Friendly Writers Out of Touch, Humble Folks With Information

I haven’t had much to say about the new run of South Park, and I don’t see much excitement about it online or in the news, either. The show goes through periods of relevance and irrelevance: it was huge in the first season, the bubble burst in the second season, and it became a phenomenon again with the movie. Right now it seems to be only marginally relevant, though it’s still entertaining thanks to the basic strength of the characters. It does seem, though, like Trey Parker and Matt Stone have become the stereotypical Hollywood writers who don’t get out much and no longer have a lot of life experience to draw on for their comedy (since they spend all their time either making the show, or just being rich and happy). Thus, in the four episodes they’ve done in this run so far, we’ve had an episode making fun of pro wrestling, not exactly a timely target. And when Parker is really stumped for an idea, he just makes fun of a reality show he watches: one of the four recent episodes was a parody of Ghost Hunters, and the most recent one was a parody of Whale Wars. Plus Parker’s usual obsession with video games:

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I think South Park is at its best when it just has the kids acting like kids, anyway, so the lack of hard-hitting topical humour doesn’t bother me, and the characters (especially Butters) are funny enough that even a phoned-in episode can make me laugh. But a lot of the show’s appeal is its timeliness and its ability to create buzz. And for the moment, it’s going through one of those phases where it doesn’t seem to be creating a whole lot of buzz, because the episodes are a bit insular, based on stuff that Trey Parker is obsessed with but maybe the rest of the world isn’t. The most notorious example was last year when he devoted two episodes to what he thought was the phenomenon of Peruvian Flute Bands in malls, only to realize that many malls do not, in fact, have those bands.

It’s an occupational hazard for comedy writers, who frequently wind up writing stuff in that they’re interested in, or that makes sense to the locals, without making this stuff make sense to an international audience. Shows made in New York have all kinds of New York references; L.A. shows have a tendency to get obsessed with diamond lanes, Vin Scully, and other things that non-Angelenos couldn’t care less about. (Okay, I cared about Vin Scully when he was doing NBC’s game of the week. He’s not any more, yet The Simpsons still has Harry Shearer do his Scully impression.) It’s a little more pronounced with South Park because it’s so clearly a product of Parker’s personal obsessions, so when he gets into something that isn’t really a topic of world interest (did you know that wrestling is fake?) it takes over the whole half-hour.