g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Thursday, April 22, 2010
07:38 - Not quite "old and stupid", but...

(top)
I don't suppose it's coming as a surprise to anyone that South Park seems to have just about run its natural course. This review is pretty apt:

Now, I have to say that I stopped reliably watching South Park about a year ago, when I realized that the show, while still amusing enough, just didn't hold up like it once did. The series had basically turned into a long string of episodes where Stone and Parker said, "Hey, did you ever notice such and such?" To the show's faithful followers, such and such was still funny enough to invite mockery. To myself, however, it often felt like Stone and Parker weren't pushing the boundaries like they might have, weren't really risking anything to do the show that had given them the pedestal from which to mock whatever they liked. The best satire is both relevant and daring. The rise of Internet video robbed South Park of a bit of its relevance (since YouTubers can react to world events with lightning speed), but Stone and Parker increasingly just made safe jabs at the things they were trying to mock.

. . .

The show, confident in its legacy as a TV legend, has mostly just started doing bland episodes that say, "Did you ever notice this?" and then coast from there. It's like the series - which can still pull out a great episode from time to time and still remains enjoyable enough if you don't think about it too much - has abruptly turned into a hack stand-up comic or, worse, a 44-year-old suburban dad who just doesn't understand what his kids are up to but knows he doesn't like it.

Time was that show's very existence was a shock, forging new ground in ostensible tastelessness, arguably defining the whole genre of ironically forthright racism/sexism/*-ism in comedy. Seeing little kids swearing was the End of the World just as proud underachiever Bart Simpson had been a decade before. And now, a decade later, well... more and more South Park episodes air uncensored (or are at least downloadable that way), and just as "It Hits the Fan" itself warned, all it's done is make the show seem more bland and banal.

Sure, the production values have gotten ridiculously self-parodical; the animation and backgrounds and special effects are as high-budget as in any show, with the "construction paper" motif now just a veneer. And the comic timing is more polished, the episodes more carefully written, the jokes more elaborate. But as with so many things, it's the spontaneity of something that comes totally out of left field, with nobody knowing what to expect of it, that has real life. "What would Brian Boitano do" indeed. Who? What?

Those kinds of non-sequiturs are gone nowadays, along with Cartman breaking out in "I Love to Singa" and Shelley hurling Stan into the wall. Sure, the characters are better drawn nowadays; but nowhere is it more apparent how little that helps the comedy than when they do a Big Important Episode (yes, a two-parter) that not only recapitulates the whole "Mohammed" thing from "Cartoon Wars", but resurrects just about every bit character from the past thirteen years as part of an enormous and apocalyptic curtain call.

I don't know what to think of the fact that there are calls for their heads following the first half last week, as predictably as though it were part of a Comedy Central marketing stunt no more biting than the inevitable censoring of Mohammed's image the last time they did this. The fact that the second half was full of audio and visual bleeps (which naturally were intentional and designed in from the beginning) only seems to underline the impression I get that they're scraping hard to raise an eyebrow now, trying ever for a bigger and bigger stunt, and having to resort to tricks to get there that are ultimately fairly transparent. It's almost as though they're going to have to get themselves fatwa'd in order to grab a headline anymore. So that's what they'll do—no matter what it takes.

They didn't used to have to pull out all the stops like this. They didn't used to have to dust off all their old properties that had received about the ideal amount of exposure without getting tired (like, say, the Super Best Friends, with MCP-Moses so uncharacteristically pausing to think and going "Um...", which was funny nine years ago, but simply isn't anymore, especially when they do it four or five times in the episode). They certainly didn't have to build an enormous CG rendering of Mecha-Streisand, either. And while this flaunting of the budget is perhaps the culmination of every "Yeah, but the animation's all crappy" joke they've made in their career, without truly uproarious, memorable, meme-worthy humor—the kind we haven't seen since "Good Times with Weapons" and "It's Christmas in Canada"—it just looks like they don't know what else to do. "Just throw money at it!" is the inevitable caption.

Anyone burns out. Fourteen seasons is a remarkable run for a show that people thought was a bad fit for TV from the get-go and the province of fans who could never feel comfortable watching it with their parents. But Trey Parker is 40 years old now, and soon so will the fans be who first saw "Spirit of Christmas" in college.

I remember when a show was considered a success if it lasted five or six years. The Simpsons has seemingly reset the bar, and I suppose it would be the ultimate bad prime-time joke if it ended up outlasting South Park.

Well, no. The ultimate would be if Family Guy outlasted it.

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© Brian Tiemann