I think South Park is wonderful. My feelings for the show run deep and whenever it lets me I make sweet, sweet love to it. Usually from behind.
I am something of an aficionado of animated television. I have gone on the record as being a proponent of Simpsonian social satire. The Simpsons is still one of my all time favorite shows, despite the cyclical nature of its quality. Without the wacky misadventures of the yellow, four-fingered Everyfamily there would be no South Park. What I loved about The Simpsons was the way it could balance social satire, surreal lunacy, and heartfelt storytelling. At its best the show managed to blend these three elements into a cohesive whole. Yet, in many ways I think South Park is the better show. This pains me to admit, as middle era Simspons is what I grew up with and will always hold a special place in my heart. But I have to speak the truth, and from where I sit, South Park is the best cartoon of all time.
South Park is cruder, exponentially so. This can occasionally be a turnoff for me, as crudity for crudity’s sake is just plain lazy. While dealing with aborted fetuses, ten year olds giving celebrity handjobs, and magical excrement that spreads Christmas cheer the vulgarity of the show never seems gratuitous. Well, almost never.
South Park is bizarre. The boys often embark on surreal adventures, and entire episodes have been devoted to things like a hamster’s quest to escape from a gay man’s ass. Aliens, monsters, time-travellers, and crab people are regular residents to the itular mountain town. The inspired lunacy of the plots make the show stand out even from the more outlandish Simpsons storylines.
South Park is also adept at walking the fine line between lowbrow gross-out humor and insightful political/social satire. The willfully bizarre and grotesque in many episodes counterbalances the cultural commentary. But both elements are integrated seamlessly in the best episodes, and the story is brought home with at least some level of heart. The fact that it is a group of kids saying, doing, and encountering these very adult things enables the creators to approach them with a level of common-sense innocence, more or less free of the schmaltzy sentimentality or self-righteous moralizing that occasionally tripped up the Simpsons.
The show is both ridiculous and sublime. It is both tasteless and insightful. But it straddles the line. Thats what makes the show better than its animated peers. Its a tough call, but what kind of cultural critic would I be if I was unwilling to examine the sticky issues.