First, the controversial "South Park" TV show angered parents and teachers. Now, the show has angered its fans. After building suspense as to who Cartman's father was--a la "Who Shot J.R.?" or "Who Shot Mr. Burns?"--the show played an elaborate joke on April 1 by ignoring the question altogether.
And just as the show built its early viewership, thanks to an online buzz, the show is taking its biggest lumps online. Fans who planned elaborate parties around the episode or held contests online were hurt most. When the episode turned out to be one long-running fart joke, fans didn't mince words.
"Suzanne Somers was 10 times funnier than the garbage I saw last night," wrote one. "I fell asleep halfway through," wrote another. But others found humor in the joke and defended the show as an aberration.
The hype and expectation had certainly been building for "South Park," the subject of cover stories in Newsweek, Rolling Stone and Spin, and highly rated within the world of cable TV. But its foul-mouthed main characters, kids at a Colorado elementary school, have drawn criticism from concerned parents.
Unlike Fox, Comedy Central has been relatively lax on fan Web sites, allowing entire scripts, audio and video to be archived on unofficial sites. The official site (http://www.comedycentral.com/southpark) is no slouch, with storyboards, games, a trivia contest and booster club.
"SP" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been in awe of the hundreds of sites online. In a recent Q&A session, Stone cited Taison Tan's site in particular, saying, "He knows more than we do, I swear." Caltech student Tan runs the must-read South Park Information Center (http://www.beefcake.com), including box shots of upcoming "SP" videos (due out May 5) and reports from the shooting of "BASEketball," the film starring Parker and Stone.
Obsessed fans who tape the shows will love the Information Center's "Did You Notice?" section. You can learn what the Streisand character said in Japanese ("From now on, my name will be Mecha-Barbra Streisand!"), or the similarities between "SP's" Christmas show and the old Charlie Brown Christmas special.
Each "SP" character has online homages, with the "festively plump" Cartman and the poor (and eventually dead) Kenny racking up the most devotion. One devotee, Chris Pirillo, created hundreds of desktop icons for both PC and Mac, that you can download from his site, Just South of South Park (http://www.lockergnome.com/southpark).
If you think the show's already passed its peak, be sure to vote for it at "Jump the Shark" (http://www.jumptheshark.com), a site that pinpoints the moment of each TV show's decline. The name comes from the "Happy Days" show where Fonzie jumped a shark tank. Other such points of no return include Farrah leaving "Charlie's Angels," and the stars of "Blossom" and "Wonder Years" reaching puberty.
Has "SP" "jumped the shark" with its April Fools' episode? Only time and ratings will tell.
Mark Glaser is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and critic. You can reach him at email@example.com