Here it is, the show that will bring down the republic, that will warp your mind, that will fry the little brain cells inside the heads of your impressionable children --- the one that God himself warned you about. It's "South Park," the cartoon from hell: "Peanuts" meets "A Clockwork Orange." As animation, it's substandard, primitive dreck; as comedy, however, it's gloriously subversive art. Rarely has a series debuted with the kind of fanfare accompanying the "South Park" premiere, particularly on a basic cable network. The primary reason for that is "The Spirit of Christmas," a seminal animated short that has become such a pervasive bootleg that it's readily available for download from a score of Internet sites (including Comedy Central's).
“Spirit of Christmas” — made by “South Park” creator-writer-producers Trey Parker and Matt Stone — was designed as an animated Christmas card sent out to friends by TV executive Brian Graden. It centered on a group of insufferably cute yet trash-mouthed youngsters who witness the ultimate yuletide showdown between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ over the true meaning of Christmas.
After much swearing and some particularly jarring violence (including a decapitation), the kids finally come to the conclusion that Christmas is really about … ham.
Parker and Stone became legends of the underground circuit from “Spirit of Christmas” and scored a series deal to make 13 somewhat toned-down editions of their crude creation for Comedy Central. But those tuning in “South Park” for the first time will find it difficult to believe this is tamer.
Affixed with the dreaded TV-M rating, the show is undoubtedly the most crass and twisted cartoon to make it onto national TV, making “Beavis and Butt-head” seem like Gumby and Pokey. Its stars are construction-paper cutout kids with round heads, wool caps and squat bodies who hang together in the Colorado mountain town of South Park.
In South Park, aliens abduct residents and perform anal probes, and mutilate the poor cattle. All of it is taken in by a tight clan of misfits: Kyle (the Jewish one), Cartman (the fat and spoiled one), Stan (the nauseated one), Kenny (the muffled one) and Wendy Testaburger (the female one).
There is also a portly, Southern chef (voiced by Isaac Hayes) who befriends the kids; every episode he sings a bluesy and sexually suggestive tune to the clueless children. And don’t even ask about Mr. Garrison, the fourth-grade teacher who speaks almost solely through a demented hand puppet he dubs “Mr. Hat.”
In the opener, Kenny dies (of course, that happens every episode); Cartman is abducted and anal-probed before later being stricken with a gaseous condition that causes him to fart fire; Stan vomits each time Wendy talks to him; and the kids learn a new word: dildo.
Things get even more unhinged in the second episode, which centers on the disturbed Mr. Garrison’s plot to assassinate Kathie Lee Gifford. Oh, and Jesus shows up once again — as the host of his very own public access show, “Jesus & Pals.” In an upcoming episode, Stan will be faced with the prospect of helping his 103-year-old grandfather kill himself.
Take that, all ye self-appointed congressional watchdogs.
Yes, “South Park” is blasphemous, juvenile, preposterous, mean-spirited, defiant and proudly politically incorrect. The genius of Parker and Stone is the incongruity between the innocent look of the characters and the outlandish invective that spews from their yaps and gives “South Park” its deliciously wigged-out sensibility.
A lot of people just ain’t gonna get it, of course. They will wage protests that kids are watching such soul-sapping twaddle, conveniently forgetting that the TV-M rating and 10 p.m. time period are designed as safeguards against such an occurrence.
Yet for the rest of us, “South Park” is a deranged revelation, proof positive that if we wait around long enough, pretty much everything will make it into primetime.
Tech credits are all pretty dreadful. And that’s just the way it should be.