Where Seinfeld's a turkey

`South Park' carries its own health warning: `Not to be viewed by anyone.' By Jasper Rees

FOR THE past year, American households have reverberated to the following dialogue: "Dad, can I watch South Park tonight?" "Over my dead body, kid." "But Dad, it's a cartoon." "I know that, kid. But it's not a cartoon for kids. It's a cartoon about kids. Kids ain't s'posed to watch it."

South Park, which is coming to Channel 4 next month, is set among the snowy peaks of rural Colorado, the world capital of UFO sightings. The grotesque nine-year-olds, muffled in parkas and bobble hats, waiting at the bus stop in the first episode could be mistaken for aliens themselves. They'd be of the furry, malevolent half-pint gremlin variety, except that they are no more than visitations from your own infantile psyche.

There's Cartman, the fat bolshy Cheesy Puff-addict who is troubled by fiery flatulence when aliens plant an anal probe inside him. Stan is the sporty one who vomits green bile every time his classroom sweetheart talks to him. Kyle is a bright, Jewish neurotic who has an imaginary singing, dancing friend called Christmas Poo. And Kenny, the mumbling runt of the group who dies a horrible death in every episode.

If the child is the father to the man, then check out South Park's adults. The kids' disturbed teacher, Mr Garrison, keeps order through his glove puppet, Mr Hat. Stan's uncle is a gun fanatic, whose Viet-vet sidekick speaks through a voicebox. Cartman's mom is alleged by his friends to pose for Crack Whore magazine.

South Park was launched in the United States last August. It's not the first animated entertainment to look beyond the world of adults in search of human foibles. In their different ways, Beavis and Butthead, The Simpsons and King of the Hill have already acknowledged that adolescence is a key breeding ground for dysfunction, neurosis and sociopathic tendencies. But none is so uncompromisingly frank that the junior generation portrayed is actually discouraged from watching. South Park comes with a health warning: "The following program contains coarse language and, due to its content, should not be viewed by anyone."

The makers of South Park are a couple of guys in their late 20s from Colorado who met at university in Boulder in the early 1990s. Trey Parker, who flunked out of his degree, is the creative genius with the straw-bale hair; Matt Stone is the corkscrew-curled one in specs who knows how to run the ship. They hit it off, according Parker, because "we were the only ones who didn't want to make black-and-white films about lesbians". When they met, Parker was making a film called Giant Beaver of Southern Sri Lanka. For $125,000 he then made Cannibal: The Musical, on the back of which they moved to LA in 1995.

David Zucker, one of the Zucker Brothers who made the Airplane! and Naked Gun series, invited Parker to direct a spoof industry film, starring Demi Moore and Messrs Spielberg and Stallone, which was screened at a conference. Then a Fox executive saw an animated short of theirs, in which a snowman terrorises some Colorado kids, and commissioned a short video. He distributed The Spirit of Christmas, in which Santa and Jesus engage in a bout of kung fu, to industry friends as a seasonal greeting. Comedy Central won the bidding to make the series of the Christmas card. According to Parker, they chose the channel because "when we asked, `How do you feel about talking poo?' they said, `Love it!'"

On the back of the first series, they have sold more than $30m worth of merchandise. Its ads sell for six times the network's standard prime- time rate. Fans can download it on the Internet, where the stop-go animation doesn't lose much in translation, and where one website had millions of hits.

What is the secret of its success? The writing is witty and succinct, the plotlines satisfy and the characters develop but there's more to it than that. According to Frank Rich of the New York Times, the kids in South Park are "post-ideological", which may be just a polite term for a political incorrectness that America has embraced in gleeful relief.

"There's this whole thing out there about how kids are so innocent and pure," says Parker. "That's bullshit, man. Kids are malicious. They totally jump on any bandwagon and rip off the weak guy at any chance. They say whatever bad word they can think of. They are total bastards, but for some reason everyone has kids and forgets about what they were like when they were kids."

For several years now, most American sitcoms have been vanity packages for stars to play wittier versions of themselves: in Roseanne, Seinfeld, Cybill and Ellen, they even got to keep their own names. Cartoon characters don't have egos. Seinfeld may be the world's most popular show, but both King of the Hill and South Park have thumbed their noses at it. Boomhauer, Hank Hill's drinking buddy who spouts laval streams of southern semi-consciousness, calls it "the show `bout nuthin'".

Still, South Park's creators got a call from Jerry Seinfeld touting his vocal services. Chef, South Park's priapic token black, is voiced by Isaac Hayes, and Sparky, Stan's gay dog, by George Clooney. Jay Leno has done a cameo. Tiger Woods says he wants to. They offered Seinfeld the part of Turkey No 2 in the Christmas special.

Partly because they worry that they've not seen their fair share of the merchandising profits, Parker and Stone have moved into cinema. They have been engaged to write a prequel to Dumb and Dumber, and Parker has directed Orgazmo, a comedy set in the world of porn, in which he plays a Mormon stud and Stone a porn stagehand and photographer.

The worry for fans is that with all these distractions South Park will sell out. The second series started in the United States last month, although its makers went into it aware of the lure of easy formulae. "We would view success," says Stone, "as finally getting to the point where we get cancelled because no one gets it."

`South Park' begins on Channel 4 on 10 July

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

    My George!

    Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
    10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

    Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world