Where Does South Park Go from Here?

We say this because we love — South Park is at a crossroads.

The animated sitcom that belongs in any discussion of “Best Show of the Last 20 Years,” may be running out of gas. The consistent issuance of classic-type episodes on a week-by-week basis hasn’t happened since 2004′s eighth year, and a season is lucky if it produces more than four or five truly memorable South Park episodes a year anymore. This season – the show’s 14th, which resumes tonight on Comedy Central — has given us two so far, the Facebook episode and 200th episode special. Everything else this year has been moderately funny, but not classic.

The preview of tonight’s episode isn’t exactly making me pee my pants either:

 

Which leaves the show stuck in the middle somewhere between the ridiculously high expectations of die-hard, been-there-from-the-beginning fans like me and the lackluster results of the last couple seasons of the show.

The way I see it, there are a couple of options for show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker:

Quit the show now, today, this minute. That’s not happening, if for no other reason than Parker and Stone are signed for another season, the show’s 15th. But if they truly cared about their craft and the quality of their product, they’d at least consider going AWOL, dealing with the breach of contract junk later and letting the show live on in syndication and DVD.

is trey parker in this picture or not? i'm not telling.

is trey parker in this picture or not? i'm not telling.

Continue the show, but with more collaboration. For the first time in the show’s history, all of the episodes in 2009 were written and directed by one person — Parker (the one who doesn’t look like Owen Wilson, but looks kinda like a Sklar Brother). So far this year, all but one of the shows have been written exclusively by Parker, and he directed all of them by himself. The only one that had any collaboration was the 200thepisode special, which Stone co-wrote (with Parker). Before that, Parker had a streak of 33 straight episodes he is given sole credit for writing. Not surprisingly, the episode before the streak started that had collaboration between the two was the riff on Guitar Hero, one of the best episodes of the last few years. That’s not to say Parker’s tenure at the helm hasn’t been productive, since he’s exclusively responsible for Canada on Strike in 2008, in my top 10 South Parks of all time. Who knows how or why it happened, but Parker’s silent creative takeover of the show obviously has hurt. Stone needs to be more involved again.

Run the show into the ground, just have fun doing it. Parker and Stone have always given the impression they don’t want to sell out and they don’t want the quality of their product to suffer. Then again, that was like three contracts ago and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. The outrageously high standards they set for themselves are gone, they might as well have been demolished by Frank and his mallet from Always Sunny (which passed South Park on the Laughs Per Minute scale last year). Too many South Park episodes now don’t seem to go anywhere, aren’t that funny and blindly pluck from pop culture. Don’t believe me? In the past couple years, there have been episodes based on The Spirit, Cesar Millan and the documentary The Cove. There are about 15 people on the planet that can say they’re fans of all three (I’m like 20 billion other people, I didn’t see Spirit). It’s understandable, the South Park crew already skewered just about every pop culture figure out there, so it’s stuck reaching to the bottom shelf now. Actually, they’re going to the sub-sub basement when they start thinking people care about Peruvian flute bands. With no one else to really make fun of, there are two choices if they want to continue on this production path, both of which result in an inferior product:

1. They could make fun of people a second time like they did to Tom Cruise, Rob Reiner, J-Lo and everyone else in the 200th episode. It’s only momentarily funny.

south park's worst fear -- the family guy writers could be getting more plugged in than its writers

south park's worst fear -- the family guy writers could be getting more plugged in than its writers

2. They can continue to dredge the bottom of the pop culture world and risk falling behind the tuned-in writers of Family Guy, Simpsons, and even live-action shows like Community.

So far, it’s been a combination of both. Which is fine, really. No matter how far South Park falls from its insanely high standards and history, it still will be funnier and better than 80 percent of the shows on TV. Parker and Stone, however, the ones I once called the “pop culture police,” should let the fans know they no longer aspire to be the voice of Gen X, and would rather be a very good show instead of a generation-defining show. There’s nothing wrong with that — but we should be able to temper our expectations. That would keep South Park around for another 10 years, which isn’t too bad at all.

