WARNING: People who get offended by things will get offended by the following videos.
I usually TiVo South Park and watch it too late to blog about it, but I finally watched this week’s part 1 of the Imaginationland trilogy. And watched it again. And might watch it one more time. Oh. My. God. If Parker and Stone keep it up at this level, this will collectively be one of the best South Parks ever. (About time, after they started the fall run with two weak episodes, especially the one-joke Bono-crap contest.)
This episode worked in every way a South Park can. The kids’ story. Cartman obsessing about anything is funny. Cartman obsessing about a leprechaun and a signed contract for Kyle to–what can I get away with on this blog?–imbibe a certain portion of flesh is priceless. The satirical theme. “The terrorists appear to have complete control of our imaginations!”: the only way this could have been better is if it aired a few years closer to 9/11, but it was worth the wait. The throwaway jokes: Joseph Smith in Imaginationland with Buddha and H. R. Pufnstuf, Charlie Brown getting blown up by a suicide bomber, Ronald McDonald picking up his own arm a la Saving Private Ryan. And the celebrity humor, which unlike in the Bono episode, paid off, from M. Night Shayamalan (“That’s not an idea! That’s a twist!”) to Mel Gibson (“Say what you want about Mel Gibson, but the son of a bitch knows story structure”).
Well, it so happens that the same day I got a DVD of Family Guy’s 100th episode, airing next month. And it just proved how right South Park was in last year’s Cartoon Wars, which may be the greatest work of TV criticism ever performed by a TV show.
As Cartman said, Family Guy is “just one random interchangeable joke after another.” Funny jokes. Great jokes, sometimes. (As in the clip above, South Park also gave Family Guy props for having the, um, balls to make fun of absolutely anything.) But jokes that rarely–unlike South Park’s–serve actual characters. If you visit YouTube and look at the Now Playing bar at the top of the screen, you might conclude that Family Guy is the most popular TV show on the planet. And I can see why. Family Guy is perfect for YouTube: decontextualized, played in 30-second bits, the show rocks. But contextualized in the space of 22 minutes, there’s still no context. The characters have a couple defining traits–Peter’s dumb, Stewie’s evil–but really anyone on Family Guy will become or do anything if it serves something really hilarious that a writer thought up but doesn’t want to build a story around.
You may say I’m a crank. But I’m not the only one. And you may say I should have written this damn post back when Cartoon Wars aired, but Time.com didn’t have comments sections then. So I put it to you. South Park or Family Guy? Or are you going to wuss out and call both?