I’m not entirely sure what it was that sent me into hysterics, but there was a distinct moment last night, probably right around 10:45 p.m., when Comedy Central finally wore me down. Bludgeoning my imagination with a blend of twisted satire and outlandish vulgarity, I completely lost it, laughing harder than I have in quite some time. And yet when I called my brother to explain, still holding my head in a state of shock, I had a hard time explaining just what had sent me over the edge.
When it comes to Wednesdays on Comedy Central, words just don’t suffice.
Is anyone else out there watching Ugly Americans, the new animated series that imagines New York City merged with hell, in which a hapless social services worker tries to negotiate all the tricky details of a world inhabited by demons, monsters and zombies. Pair that with South Park, which airs new episodes each Wednesday at 10, and you have the weirdest odd couple of primetime. America has never been so skewered in a single hour of television.
Consider for a moment the themes of last night’s 10 p.m. hour on Comedy Central. On South Park, Tery Parker and Matt Stone toyed with the concepts of fast food and medicinal marijuana, envisioning a bizarro world in which pot is legalized for the sick – leading all the men of South Park to induce testicular cancer in a bid to qualify for marijuana prescriptions – but fast food is rendered illegal, leading Cartman to organize a chicken cartel to import contraband stock of the colonel’s secret recipe.
As pure concept, it’s a little heavy-handed, but then we see the ways in which South Park’s doctors fail to comprehend the surge in cancer cases – it was KFC all along that was keeping our town healthy! – and how Cartman goes off the deep end in a cocaine-chicken binge. The episode’s high point – by which of course I mean it’s low point – involved Cartman cutting up a drumstick with a credit card into lines, and then snorting the chicken. It’s totally, gloriously demented.
Then on Ugly Americans, we had Mark, the social services hero, trying to patch up a rocky relationship with the demon woman who was offended that he didn’t want to look at her “three hole,” while trying to look after a devil baby who’s racking up tabs at bars, gnawing on the heads of children who are playing in the ball pit at Chuck E Cheese, and soiling his diapers with a swirling vortex of supernatural poo.
I’m not saying this is the smartest stuff you’re going to see on television, but in terms of genre-bending, society-skewering comedy, it’s clear that Comedy Central has made the conscious decision on Wednesdays to give the inmates the keys to the asylum. These shows are off their rocker, in a devoted, aggressive fashion, and scene by scene they wear you down.
There’s a hint of thought lurking in there too: South Park had me thinking about the ways in which we criminalize objects and substances, thereby sparking behavior that is far worse than the addictions themselves. And Ugly Americans, underneath all the crude jokes and shattering of traditional sitcom formulas, is something refreshingly accepting and empathetic. Mark’s just a guy trying to get by, leaning on those who shares his city, convinced that we’re not demons, humans, zombies and freaks; we’re just all New Yorkers, trying to find love and do well by our kids. If that should involve buying an infant a couple shots of vodka, then so be it.
I know South Park has become such an institution that it’s now almost lame to like. And Ugly Americans is so weird – so weird! – that it’s hard to lavish praise in any mainstream sort of way. But after reading depressing news headlines all day and dealing with work deadlines and the stress of the commute, it was kind of refreshing to sit down at 10 and to be left laughing like a giddy little fool by what must be the most frantic, manic, memorable one-two comedy punch on television.