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South Park Makes The Simpsons Irrelevant

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Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on The Simpsons, one of the longest running, most successful “sitcoms” ever. Some episodes were absolutely brilliant. Remember the “Duff Gardens” episode in which Aunt Selma tried to be a good babysitter, but Lisa ended up getting drunk? Remember the absolutely hilarious “Flaming Moe” episode with Aerosmith? Then, there is my all-time favorite Simpsons episode, "Itchy & Scratchy & Marge", where Marge tried to get Itchy and Scratchy banned from television.

For years, the Simpsons dealt with taboo subjects and pushed the limits of network television. However, being that it is “network” television, the limits can only be stretched so far and it’s obvious from some recent lame episodes that the Janet Jackson effect has lamed even this once impeccable series. Now, no matter how funny the show gets, the writers always have to “make up” for it by teaching a lesson to the viewer. "There’s Something About Marrying," the famous episode which featured the “gay marriage,” was incredibly lame and tried too hard to satisfy both sides of the controversy.

Because South Park is on a cable network, Comedy Central, the writers don’t have to worry about satisfying the Christian right, with the exception of not originally airing the “Virgin Mary” episode (it did eventually air). The episode, which angered the Catholic League by having the Virgin Mary statue fart blood on people, was actually pretty offensive. However, it also showed the craziness of organized religion.

Catholicism is certainly not the only religion that’s been a target on South Park, which has also made fun of Christianity, Judaism, and Tom Cruise’s favorite religion, Scientology. It was the “In The Closet” episode that made me a South Park fan. Because of all the hype, I just had to watch it. Because of the brilliance of this episode, I was on file-sharing sites downloading every episode of South Park that I could.

In this episode, Kyle is brainwashed into becoming a Scientologist and made to believe he is the reincarnated spirit of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. We learn, from this episode, that Scientology was founded on the belief that evil aliens had been planting irrational thoughts into our heads. The episode also pokes fun of some celebrities whose sexual orientation is the subject of tabloid speculation, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, by having them “hide in a closet.” The episode was not only a commentary on the craziness of religion, but a brilliant commentary on how major stars will often live a lie in order to cover up their sexual orientation.

Another hilarious and adventurous episode is the recent “World of Warcraft," in which a renegade player threatens the massively multiplayer online game and the fate of this game lies in the hands of the South Park characters. This episode not only spotlights the brilliance of technology, but it also shows that people really have no lives. The renegade player, who obviously has no life and enough time to become an expert that even the experts can’t stop, symbolizes all of the video game addicts in this world. But it’s the advancement of technology that leads to this irrelevant conquest. Wow! Who would ever think that technology would let us join a virtual world in which pathetic video game characters kill each other?

The recent “Mystery of The Urinal Device,” was one of the first South Park episodes in a long time that hasn’t thrilled me. It deals with Eric Cartman’s discovery of the 9/11 conspiracy. For the first time – in a long time – the episode just seemed “behind the times.” However, even this episode was more relevant, funny, and thought provoking than any episode of The Simpsons has been in the last five years.

Perhaps when The Simpsons Movie hits theaters later this year, we will see a funny, brilliant movie that isn't censored by the religious right. Perhaps Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa, and all the other characters will show more development and have better dialogue than they have on FOX over the past five or six years. As of now, however, it appears that The Simpsons Movie would have been far more relevant in 1997 than 2007.

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About Daryl D

  • kim

    nice article. does anybody really care about The Simpsons anymore?

  • sandra

    South Park needs absolute vulgarity to be relevant. The Simpsons never had to go so low in order to get an audience because the writers actually have talent.

  • The thing about South Park and The Simpsons is that they are totally different in tone and form and really, it makes no more sense to compare them than to compare, say, The Office and The Daily Show, because both are live-action programs that aim for laughs. South Park is incredibly incisive, and pointed, and funny as all hell. They also have the benefit of incredibly fast production times, which allowed, for example, for that brilliant inclusion of the in-the-tunnel head-shot of Saddam Hussein in an episode airing a WEEK after said images had emerged via the world media.

