When I talk to Trey Parker about South Park in early August, the co-creator/director/writer/voice-of-Cartman has a little over a month before the show’s 19th debuts. Every other TV show with a premiere looming is deep into the production process: Scripts written, episodes filmed, season-long arcs blueprinted. That’s especially true of animated series, which work months ahead of schedule due to the typically lengthy animation process.
“We actually, literally, had our first sit-down to talk about — maybe — an idea for a show last Friday,” says Parker. For a long time now, South Park has prided itself on rapid-reaction topicality. But that’s gotten harder, in an era when everyone can post their rapid reactions to topical issues on social media. “Everything’s just so much faster now,” says Parker.
That actually explains a lot about last season, which began with the boys creating a start-up and cast a befuddled eye on the culture of video-game commentary, and which riffed on Silicon Valley hot topics including Über, Oculus Rift, and the predatory capitalism of Freemium games. “That entire run was about tech,” says Parker. “Every show had this running theme: We can’t keep up anymore.”
To hear Parker tell it, that through line was accidental. “We really approach every season like the band’s getting back together in the recording studio. ‘Let’s see what comes out.’” But the show’s perspective has undeniably shifted, as Parker and co-conspirator Matt Stone have aged from red carpet-trolling renegades into Tony-winning icons. (When South Park debuted, Craig Kilborn was still hosting The Daily Show and PewDiePie was seven years old.) “When the show started, I was Stan, and Matt was Kyle. And then Cartman was the bad voice in my head. I just most related to those two characters.” You can track the creators’ evolution by looking at how much more the show has featured Stan’s father, Randy. “It started becoming the Randy show,” Parker laughs. “We dialed it back a bit.” Will the perspective keep shifting to older characters? “Expect a lot of Stan’s Grandpa in season 19,” he jokes.
The show’s quick turnaround is part of what still makes it essential viewing — for a certain demographic group, nothing will ever really be important until it’s hyperbolized and deconstructed on South Park. But given that certain pop-culture journalists have a deadline for a Fall TV Preview issue looming, certainly Parker could at least offer some thoughts about where this new season might go?
“It’s so hard,” he admits, before mentioning the hottest topics in the news that day. “Deflategate and Caitlyn Jenner? Like, last season, we started with the big NFL show, and then we did a big transgender show. So, can’t do that again.”
Weeks later, the first teaser for South Park’s season 19 premiere appears online — and it promises an episode about Deflategate and Caitlyn Jenner. Writers might age into maturity, but some topics never get old.
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RELATED VIDEO: ‘South Park’ season 19 trailer
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