South Park is a comedy animated series created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Distributed by and airing on Comedy Central (and its current owner, Viacom) since 1997, it follows the surreal adventures of four young boys who live in the small town of South Park, Colorado. South Park satirizes many aspects of American culture and current events, and challenges deepset convictions and taboos, usually using parody and black humor.
New episodes in the show's ninth season began airing March 9, 2005. Recent seasons have aired in two parts; for example, half of the episodes from the eighth season were put on hiatus for Team America: World Police, another Stone and Parker production.
The show is noted for its characteristically blunt handling of current events while they are still current. For example, an episode involving the repatriation of Romanian quintuplets aired during the Elián González issue, and depicted Janet Reno, then U.S. Attorney General, as a murderous Easter Bunny. An episode that aired after the September 11, 2001 attacks had the boys stow away on a military transport to Afghanistan, where they encounter Osama bin Laden, and more recently the 2005 Terri Schiavo case was parodied in an episode in which the town is at odds over the removal of a feeding tube from Kenny McCormick.
South Park got its start in 1991 when Parker and Stone, then film students at the University of Colorado, created an animated short called Jesus vs Frosty (also known as The Spirit of Christmas). The crudely made film featured prototypical versions of the kids of South Park, including a character resembling Cartman but called "Kenny", bringing a murderous snowman to life with a magic hat. The baby Jesus then saves the day by decapitating the monster with a halo.
Executives at the Fox network saw the film, and in 1995 executive Brian Graden commissioned Parker and Stone to create a second short film to send to friends as a video Christmas card. Entitled The Spirit of Christmas, it closely resembled the style of the later series, and featured a martial arts duel (and subsequent truce) between Jesus and Santa Claus over the true meaning of Christmas. The video was a hit and was quickly shared, both by underground duplication and over the then-burgeoning Internet. This led to talks to create a series, first with Fox, then with Comedy Central, where the series premiered on August 13, 1997.
One of the many deaths of KennyThe show's provocative, frequently offensive, and unquestionably adult-oriented material quickly drew howls of protests from various conservative spokespersons, and South Park merchandise (especially T-shirts) were banned from a number of public schools, day care centers, and other public places in a manner similar to the prohibition of Bart Simpson T-shirts in the early 1990s after The Simpsons was accused of contributing to juvenile delinquency. Comedy Central defended South Park by noting that the show is given a "Mature Audiences" TV rating (TV-MA) and that it only airs the show during nighttime hours and never during the day when children may be more likely to see the show.
In February 1998, one episode of South Park posed the question of who Eric Cartman's father was. The episode ended with the announcement that it would be revealed in four weeks' time. Four weeks later, the airing of an episode about Terrance and Phillip (two Canadian comedians the main characters idolize) prompted outrage, and also prompted Comedy Central to push the true season premiere up earlier than expected. It was apparently a well-planted April Fools Day gag, meant to poke fun at season-ending cliffhangers.
The following year, the full-length animated feature film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was released to generally enthusiastic reviews. The film managed to satirize both itself and the anticipated reaction that it engendered from moral conservatives. It also presented a twisted but seemingly sincere tribute to the film musical with a number of songs, including "Uncle Fucka" and "Blame Canada." The latter was nominated for an Oscar and was performed by Robin Williams during the awards show. It has often been said that "Blame Canada" was chosen from other Oscar-worthy songs in the movie on the basis that it was the only one that could be performed on live TV with its lyrics relatively intact; however, this is somewhat unlikely, as "Blame Canada" contains a swear word, whereas "Up There," a sentimental and inoffensive song sung by Satan, does not. It's more likely that "Blame Canada" was chosen because it plainly expresses the movie's main theme.
On November 11, 1999 shortly after the U.S. theatrical release of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, actress Mary Kay Bergman, who had provided all of the female voices on the South Park television series and in the full-length movie, committed suicide using a gun in her suburban Los Angeles, California home. After her death it was revealed that she suffered from a severe form of clinical depression. Her husband, Dino Andrade, founded the Mary Kay Bergman Memorial Fund at the Suicide Prevention Center of Greater Los Angeles in an effort to help and educate people with the same type of depression that his wife suffered from.
The characters and backgrounds of South Park are made to appear deliberately crude, as if they are simply made of cut-out pieces of paper. Paper cutouts were indeed used in the original pilot Parker/Stone animation and in the very first Comedy Central episode, but every subsequent episode aired on TV has been produced by computer animation that provides the same crude look. To put the efficiency of this process in perspective, consider that the average episode of The Simpsons takes 8 months to create while episodes of South Park have been completed in as little as 3 days. Some episodes have sections of regular film edited in (e.g., "Tweek vs. Craig" and "Cat Orgy").
