Originating as (of all things!) a video Christmas card in which Jesus Christ duked it out with Santa Claus, the Comedy Central cartoon series South Park was one of the most outrageous and irreverent adult cable series of the 1990s and beyond -- not to mention one of the funniest. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the series took place in the tiny, somewhat inbred village of South Park, CO, where there dwelt a quartet of potty-mouthed fourth graders: sensible but nervous Stan Marsh; neurotic and self-flagellating Kyle Broflovski; fat, obnoxious, and thoroughly me-oriented Eric Cartman; and parka-wearing Kenny McCormick, who never spoke above a mumble -- and who (during the series' first five seasons) was invariably killed off in a grisly manner in each episode ("Oh my God! They killed Kenny! You bastards!"). During season six, Kenny was assumed to be permanently dead, and his place in the foursome was taken by prissy Butters, who openly resented being the obligatory "TV series replacement regular." When Kenny returned in season seven, his "deaths" were far less frequent; reportedly, the producers were sick of figuring out new and unique ways of knocking him off. Though the kids were repulsive, they were none too good for the adults of South Park, who included the whiny, sexually ambivalent schoolteacher Mr. Garrison; Cartman's pushy, hermaphrodite mother, Liane; Kyle's loudmouthed, activist mom, Sheila; and the very stupid police chief Barbrady; and "Mrs. Mayor." The only grownup worth his salt (and pepper) was ex-soul singer "Chef" McElroy (voiced by Isaac Hayes), though his position in South Park as moral authority and the voice of reason was compromised a bit by his overactive libido.
Animated in a deliberately crude, jerky fashion (though brilliantly timed and paced), and featuring characters who resembled kindergarten cutouts, South Park took pride in butchering every sacred cow and toppling every icon known to conservative and liberal alike. The individual episodes managed to find laughs in such otherwise risky topics as homosexuality, mental and physical handicaps, child molestation, AIDs, anti-Semitism, Alzheimer's, global warming, and the war in Iraq. By being an "equal opportunity offender," the series managed to take both sides and no sides in every issue. Also adding to the hilarity were the occasional "guest" appearances by badly drawn (and voiced) celebrities, with Sally Struthers, Jennifer Lopez, Ben Affleck, Mel Gibson, Saddam Hussein, and especially Barbra Streisand among those mercilessly skewered. In addition, the series poked big holes in its "competition," the equally raunchy Beavis and Butthead, by introducing a pair of flatulent cartoon Canadians named Terrance and Phillip. Debuting August 13, 1997, and churning out between 13 and 18 episodes per year, South Park was the archetypal "You Either Love It or You Hate It" cartoon show -- but the majority of viewers loved it! ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi