South Park Just Got Relevant Again

Some shows have been on the air for so long, they’ve become television furniture. It’s there, present in the corner of the schedule, like that big armchair you forgot about years ago. The cat likes it and you don’t look forward to the hassle of taking it off its spot, moving it across the room, through the door, hallway and out on the street. So it’s collecting dust and cat hair. That used to be Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s christmas card gone completely out of hand; their infamous tales of snow-covered South Park.

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Parker and Stone admitted in the past they had a hard time dealing with a lack of inspiration, and it showed. For a few years, somewhere around season 12, South Park suffered from writer’s block. There were good episodes here and there, but overall, the animation series wasn’t edgy anymore. Couldn’t grab the zeitgeist. Failed to do more than shaming celebrities. Seasons became shorter; the writing on the wall? Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny were cut down to just 10 episodes a year. Had South Park run its course? Were Parker and Stone – on the heels of their big musical success The Book of Mormom – going to fulltime shakeup Broadway?

Serialization
No, they were not. In September 2015, the 19th season of their paper cut characters premiered, which introduced P.C. Principal and not just the town of South Park, but also the show South Park changed. Parker and Stone had rediscovered their ability to put their finger precisely where it hurts. The trend of political correctness, taking over the media by storm, proved the perfect hatrack to hang a season-long story arc from. South Park turned into a serialized show, more or less. Each episode still had a standalone plot, though.

Social Pandemic
Season 19 starts with a legion of broad shoulders, sunglasses and correctness to the extreme. The PC guys roll into town, second-guessing everyone they meet. In true South Park style, it quickly becomes a social pandemic and Randy Marsh easily falls victim to it. P.C. Principal takes over South Park Elementary and even manages to completely discourage Eric Cartman. It’s Kyle who’s trying to stand up to him, but he doesn’t get any support.

Jimmy
The only one who’s able to disrupt the political correctness, to some extent, is Jimmy, head of the school paper. When his articles become subject to censorship, he dupes P.C. Principal by delivering the paper directly to everybody’s home. Meanwhile, Randy’s on a mission to get WholeFoods to open a store in South Park, to class up the town, but everything just goes from bad to worse. And there’s more. Mr. Garrison becomes a hugely popular politician, whose ideas are not that far removed from the promises made by the new-fangled politician whose name ends on ‘Rump’. Also the gun control issue is being addressed. Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny realize there’s only one solution: they have to get guns. Where in the world are they going to get guns, they ask themselves. Cut to: the boys each holding a firearm in their hands.

Ads
The real enemy, however, isn’t the political correctness, but something far more dangerous: ads. Parker and Stone hit the nail right on the head. Ads are everywhere and they’re often disguised as news stories. Or as people (this is South Park, remember?). They do have a point, though. Everything we watch and read, whether it’s the news, email, video, social media or other information on the internet, it’s all accompanied by ads. You can say, well, it’s just an ad. It’s not that bad, but you know why ads exist, don’t you? They work. They are legal manipulators and you may think you forget about them once you look away, but you don’t. Marketing is booming, it’s a trillion dollar industry. Companies don’t make commercials for their artistic value. They don’t put pop-up ads out there just to inform you. It’s manipulation, but such a soft type and wrapped in sparkling colors, so no one seems too bothered or worried about it. South Park, underneath all the silliness, is. Trey Parker and Matt Stone had become nothing more but two faces in the crowded television world, but they’re marching ahead of the troops again.

The Last Ever Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Thursday, August 6, 2015 not only marked the first (debate? Let’s call it a) stand-off between the 167 Republican Presidential Candidates, television also lost the voice of a generation. At 70 years of age, Jon Stewart quit Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

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Farewells
It’s a year of many farewells and just as many new faces (or old faces in new sets), trying to build their own unique audiences. Craig Ferguson left The Late Late Show and James Corden’s already been doing his version of it for almost 5 months now. David Letterman said goodbye on May 20, and Stephen Colbert will take his place on September 8 (a Tuesday). Jon Stewart’s successor, Trevor Noah, will start on September 28 (because why not on a Monday?), but first it’s time to thank Stewart for 16 years of comedy service.

The Last Salute
Never mind the news of the day, let’s do a parade, he must’ve thought. And that’s what happened. For the lack of a better word, there was an seemingly unlimited supply of cameos thrown into the mix. They were more like pop-ups, actually. Suddenly there was Kristen Schaal, saying a line. Lewis Black. Ed Helms. Josh Gad. Olivia Munn (who brought a birthday cake). Steve Carell. ‘One-notes’ might be a better word. Everyone who ever worked on the show was there, to salute the master of the comedy equivalent of a pizza crust stuffed with hotdogs.

