Comedy Central’s South Park is a divisive show. Its tendency to go to extremes in the interest of comedy has made it one of the most controversial shows on mainstream television throughout its lifetime.
But South Park has been around for almost twenty-five years, airing nearly three hundred episodes — and a new development last week has ensured that it won’t be ending any time soon. The show’s creators have signed a nearly $1 billion deal to renew the series for several more seasons on Comedy Central and create fourteen spinoff movies to be made available on the streaming platform Paramount+.
The renewal means South Park will be around for at least six more seasons, making thirty in total. Needless to say: that’s a lot of seasons. Shows don’t stay on the air for three decades just because they’re funny; there’s something more at play here.
If nobody has ever recommended this show to you before, it’s probably not for you. The animated sitcom follows four elementary school students on their various adventures throughout the fictional Colorado town of South Park, using outrageous storylines and a vast array of objectively offensive and generally NSFW humor. Its plotlines, characters, and dialogue often border on the ridiculous, but the fact is: it’s funny.
The show’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone (also the minds behind the popular musical comedy The Book of Mormon) had said that when the show first came out, they were concerned that nobody would like it due to its bold, offbeat style of comedy. To their surprise, though, the show was an immediate success; it accumulated millions of fans and was largely responsible (in tandem with Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show) for putting Comedy Central on the mainstream map. Moreover, according to Parker and Stone, Comedy Central gave them complete control over what they put in their show — as Stone described, “we do whatever we want.”
The aforementioned “we do whatever we want” attitude has contributed massively to the show’s uniqueness, one of its major selling points. There’s no line South Park isn’t willing to cross in the name of comedy. The series has distinguished itself by exploring topics that other shows wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.
Most episodes offer some form of commentary on relevant social issues, but recognizing it isn’t always necessary to enjoy them. Someone looking to laugh at over-the-top humor and outrageous storylines can do so without thinking twice.
But the commentary is the essence of the South Park experience. The show’s success comes from its creators’ mastery of satire. Through shocking stories and bizarre characters, Parker and Stone often shed light on severe contemporary issues. Throughout its 24-year run, South Park has addressed topics like global warming, ICE detention centers, whaling, anti-Semitism, Chinese censorship, immigration, and racism, to name a few. Although what’s happening on screen can be inappropriate, extreme, and at times downright offensive, the show’s underlying messages are often cogent and thought-provoking. The creators are well-informed, possessing and expressing typically impeccable perceptions of modern culture. Whether in agreement with the creators’ views or not, audiences can almost always appreciate the points they make — and laugh at how they make them.
Parker and Stone have dabbled in South Park movie-making before. They released a feature-length film in 1999, a musical comedy following the same beloved characters of the series. In meta fashion, the film mocked the controversy of the TV show itself and was received well by critics; it has since been dubbed by Time as the 6th best-animated film of all time (as well as breaking the record for the most swear-words in an animated film, for what it’s worth). An additional 14 films have been greenlit to be released on Paramount+ in the coming years as a result of last week’s deal.
The show has also birthed several video games, which follow the same group of characters and contain similar extreme plots, characters, humor, and satire levels. Video game giants Ubisoft hopped on the South Park video game train in the 2010s, developing the show’s two biggest games, both received extremely well by fans and critics alike. It was revealed not long after the renewal deal was signed that Parker and Stone are also working on another video game to be released in the near future, although it is unclear what company will spearhead its development.
Parker and Stone have taken a silly animated college project and turned it into one of the most profound television successes of all time. Last week’s $900 million deal to keep it on the air for at least another six years and make fourteen more movies is a reward for their prolonged brilliance.
But the bottom line is that South Park isn’t just a TV show. It’s also not just a set of upcoming movies, or a series of video games. Since its inception in 1997, the show has been an extremely powerful tool of social satire. This has contributed to the show’s remarkable longevity. The world will never run out of problems and controversial topics to talk about — and neither will South Park. Parker and Stone can take current events and turn them into funny, entertaining, yet eye-opening episodes of TV, regardless of the topic.
South Park has taught us that anything, and anyone, can be made fun of. It has made millions of people laugh but has also prompted its viewers to engage more thoughtfully with some of our time’s most pertinent social issues. The show has also shown that thinking critically about an important matter doesn’t always mean writing an essay, reading an op-ed, or even watching the news. Sometimes it can mean tagging along with a group of four animated, foul-mouthed elementary school kids on their ridiculous and boundless adventures.