Seeking its own network-defining program a la MTV's "Beavis and Butt-head," cable's Comedy Central introduces "South Park"--an animated series whose characters look like something out of "Peanuts" but swear like Joe Pesci in a Martin Scorsese film.
Blatantly designed to tickle the funny bones of teenage boys and those who think like them, the show delivers plenty of lowbrow laughs, at the same time indulging in excesses seemingly calculated to shock the sensibilities of TV watchdogs. Few programs, after all, feature "Why they created the V-chip" as a promotional come-on.
Set in a fictitious snow-covered Colorado town, "South Park" focuses on a quartet of surly, foulmouthed third-graders and is perhaps most noteworthy for its origins. The program was inspired by a video Christmas card sent out two years ago by producer Brian Graden that soon became a popular contraband item in Hollywood, repeatedly duplicated and passed around until the tapes were blurry.
While toned down considerably from that expletive-laden short, the series, created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, retains its raunchy and rebellious spirit. In the first episode, the boys--Kyle, Stan, the incomprehensible Kenny (who gets killed every week) and overweight Cartman, who insists he's merely "big-boned"--encounter alien intruders, yielding plenty of scatological side effects.
Much of the humor stems from the dichotomy between the minimalist drawings (the characters amount to large circular heads on tiny bodies) and cute cartoon voices set against the vitriol spilling out of their mouths.
Beneath the rough edges, however, are some knowingly clever observations about childhood and popular culture, from Stan throwing up every time a certain girl approaches him to one of the kids impersonating actor David Caruso's career by taking a swan-dive into the snow.
Compared to most prime-time fare, the content clearly merits the "mature audiences" designation Comedy Central has applied to the show--the irony being that at least a modicum of immaturity would seem a prerequisite to enjoying it. Even so, "South Park" should have the desired effect--helping put a little-seen cable channel on the map for many who otherwise might never venture that far up the dial.
* "South Park" premieres at 10 tonight on Comedy Central. The network has rated it TV-MA (mature audiences, may not be suitable for viewers under age 17).