The series revolves mainly around four schoolboys; Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman and Kenny McCormick, but in later years it has introduced a number of other characters. The show has also caused a number of controversies from its contents, as well as how it tends to parody people and events.
The show's roots go as far back as 1992 when Trey Parker and Matt Stone were still at college. They created a short video called Jesus vs. Frosty. In 1995, Brian Graden, an executive of FOX, saw the film and commissioned Parker and Stone to make another. The next one, "The Spirit of Christmas" resembled the animation style of the later series and the characters resembled their later selves. The video became increasingly popular and the creators went into talks with FOX. After this, they went to Comedy Central who commissioned the series, and it debuted on August 13, 1997.
The first season relied on shock-value, with rather weird and unusual plotlines such as the breeding of elephants and pigs and a giant mechanized version of Barbara Streisand. As the series progressed, the episodes tended to revolve mostly around the characters up until Season Seven. In this season there was a noticeable increase in satirical episodes, which remain the most popular to this day. The series began to parody celebrities, such as Michael Jackson, Paris Hilton and Al Gore. It also parodied real life events such as homosexual marriages, global warming and use of the word 'nigger'. The creators also tend to parody (or pay homage to) television shows and films. The parodies also allow the creators to voice their opinions through episodes. The quick production on the show allows the program to respond quickly to current events, such as the capture of Saddam Hussein. The parodies of course, start controversies; in particular the episode "Trapped in the Closet" which mocked Scientology.
In September 2007, Parker and Stone signed a contract for three more seasons (after the current contract which runs up to the end of 2008 runs out) which will take the show up to 2011 with fifteen seasons and a total of 223 episodes at least.
The main characters on the show consist of four 9-year-old (previously 8) boys; Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny. Later and newer episodes have tended to replace Kenny with Butters.
Stan is the straightman of the group, he is often caring and thoughtful, and arguably the most normal or 'average' of the group. He is generally well-meaning, but is very unimpressed and embarrassed by the way the adults of the town (like his father) react to situations. However, the only unique trait Stan possesses is the fact that every time a girl he loves, particularly Wendy talks to him, he vomits uncontrollably. But for some reason, he doesn't do that very often becuse he is used to her talking to him all the time but evertime they try to kiss Stan all ways vomits on Wendy
Kyle is the smartest and has high moral standards, and is one of the only Jew in town; which causes him to be constantly mocked by Cartman, much to his frustration. He and Stan are best friends and trade places as the series protagonist.
Cartman is the short-tempered, self-centered, manipulative antagonist who is spoiled at home. He is evil, deceitful, scheming, impatient, and intolerant of most races and types of people in which he is not a member of (Good examples would be Jewish people and hippies). He insults almost everybody in some way or another and at times can lack any sort of decency and emotion. Even though the he hates Kyle, he always interact with him and constantly talks or thinks about him. He always calls others an "asshole" and tells them to "suck his balls" more than anybody in South Park. For some reason, no matter how many times the others say that they hate him or that he is not their friend, nothing ever gets through his thick skull. He's considered as the most revolved character on television.
Kenny is (almost) always depicted in his orange parka, which muffles his speech and hides his appearance. He is more sexually knowledgeable than the other boys and enjoys pornography and toilet humor. Kenny was killed off in nearly every episode, but always reappeared up until the end of the fifth season, in which he was 'permanently' killed off the episode "Kenny Dies". He returned in the episode "Red Sleigh Down" but is less prominent than he was before, and rarely ever dies anymore.
Replacing Kenny after his 'permanent' death is Butters, a kind, caring but extremely naive and easily manipulated (especially by Cartman) child who used to be a minor character until he becomes the main character in which he is known as the breakout character. The other boys use him as their scapegoat, and is brought up in a very strict household, a running gag for most episodes he is in involve his overbearing parents grounding him for everything he does, most of which are not even his fault or in his control. Butters doesn't really care much about what he's missing in life and he is a bigger goody two-shoes than Kyle.
