Season 18 of South Park premieres tonight on Comedy Central and it’s as good a time as any to jump in. But if you’ve never watched Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s highly topical, delightfully absurd, and laughably perverse adult cartoon, here’s your guide to bingeing 17 seasons of Eric, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny.
What’s the premise? Four best friends at a Colorado elementary school confront a never-ending series of issues, both real and absurd.
What’s it like? With crude humor and even cruder animation, South Park has been a covert coming-of-age viewing rite for nearly two decades, but the MA-rated cartoon contains many references no young audience would or should understand. Its over-the-top satire is pointed at every topic the show’s creators Stone and Parker can think of — from religion to sex to war to Brian Boitano.
Where can I see it? All 17 seasons of South Park are streaming on Hulu for free and episodes from the new season will be available to Hulu Plus subscribers the day after they air on Comedy Central. You can also rent every episode on Google Play, Amazon, and iTunes, and seasons three through 17 on Vudu. All 17 seasons are available on DVD, and seasons 12 through 17 are on Blu-Ray. Season 18 starts tonight on Comedy Central at 10:00 pm.
How long will it take? South Park is one of the longest running comedies in TV history, so be prepared to spend a couple of months on this one — unless you’re totally committed (and possibly literally committed), in which case you could knock out the full library in three-and-a-half weeks at a rate of 10 episodes a day. With nearly 250 episodes and counting, we’re talking 90 hours of bingeing.
What do the critics think? When South Park debuted in 1997, it was something of a shock to audiences, though critics were quick to pick up on its high comedic value even if its production value was so low. Erik Mink of the New York Daily News wrote in 1997, “If all South Park offered were poo-poo jokes and babes spouting profanity, the show would wear thin awfully fast. It doesn’t.” And Ray Richmond of Variety said, “As animation, it’s substandard, primitive dreck; as comedy, however, it’s gloriously subversive art.” Also in 1997, Chiris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News wrote, “South Park is either the funniest new show on the air or the next sign of the apocalypse.” Well, it’s been 17 years and the world still hasn’t ended.
Why should I watch this? South Park is satire without bias. Not only politically incorrect, but also surprisingly politically neutral, South Park has worked so successfully for 18 years for two main reasons: First, shot through the “innocent” prism of children, all facets of the modern world are presented with the grown-up hysteria of South Park’s adults and the confusion of the children who interpret it. Second, each episode is made in less than a week, allowing it to be far more topical than most scripted shows (for instance, tonight’s season 18 premiere is about the Redskins controversy). Going back and watching South Park from the beginning is a crash course in modern culture — taught by the world’s most demented teacher. Also, stand-out characters such as Eric Cartman, Mr. Garrison, Butters, Chef, Timmy, Towelie (he’s a towel, by the way), Big Gay Al, Randy Marsh, Jesus, and Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo (he loves me and I love you) truly make South Park its own hilarious universe where R. Kelly sounds exactly like Trey Parker, David Blaine runs a cult, and Satan and Saddam Hussein are lovers.
What’s my next step? The Certified Fresh 1999 movie South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut should be inserted into your binge of season three, and the new video game South Park: Stick of Truth is one huge immersive episode. Fans should also watch the Certified Fresh film Team America – World Police (2004) and the less-than-Fresh 1998 comedy BASEketball which delivers a lot of laughs in spite of the many groans. If you can swing it, see the Broadway musical The Book of Mormon — Parker and Stone’s nothing-is-off-limits comedy brought to live theater. Finally, for a look behind the curtain, try to catch the 2011 documentary, Six Days to Air: The Making of South Park, to see how an episode comes together.
Are you excited for the season premiere of South Park? Tell us why!