End the show and make a movie that wraps up the series. I don’t want to, nor do I ever think I could, turn down millions of dollars based on principle. So I certainly wouldn’t advise or expect anyone else to do it. But if money is no longer a consideration to Parker and Stone, here’s what they should do. Don’t sign on for any more seasons, end the 15thseason with a major cliffhanger, take a year or two off and come back with another movie. They got a reprieve when the questionable Imaginationland episode — which had been the intended plot for a second South Park movie — had to be thrown into the 2007 season. If that had been the next movie, it would have sucked, big time. Now they’ve got a second chance to make things right and make something comparable to Bigger, Longer and Uncut, one of the 20 or so funniest movies ever made.

It’s up to them.

Some other links:

It’s a bird … it’s a plane … it’s … Zack Snyder? That was pretty anti-climatic. But Snyder is the new man behind the Man of Steel, and he’s already making the rounds like a carnival barker trying to hustle you into seeing the movie. He’s being pretty loud about it for a movie that doesn’t even have a release date yet. Step right up, step right up … first one’s free folks … watch me make a movie, it’s easy!”  Of the directing names that were mentioned, Snyder makes the most sense because he’s always seemed like a guy in touch with fans. Whether it was an act or not, he always seemed upbeat and happy about his major productions like 300 and Watchmen. Man of Steel is going to need someone like that, someone that isn’t afraid to do some Cruise-like screaming about how good the movie is going to be and really generate some interest.

Do you realize we could have seen about 15 different Superman movies by now if the studios had their way? The list of people involved with Superman reads like an A-List Oscar party. How Quentin Tarantino managed to keep his name away from it is baffling.

maybe the dvds are good enough

maybe the dvds are good enough

In today’s edition of What the Friggis Going on with the Arrested Development Movie, we’re being led to believe that unless we watch the underrated Running Wilde, there won’t be an AD movie. Whether that’s a good thing or bad thing is for you to decide. Regardless of the future of the AD movie, just watch Running Wilde anyway. It’s been sneaky funny so far and deserves a little breathing room. It sucks that it’s constantly compared it to Arrested Development, but the level of funny of both shows at the same point in their runs isn’t that far off. Maybe Running Wilde can turn itself into the kind of show AD was.

Continuing on the subject of things you want more of, but aren’t sure you want them like this: the Spider-Man musical. Prevailing logic would say anything Spider-Man is a good thing. Spider-Man comics, movies and TV shows have all been total home runs. That only leaves one last form of media — performance art. So maybe Broadway is where Spider-Man belongs now while Eduardo Saverin is waiting around for production on the next form of the movie to start.

This is a definitively good bit of Spider-Man news — Emma Stone is, for sure, in the movie. She’s just not playing Mary Jane, as previously reported and speculated. She’s been cast as Gwen Stacy instead. Any involvement with Stone is fine by me, she’s a pretty good actress. Just seems weird that the natural redhead would play blond Gwen Stacy instead of redhead Mary Jane, which leads me to wonder: Is there even going to be a Mary Jane in the movie? There doesn’t really have to be and I think it would be an interesting take to not even bother with a Mary Jane character in this one. At least not a big one. There’s going to have to be a ton of exposition in this one to reintroduce the characters, so installing a Peter-Gwen-MJ love triangle would just muck up the works. Having Gwen Stacy as the girl of interest also gives a hint that the villain might be Green Goblin, since Goblin kills her by dumping her off the George Washington Bridge in the comic. They might have to come up with a different murder scenario since they already did a variation of that in the first movie with MJ, but it would make sense.

Darren Aronofsky may have missed out on Superman, but he might be making his way to another superhero that makes more sense and is probably a better fit for him anyway — Wolverine. He’s worked with Hugh Jackmanbefore, he won’t have to deal with the historic micromanagement of the Superman franchise and will have lower expectations — and therefore a bigger payoff — to save one of the most famous comic book characters out there. Sure, it’s not the most popular like Superman, but it’s a chance to tell a story that hasn’t been told twice already (like Superman).

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