    South Park is better satire, and more thought provoking of late than The Simpsons, but i think a lot of this has to do with the expectations for both. We expect that South Park will have a “cause of the week” and will lampoon it mercilessly throughout. when the simpsons attempt similar carry-ons, like with the recent “gay marriage” horrorshow, it fails spectacularly. The Simpsons is no less a wonderful satire of its core target – family-values and small-town America – than it ever was. Of course, it pokes fun at these things, but it still has a lot of affection for them. Comedy has grown incredibly cynical in recent times, and rightly so perhaps, but The Simpsons never really WAS cynical, and perhaps it’s because of the attempts to latch on to this that it’s nowhere near as impressive as it was.

    I’m talking myself in circles, i know. But fantastic article, Daryl, regardless. And maybe it’s worth noting also how below-par South Park was in the seasons running up to the release of the film. it was only after that, probably because all efforts were focused thereon, that the show truly began to shine. maybe we’ll see the same thing with The Simpsons?

    but yeah – two very different shows. I wouldn’t expect Richard Dawkins to show up on The Simpsons for example, but it makes perfect sense to have him on South Park. And those two episodes, in fact, were blindingly brilliant. (the only episode in recent memory that i didn’t care for was the Al Gore one, which i felt was incredibly, dangerously ignorant. But, like with Penn And Teller’s Bullshit, we need to accept that OUR causes will be attacked as well as the others. That something so unutterably important as Global Warming should be reduced to a “cause” is perhaps where my gripe began. but that’s another thing…)

  • The Simpsons jumped the shark ages ago and it had nothing to do with the Christian right. With that being said, I don’t remember any taboo subjects or limits being pushed. It’s not like it is All in the Family.

    Also, don’t you think you are coming to South Park a tad late? Trapped in the Closet is from season nine.

    This article would have been far more relavent in 1998 than 2007.

  • Bah – both shows pale in comparison to the subversive satirical antics present in Family Guy.

    However, I gotta agree with the Duke here, each does what each does, and there really isn’t much use to be had comparing them, other than that they are animated series.

    Room enough for all, I say. The more places where it’s pointed out that “the emperor is nekkid”, the better.

  • That’s not to say I have SP on a pedastal because they have plenty of clunkers as well. The episode where Towely wrote A Million Little Pieces started off brilliant, but then when it became all about Oprah’s private parts, I was stunned by how horrible it was. I found The World of Warcraft weak even though it had a couple of laughs. I wouldn’t sit through it again.

  • “both shows pale in comparison to the subversive satirical antics present in Family Guy.”

    Now that statement is funny.

  • Why, thanks, el Bicho… we do try and amuse.

  • South Park vs The Simpsons can be a fun argument. It’s like arguing Beatles vs Stones though – they’re both brilliant.

  • Daryl D

    Yes, I have come on to the South Park bandwagon way too late. I really ignored this show until a year ago or so because from what I saw, it was vulgar without meaning and just didn’t thrill me. I guess I have changed over the years and have more appreciation of vulgar humor. But really, it’s the “In The Closet” episode that made me examine this show again and in the past year, I have been an addict.

  • Kraftlos

    You used the phrase “craziness of organized religion” a couple times in your article, and I think that this is rather your intretation of or reaction to the episodes, not what the creators were portraying (though it may be different with the scientology episode). You seem to have a bias against religion. That’s something I do not see on South Park.

    While much of South Park’s episodes could be seen as offensive to some people, their real objective is to get people to think and get people to not take themselves so seriously; not so much to “demonstrate the craziness of organized religion”.

    One last thing, while you may think because things are censored on television that it’s the result the political power of the Christian right; that statement is simply your opinion. Please don’t state it as a fact.

    Thank you.

