25 Years Ago, The Worst Sci-Fi TV Pilot Launched A Pop Culture Phenomenon

“A meaningless offering,” beaten the hollywood reporter. If only children’s jokes were as fresh as their mouths. entertainment weekly commented. “A general air of malicious displeasure,” he criticized the washington post. The scathing response to its opening episode in August 1997 suggested South Park it wouldn’t make it past a single season, let alone continue to produce episodes at 25. And yet this month, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker will appear alongside Ween and Primus for a concert celebrating the cartoon’s silver anniversary. .

Excerpts from the above review would suggest that the press, perhaps disturbed by a group of animated third graders cursing Andrew Dice Clay, acted in a reactionary manner. But if you revisit “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe,” in all the adolescent childishness, you have to “respect his authority” from him.

In fact, while South Park eventually becoming famous for criticizing, subverting, and lampooning just about every aspect of modern society, his Comedy Central debut was little more than an excuse to repeatedly utter the word “comforter.” And his animation style is so rudimentary that it now seems remarkable that the episode was deemed fit to air.

You have to cut its creators (particularly the more artistic Parker) some slack for the latter. The creative pair spent three months holed up in a Denver studio painstakingly cutting and pasting hundreds of paper cutouts to produce just 22 minutes of television. (The initial edit lasted almost half an hour!). It’s why the non-speaking characters, including future favorite Butters, barely move and why the pilot looks as DIY as the viral holiday shorts that first put the gang on the map.

Cartman in the less familiar Kewpie doll mode.comedy central

Both Fox and Comedy Central courted Stone and Parker after “The Spirit of Christmas” nearly broke the internet. Parker later admitted that they felt pressure to “take things maybe further than we should” in an attempt to repeat the success of the short. That’s no doubt why you only have to wait six seconds to hear a sex toy reference, why cranky bus driver Mrs. Crabtree is repeatedly described as a “bitch,” and why the central story revolves around an alien life force inserting a probe into Cartman’s body. extreme.

“We made three people cry.”

Given these facts, it is not surprising that the first of South ParkAll 318 episodes (and counting) of ‘s performed woefully in test screenings. In fact, Brian Graden, the television executive who helped develop the show, said entertainment weekly in an oral history that “Cartman gets an anal probe” was responsible for the worst focus group I’ve ever seen. “We made three people cry,” Graden recounted. “They said it’s inappropriate for children to say that kind of thing.”

Cartman and Kyle in South Parkpilot episode of .comedy central

After test screenings, Comedy Central demanded a different ending, resulting in another six days of laborious construction work for Parker and Stone. It seems unlikely that these last-minute changes have placated those teary viewers. After all, the debut ending still includes Cartman farting with a giant satellite dish and Stan inspecting the contents of his vomit with school sweetheart Wendy Testaburger. It also involves Kenny being attacked by aliens, trampled by a herd of cows, and fatally run over by a police car. (At the time, no one knew that he would magically regenerate only to suffer an equally dark fate every episode.)

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However, it wasn’t just Middle America’s gross and irritating humor that had critics saying, “South Park is bad, mkay.” Most of the more innocuous jokes, like Kyle instructing his little brother Ike to jump to safety (“Do your David Caruso race impression”) or Cartman’s discovery that Scott Baio has given him pinkeye, fail. , at least in modern repetition. (Nothing ages a comedy more than a shoestring reference to pop culture.) While the more absurd touches, like when Cartman turns into a kewpie doll singing “I Love to Singa,” it feels like Stone and Parker are just throwing jokes at the wall. let’s see what he hit.

It is true that some things remained. From “Fuck you guys, I’m going home” to “OMG! They killed Kenny! You bastards,” South ParkThe debut episode spawned some of the best catchphrases and jokes on the show. Many of them work as the perfect introduction to some of the show’s best supporting characters. Officer Barbrady’s typical cluelessness: “This is nothing out of the ordinary. Cows turn inside out all the time.” Inappropriate sexual jam from the chef. Mr. Garrison’s (and Mr. Hat’s) alternate history lesson: “Christopher Columbus helped the Indians win against Fredrick Douglass and freed the Hebrews from Napoleon and discovered France.”

Chef just before launching into his first sexually inappropriate improvisation.comedy central

But these flashes of genius are few and far between. You can certainly understand why Comedy Central was reluctant to commit to a full series. Only the much-improved, computer-animated follow-up “Weight Gain 4000”, which also deviated from a planned plan the x files-esque narrative arc, executives convinced the show had potential.

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Not that his audience was that picky. In fact, while executive Brian Graden expected the premiere to draw an estimated 200,000 viewers, Nielsen ratings came in at a whopping 889,000. By the time “Cartman’s Mom is a Dirty Bitch” finally settled the cliffhanger of the first season, South Park was attracting approximately 6.4 million! Fortunately, Parker and Stone realized that laughs, storytelling, and shock value don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

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