wars."
"Fishsticks" is the standout
episode from the thirteenth season. It takes Kanye West to task
for being a humorless, self-important fool - and perhaps no one is
more deserving of the South Park treatment than this monumentally
egotistical jackass. But when you get past that, the real humor
of the episode is rooted in the "fishsticks/fish dicks" joke itself
and the very idea that a joke made up by fourth-graders, and operating
very much on a fourth-grade level of sophistication, could spread like
comedy wildfire across the country, finding its way into common parlance.
It's the fact that everyone knows this joke and sort of falls in love
with it (except Kanye, of course) that propels the episode along.
The Kanye West material is absurdist gravy; it works perfectly well,
but it wouldn't without the other, deeper-set concept behind it.
with the collapsing economy. "Fatbeard" covers the spate of
attacks by Somali pirates. "Dead Celebrities" addresses the
onslaught of celebrity deaths in the summer of 2009. "Pee"
satirizes Roland Emmerich's 2012 and Mayan prophecy-believers.
What makes all of this even more impressive is the show's one-week
production schedule, which means that South Park is able to address
current events with incredible immediacy - to say nothing of the smart,
brash comedic tone that out-does Saturday
which prides itself on staying topical.
It's nice to know that
South Park - which has long outshone the decade-long decline of The Simpsons - will be around for at least another
two seasons on Comedy Central. The show remains fresh, sharp,
hilarious, and - yes - shocking. But the shocks are not for
their own sake. The alert comic sensibility of the show's creators
infuses each episode with a sense of unpredictable fun backed by an
intelligent skepticism of just about every major American enthusiasm.