  • Daryl D

    I would hope everything I write is assumed that it is my opinion. I will elaborate that I don’t think organized religion is, at its core, a bad thing. However, it has become a very dangerous thing in America, mostly because organized religion is turning people away from God because of the extremists. My anger towards organized religion has increased tremendously over the past five years. It was the religious nutbags who have been telling us that waging war on Iraq was the will of Jesus Christ and if I didn’t support the war or George Bush, I was blasphemous. It was the organized religious freaks that have been telling me how I should hate homosexuals, yet their leaders, Matt drudge, Bill O’Reilly, and several Republican congressmen, are more queer than a three dollar bill. Damn right I’m against organized religion and if you looked deeper into South Park, the creators are definitely against organized religion as well.

  • D’oh is entirely correct:- Family Guy is one of the funniest TV shows ever!

    Chris Griffin: [looking through his baby book] Look! There’s the broken condom that led to my birth.
    Lois Griffin: [hugs Chris] Oh, Chris, you’re my favorite mistake!
    Chris Griffin: [turns to Meg] See? I’m the favorite!

  • ProfEssays

    South Park is my favorite animated cartoon film. The Simpsons belong to history

  • MarkmyWords

    You are completely wrong, The Simpsons is the single best cartoon, if not show, ever aired. Don’t get me wrong Southpark is a great show but it will allways be number 3, right after The Simpsons, Futurama, and just before Family Guy. Its easy to make a cartoon funny from shock value but to really make a cartoon funny on as many levels as The Simpsons is takes talent, not fart jokes. just think of the Charactors on the Simpsons, the most extensive and each individually hillarious group on television.

  • Scott Butki

    Irrelevent? I don’t buy it but this is a fascinating piece.

  • CR, as comments editor you should go back and insert the sound of crickets chirping or find something funny from Family Guy, which I understand is tough to do when you aren’t high.

    mark, feel free to look past the ’90s. To leave Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry (you know, the genesis of Itchy and Scratchy) out of your list shows a rather limited knowledge of the genre.

  • EL B: There’s so much funny stuff in Family Guy, it’s hard to know where to start:-

    Lois Griffin: I feel like I’ve had this void all my life. Like there was a secret hole in me.

    Glen Quagmire: Oh, God!

    Lois Griffin: And I was trying to fill that hole with all these expensive things…

    Glen Quagmire: Ooooh, God!

    Lois Griffin: And I just enjoyed having all these things filling that hole.

    Glen Quagmire: Ohhhhhhhhhh, God!

    Lois Griffin: I guess I’m just going to have to sit back and let the penal system teach me a lesson.

    Glen Quagmire: That one is also sexual.

    Personally I find South Park about as funny as Beavis and Butthead, which is to say occasionally, whereas Family Guy and my personal fave animation series, Futurama, are top comedy shows that are way better than most TV comedy with real actors.

    Comedy – it’s a funny thing!

  • {crickets still chirping}

    I enjoy soccer, so at least we have that.

  • On and On Anon

    Um, if you thought those were the funniest episodes of the Simpsons, you either haven’t actually seen the Simpsons or you have no sense of humor.

  • andy

    Simpsons = lame kids’ show

    South Park = hilarious adults’ show

  • anon

    Simpsons isn’t lame; but i agree its more for kids than it is for adults. South park is much funnier, crude and awesome!

  • Evan

    the Simpsons are better than South Park becuse South Park has too much cussing and nasty porn stuff but the Simpsons is a family fun show and South Park is not for children or adults the Simpsons however use some mild language but not all the time and if i got any of them on dvd it would be the Simpsons not South Park

  • kenny

    Comment better late than never.

    Personally I used to like The Simpsons but it has gone downhill fast in recent years. If they aren’t preaching various aspects of life onto the viewer they’re shoving religion down their throat. Especially Christianity.

  • I’m sick of this shit 9 reasons why south park rules. 1:the jokes are relevant to the plot 2: it always comes up with something fresh 3:the jokes are better 4:violence 5:sex 6: bad language 7:they always come up with important topics 8: south park taught me things school didn’t 9:better character development I still like the simpsons just hate when people say family guys better

  • Fernando Kempker

    You guys hear of http://www.formvote.com ? It’s pretty awesome.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, Stan was the one who was brainwashed by the Scientologists.