The Colbert Factor
Stephen Colbert, the Sam to Stewart’s Frodo, got a little more time. He was the one to say those two loaded words. Words Jon Stewart didn’t really want to hear, let alone on camera, but I suppose it’s a human desire to say thank you. Somehow, the need to thank someone can become this huge monster. You can walk away from it, say people don’t owe you anything, but the monster silently grows. Colbert even goes off-script for it, discarding the teleprompter. The words need to be shoved down Stewart’s throat if need be, whether he likes it or not. There’s no escape. Stewart’s pinned down behind his desk; there’s no walking away from it anymore. For a few minutes, he’s not in control of his own show.
And it’s then, and only then, when the subject bursts out in tears, that the Thank You Demander is satisfied. Now, I can understand Colbert’s desire to show his gratitude to the person who means a lot to him, but I can understand Stewart just as well. Why focus on all the things you’re never going to do again (not even taking into account you never know whether you won’t do them again)? Why make it more final than it already is? Anyway, it was nice to see the brotherly love between Stewart and Colbert, but then again, brothers don’t make each other cry in front of millions of people watching. As you can tell, I don’t quite know what to think of this.

Peek
They did tape a little segment, which consisted of a tour through the Daily Show workplace. A peek behind the curtain of what seems such a one man show. Make no mistake, there’s a movie crew working around the clock to put this quality comedy personality program on the air every day (well, almost every day). After that, Stewart had a few words to say.

No Goodnight
No goodnight. No goodbye. A career is a like a long conversation with the audience – that’s how he’d like to think about it. The ending of his role as anchor of The Daily Show is just a break in which he goes ‘to get a drink’. He does however want to leave us with a little piece of advice: bullshit is everywhere. If it smells funny, ask questions. Don’t let fancy slogans fool you. Try to look beyond the marketing of anything that wouldn’t sell if it was advertised as exactly what it was. I’m sure Noah will help us with that when he’s done measuring up the studio.
Stewart leaves us with his personal ‘moment of zen’: a performance by the Benjamin Button (he just keeps getting younger) of rock and roll history: Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, playing ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ and ‘Born to Run’. It’s been fun, and Stewart’s gone, but as he so eloquently put it: he’s still alive, people!

Renewed, Cancelled & Forgotten All Together


Spring is the time of year when your favorite shows are on the bubble. Each and every one of them could get the axe. No show is safe, while waiting for three words and three words only: You Are Renewed. 2015 proves to be one of the more, let’s say, empathic years.

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Networks are ruthless when it comes to showing their shows out. Actually, not much showing them out the door is being done. The ground underneath a series just falls away. Down into the pit of poor enough ratings they go.

New Trend
There’s a new trend, though. Shows are cancelled quicker than ever. Two, three episodes in, the higher ups just pull it from the schedule. Sometimes there’s a second life on their website. I’m still hoping for that to happen to Day One – an NBC science fiction series cancelled even before it was supposed to air – but I know that’s hoping against hope.

But this means most shows that are fortunate enough to air their season finales will be renewed. The other ones have already been taken out with the trash along the way.

Renewals
Therefor, the long list of renewed series doesn’t hold any surprises. There’s one, though, but we’ll get to that later. The usual suspects will all return in the fall of 2015/spring of 2016: The Big Bang Theory, Scorpion, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Empire, Gotham, The Blacklist, Arrow, The Flash, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Girls, Homeland and The Walking Dead.

Cancellations
It should come as no surprise that the cancelled shows include Bad Judge, Allegiance, Cougar Town, Glee, Justified, Late Show with David Letterman, Mad Men, Parenthood, Perception and Two And A Half Men.

Forgotten All Together
There’s a third category – obviously. Renewed shows that I didn’t realize were still on the air. Raking in decent ratings, but have kind of fallen by the wayside. For example: Mike & Molly. Hadn’t Melissa McCarthy permanently switched over to feature films? Bridesmaids, The Hangover III, the new Ghostbusters movie, anyone? Apparently she has a hard time letting go of the laugh track.

But there’s one more. To me, an even bigger ‘wait, what?’-moment. Comedy Central has ordered the 20th season of South Park.
I know what you’re thinking: Wait, what? Yes, the paper cutouts cartoon is still going (strong). Matt Stone and Trey Parker have admitted in the past they were suffering from a lack of inspiration. This was around the three-parter ‘Imaginationland’ (season 11), but I stuck with the show. I know I’ve seen ‘200’ and ‘201’ (season 14), but that’s when my interest started to wane. Somehow five more seasons flew by without me paying any attention to it.

But it’s been renewed. Screw you guys, I’m going home.