Sunday, April 1, 2007


April Fools Day is the perfect occasion for a post about South Park, the little program that made the Comedy Central cable network a viable concern. It's true that you have to get past the vulgarity and offensive content in order to appreciate the program, and I can understand how some people just cannot tolerate some of the things they do, but having grown up and gone to college with Mad and National Lampoon, and with the Smothers Brothers, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, Monty Python's Flying Circus (still an all-time favorite), and Saturday Night Live, not to mention the amazing audio comedy of Firesign Theatre, I have no problem appreciating the biting humor and irreverent satire of South Park. Of course, The Simpsons blazed the trail for animated series that combine the structure of situation comedies with outrageous comedy, but The Simpsons are comparatively tame, being the older program, not to mention one geared toward network television. And while South Park owes a great debt to The Simpsons, the deliberately crude, cut-out figures of the Comedy Central series clearly draw their inspiration from Terry Gilliam's groundbreaking and achingly clever animations for Monty Python's Flying Circus. I should add that South Park was the subject of an excellent MA thesis I directed for Fordham University's graduate program in Public Communication (which I am presently the director of), researched by Ashley Teitelbaum.

This past Wednesday, the latest new episode of
South Park , entitled "The Snuke," was devoted to a hilarious parody of 24, with the endearingly repulsive Cartman taking on the role of Jack Bauer. They really got to the heart of Keifer Sutherland's limitations as an actor with Cartman using a raspy voice, and making reference to how he was indicating the seriousness of the situation because he was whispering very loudly, for dramatic effect. They were able to play with the split screen/multi-screen technique used by 24, with the political jockeying for position by various parties (I'm in charge now, not anymore you're not, now I'm in charge, not anymore you're not, and so on), and with the constant, unpredictable plot twists (Cartman's suspicions about a new Arab boy leads to the discovery of Russian terrorists who we eventually learn are actually working for America's oldest enemy...). Also, there's great play with all the digital technologies that have come to dominate 24 in the past few seasons, notably cell phones and computers, but instead of top secret stuff, Kyle is able to track the terrorists by using Google, checking their blogs and podcasts, not to mention MySpace, ebay, mapquest, and the like.

And they play with 24's signature digital clock, with the ominous, echoing, "bum-bummm, bum-bummm, bum-bummm" that takes the place of the sound of a clock ticking away, conveying a sense of gravity and potential doom. At first just imitating that signature, they eventually bring it into the narrative by attaching it to the digital readout on a timer for a suitcase nuke. With no way for anyone to stop the countdown, the terrorists are foiled when a power outage results in the digital clock doing what all digital clocks do when that happens: it starts to flash 12:00 over and over again, as we hear that signature 24 sound, "bum-bummm, bum-bummm, bum-bummm"! A timely save!

I think 24 is a gripping series, and I see this parody as an affectionate one. The same goes for the frequent parodies of and references to Star Trek and Star Wars--they're obviously the product of fans, not critics.

I don't see Hillary Clinton's people being particularly happy about this episode, however, as her portrayal is not at all flattering, or affectionate (although neither is it overtly hostile). There's a bit of fun about her using a down-home Southern dialect, but that's minor, and it's the gynecological stuff that really undermines any sense of her as Presidential. But if there's one thing that the enormously funny South Park and the ultra-serious 24 have in common, is that women do not fare very well on either series.


Anonymous said...

Oi! Hey mister mister! Surely you mean Keifer Sutherland?! (You can correct your post, delete this comment, and I won't tell a soul! Promise!)

Lance Strate said...

Thank you, Luanne, a gracious offer indeed. While the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I have corrected the error in the original post, but have also published your comment, credit where credit is due after all.