1. Cartman Gets An Anal Probe
South Park has been running for twelve years now, and while it enjoys a dedicated fan base and cult status, there’re still a lot of people out there who don’t really rate it, regarding it as little more than toilet humour, or an exercise in bad taste.
True, it often comes close to the knuckle and features 8-year-old children acting more like 18-year-olds, but to dismiss it as simply a crude piece of immature animation is often missing the point.
South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are shrewd, politically and socially aware individuals wearing American jock/ nerd clothing. A casual viewer of their show would see nothing but fart jokes, but for those paying attention, South Park is a master class in social satire, lampooning an ever-expanding range of topics with flair and great wit.
For my money, South Park strikes a great balance between the family orientated Simpsons, and the adult humour of Family Guy, whilst proving far more funny and far less irritating than the loud-mouthed latter.
They’re self-aware to the point of knowing just how typical people are, and second-guessing how many would react to their show, by featuring an episode in which the parents of South Park launch a protest against a ‘vile’ cartoon show (Terrence And Philip) for its ‘toilet humour’.
I remember being a teenager in secondary school, when someone in our class used the word “lesbian” and the English teacher immediately said, “It’s that South Park show, polluting all your minds,” which sort of shows just how on-the-nail Matt and Trey were with their observation.
Usually at the end of each episode, either of the main characters (Stan and Kyle) will begin with the staple “I’ve learned something today …” before delivering their insight, which is often very intelligent and thought-provoking, but probably lost to many among the sea of trash in which it sails.
But, to series one, and episode one: Cartman Gets An Anal Probe. Here, aliens visit South Park and abduct Kyle’s baby brother, Ike. They also take Cartman, the vicious little bully with an obesity problem. His friends try to make him see that he was implanted with an anal probe, but Cartman refuses to believe them, even when he begins to fart fire, and a giant satellite dish unfolds from his back passage and summons the alien mother-ship.
For some reason, this reluctance to see what’s right in front of you made me think of global warming conspiracy theorists who refuse to accept it’s actually happening, even in the face of scientific evidence.
Anyway, the boys manage to rescue Kyle’s brother, and the cows of South Park are given an unusual gift by the aliens – a device that instantly makes people burst into song.
However, in an act that would become routine and something of an iconography, one of the main characters, Kenny, is killed. Obviously, this is not the greatest episode ever, but it shows promise right from the start and stands out as original.
Favourite bit: Cartman’s “No kitty, that’s a bad kitty!” line.