South Park is a hit, still.
After all these years, it remains as popular as ever, and the release of their next big-budget game, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, epitomises this continued success perfectly. Yet, while things are hunky-dory for the South Park team, things aren’t going so well for its age-old rivals.
Family guy is in trouble. Plummeting ratings and brutal reviews for series 14 call into question the shows ability to recapture the spirit it held in its prime. Simpsons is in much the same boat. The show has been dipping in quality for over a decade and the viewing figures and critical response show that. While The Simpsons has received an air date for another season, I expect most of that comes next is from goodwill and goodwill alone.
Simpsons is marked for death, with season 30 thought to be the last — they’ve finally beaten the last scrap of meat from that poor dead horse, but not without promising to ride it for 4 more years. I suspect Family Guy is not far behind, after its woeful critical and ratings performance, I imagine it will be resting in peace next to Groening’s creation very soon. Even that awful PR stunt of killing Brian off from two episodes — or three? does anyone care? —- hasn’t slowed its rapid descent.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no hater of Simpsons or Family Guy. I regularly watch both. But I think there is a time in a TV show’s life that you have to admit it’s past its sell by date, and both of these are. Family Guy has been reduced to ever increasing grotesque and shock value humour, as for The Simpsons, what the f@*& happened? Two 20th century juggernauts, once at the top of their game, now floundering in a void of creativity. For me it’s like watching an animal struck by a car slowly die at the side of the road: just hand me a shovel, and this can all be over.
This era also gave birth to King of the Hill, but I never watched it, plus it’s already been killed off, so…
Some might argue, ‘hey, give these shows a break, of course quality is going to dip after decades on the air’. I won’t argue with this statement, instead, I’ll just slap a giant, fairly-wide cardboard cutout of a devious looking Cartman in front of them and be on my merry way.
The creators of South Park are planning season 20 after completing an outstanding season 19. The critical response couldn’t have been better for a show launched two years before Family Guy. Rotten Tomatoes, some say the only trusted reviewer in town — others say they are utter garbage, but let’s not get into that — awarded season 19 of South Park an 87% fan approval rating, while The Simpsons 19th season languished at 54%. And, of course, they’ve just announced South Park: The Fractured But hole thanks to the massive success of the previous South Park game, The Stick of Truth.
What is the Secret to South Park’s Continued Success?
If you’ve watched South Park since it first hit our screens, you’ll have noticed things have been changing. This isn’t just the quality of the animation, it’s also in the themes of the show.
South Park rose to prominence for its offensive humour, a little bastard named Cartman and its prolific use of swear words. In the 90s, this was shocking and hysterical, yet as our culture has evolved, we’ve become desensitised to this sort of comedy. If South Park were to have continued making episodes based entirely around Terrance and Phillip fart jokes, they’d joining The Simpsons and Family Guy in the critics bad books, but they haven’t. Unlike their rivals, who are constantly trying to recapture what made them so funny and unique in the first place, the creators of South Park have developed their characters and themes, bringing them in line with our modern day sense of humour and sensibilities.
South Park: The Fractured But Whole is Everything That is Right With the Show’s Current Direction
Family Guy and The Simpsons were innovative for their time, but they’ve lost that touch of innovation and each episode follows the same formula. We’ve grown tired of this old hat, we want a new one — one that’s got a sweet sticker and trendy branding — and this is exactly what the creators of South Park have given us, all while still under the same guise.
The current iteration of South Park is not a show that would dare run an episode about Scott Tenorman and his pubes, instead, it’s now political satire and societal parody. The show laughs at the stupidity of our time, the irony in our politically correct world, and we laugh with it. It turns ideals and beliefs into caricatures of themselves, it seems edgy, new and exciting, all while based on the lives of four young troublemakers we all know and love.
If the episodes of Family Guy that are airing now were doing so back in the naughties, we’d still love them, but they aren’t. People get bored, very easily, and if you keep repeating the same trick, eventually that novelty, that initial excitement, is going to fade away. Just look at The Simpsons. Did you know they’ve made nearly 600 episodes? 600! After the first 200, how many can you honestly say you’ve watched? The Simpsons is an example of a novelty that has faded, yet the same can’t be said for its rival South Park.
This is a show that has survived, stopping itself from fading away, by updating itself and South Park: The Fractured But Whole is just another development in that creative process. A parody of the current explosion of the Marvel Cinematic universe, the game takes a culturally relevant subject and satirises it. Just like the current quality of the shows, I expect the game to be completely removed from the sweary, toilet-joke — yes, I’m aware the title has ‘but hole’ in it — pedigree of its past and instead be an intelligent commentary on modern life, told from the perspective of four hilarious kids.
The key word to take away from this is intelligent, because that is exactly what this is. People these days aren’t stupid…
They like to think, they like to be shocked in a way that isn’t being grossed out and they like to find meaning beyond everything they see. This is exactly what South Park as a series, and as a game, is providing. An intelligent response to the ever-changing cultural landscape of its viewers. Yes, there will be silly jokes in there, Randy is a character after all, but the plots, subplots and underlying themes all look at aspects of our current lifestyle, and put them under the spotlight with a comedic twist. Take, for example, PC principle, the living embodiment of out of control political correctness and a society hell bent on shouting and screaming at anything that may even slightly be construed, by somebody else, as offensive.
Often in the show, the episode revolves around one character as they watch the world around them go mad. We, the viewer, are this character. We experience the same confusion, inner turmoil and struggle to understand events that they do, just in our real lives. Being able to identify with these characters and their stories allows us to find a deeper level of comedy and entertainment in the show, similar to what is currently being achieved by the sci-fi masterpiece, Rick and Morty — seriously, check it out.
And that, my friends, is why South Park: The Fractured But Whole, is the perfect example of how the show is crushing its competition.
So, you’ve heard my droning opinion, what’s yours? What will replace these juggernauts of lols in years to come? My money’s on Rick and Morty — seriously, check it out. But, from your point of view, are they even dead? Am I wrong, do you like the new Simpsons episodes? Tear me apart in the comments.
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James is THG’s technophobic TV nut, movie addict and theorist crackpot. He’ll be bringing you features, insights and incoherent ramblings on all your favourite and least favourite shows and movies.