The main characters as they appeared during eight of the nine seasons (from left to right): Kenny, Cartman, Kyle and StanThe main characters of the show are four elementary school students:
Stan Marsh: kind and nervous, with a strong sense of right and wrong
Kyle Broflovski: skeptical, critical of authority, Jewish
Kenny McCormick: poor lower class, obsessed with sex and bathroom humor, victim of many deaths
Eric Cartman: aggressive, spoiled, overweight and rude, antagonistic, often the catalyst for the plot, frequently insults Kyle for being Jewish and Kenny for being poor
In recent seasons, two other characters have gained prominence:
Leopold "Butters" Stotch (replaced Kenny as a main character during the first part of the 6th season, though Kenny was brought back for the 7th season; has been prominent ever since): intelligent and sometimes insightful, but nervous and easily manipulated, thanks to his overbearing parents. He is now one of the most important characters, having featured prominently in several episodes, particularly as a foil to Cartman's schemes. His birthday is September 11.
Tweek (replaced Kenny during the second part of the 6th season, though Kenny was brought back for the 7th season): like Butters he is very nervous; he is constantly given caffeine by his coffee-shop-owning parents, he is visited nightly by the "underpants gnomes" and his eyes "tweek." Since Kenny returned, he has returned to playing a minor role.
The show's earliest well-known gimmick was that in every episode, Kenny would die in some horrible, unexpected way. After this Stan would say, "Oh my god, they killed Kenny!" and Kyle would add, "You bastards!" Kenny would be back in the next episode, the incident forgotten. For some time (after the 5th season episode "Kenny Dies"), Kenny had actually died "permanently." In the 6th season episode "A Ladder to Heaven," Kenny's soul became entrapped inside of Cartman's body, but an exorcism performed by Chef's mama in "The Biggest Douche in the Universe" undid this. He came back to life for an unexplained reason in "Red Sleigh Down" and is now the same regular kid he was before, except his deaths are much rarer now. Kenny was killed by Saddam Hussein in "It's Christmas in Canada," the final episode of season seven. He was also killed once during the eighth season, unmasked, by "Mr. Jefferson," an alias of Michael Jackson, in the episode "The Jeffersons", and in the ninth season, he was killed by the Chinese mafia in the episode "Wing," as well as the following episode, "Best Friends Forever" (in fact, he dies twice in the latter).
Main article: Recurring South Park characters
There are many other frequently recurring characters, besides the boys and their families.
the boys' teachers Mr. Herbert Garrison (currently Mrs. Garrison after receiving a sex change in episode 901, Mr. Garrison's Fancy New Vagina), and Ms. Choksondik (pronounced "chokes-on-dick") who dies in season 6.
Mr. Slave, Mr. Garrison's gay live-in lover until his sex change in episode 901 (replacement for Garrison's beloved puppet companion, Mr. Hat).
Jerome "Chef" McElroy (voiced by Isaac Hayes), the school cafeteria chef whom the boys seek out for advice.
Satan, portrayed as the insecure and overly sensitive gay lover of Saddam Hussein.
Jesus and Santa Claus, who are frequently depicted as gun-toting heroes.
Mr. Mackey, the school counselor who often appends "Mmkay?" to the end of his sentences.
Officer Barbrady, the incompetent town police officer.
Wendy Testaburger, a schoolmate and Stan's sometimes girlfriend.
Timmy, a schoolmate confined by handicap to a wheelchair. He has a limited vocabulary, usually only consisting of his own name, Jimmy's name, and his usual babble that sounds like "Rimirilar!", though, on occasion, has managed a few other words.
Jimmy, a handicapped schoolmate with crutches and a speech impediment. Often performs stand-up comedy. He is afraid of getting an erection and took steroids to win the Special Olympics.
Token Williams/Black, a schoolmate of black descent who often accompanies the boys on their adventures. Token is also a frequent target of Cartman's racism.
The goth kids, originally featured in episode 714 (Raisins).
Scott Tenorman, a much older schoolmate, originally introduced when he cons Cartman out of his allowance money in the episode Scott Tenorman Must Die. Cartman later takes revenge on Scott by feeding him Scott's own parents at Cartman's chili con carnival. Scott has appeared in minor roles in at least two subsequent episodes.