- Main article: List of Family Members
The families of main characters (and some of the other children) are also often featured as well. Each main character's family is somewhat unique to one another, from Kyle's stereotypically Jewish parents, to Cartman's hermaphroditic "mother", but these examples are among many. It is also worth noting that Stan's father Randy is featured more prominently in recent episodes, and one could arguably even consider him a main character.
Many of the various townsfolk are considered prominent characters. Townsfolk such as Mayor McDaniels, Officer Barbrady and Priest Maxi have been in the show since the start. There's also a number of minor townsfolk that appear as background characters or one-off characters.
The majority of the cast is made up by the classmates of the main characters. These include characters such as Wendy Testaburger, the love interest of Stan Marsh; Tweek Tweak, a paranoid, hyperactive young coffee addict, Bebe Stevens, Wendy's best friend and the popular wheelchair-bound Timmy and crutch-bound Jimmy Vulmer. Some classmates such as Craig, Clyde and Token were originally background characters but have gained quite an amount of attention in later seasons.
The staff at South Park Elementary have also gained a lot of attention such as the controversial Herbert Garrison (Janet, from Mr. Garrison's Fancy New Vagina to Eek, a Penis!). Some staff have been only in the show for one episode but many have remained prominent since Season One.
The show also has a number of characters who remain recurring but do not appear often. These tend to be Biblical characters such as Jesus, Satan and God. Even Saddam Hussein is a character, but some are completely original such as Towelie the talking towel and the Canadian comic duo Terrance and Phillip.
Minor characters appear throughout nearly every episode. These are usually one-offs, but some appear again or are mentioned at a later point.
- Main article: List of Episodes
The show has caused a number of controversies, not just in America. Australia complained after the show depicted Steve Irwin after he had recently died at Satan's Halloween Party with a stingray hanging out of his chest in the episode "Hell on Earth 2006". The show responded to this by mocking the death in the episode "Stanley's Cup".
The most well known controversy is the one from the episode "Trapped in the Closet". This episode mocked Scientology claiming it to be a huge scam (because it charges its followers money to join). It also impersonated Tom Cruise who demanded the episode be banned. Late voice actor Isaac Hayes (who voiced Chef) left the show because he was a Scientologist. He later released a statement saying how angered he was at this, how he was underpaid and not treated with respect. Trey Parker and Matt Stone responded to this by killing Chef off in the episode "The Return of Chef". Tom Cruise and John Travolta appeared in Trapped in the Closet as Scientologists as they are in real life. They were protrayed as somewhat dimwitted or cowards. According to Comedy Central South Park wasn't trying to mock these two celebrities' beliefs.
Most characters on the show belong to the Roman Catholic faith, the only character who isn't Christian is Kyle Broflovski who is an ethnic Jew and member of the Jewish faith. Catholocism and Protestantism have been made fun of commonly in South Park. Inside Eric Cartman's house there is a crucifix on the wall that looks too depressing rather than how it looks in reality. Cartman is portrayed as a racist, homophobic, sexist who in one episode dresses himself as Adolf Hitler and marches down the streets trying to "kill the Jews." This has made people feel that Catholics were Nazis themselves, however, none of the other Catholic characters (Stan Marsh, Kenny McCormick, Butters Stotch) have ever been depicted as such.
Jesus appears sometimes as a main character. In one episode he nearly loses a fight to Satan and in another he is killed by Kyle Broflovski. This is a very controverisla event, however, some Christians say that the show is "just trying to be funny," as others say it is harsh.
The final two episodes in season nine where controversial after the Trapped in the Closet episode the season nine finale Bloody Mary the Virgin Mary bleeds from her ass.
South Park was originally made out of construction paper, inspired by the animations of Terry Gilliam's animations for Monty Python's Flying Circus. This style was applied to the animated shorts as well as "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe" (though rewriting of this episode caused some scenes to be made using the technology of the rest of the series). Later episodes have been made on computers. The characters are made in CorelDRAW and animated using Maya. Some episodes feature pre-packaged explosions, live action video and lighting effects. The show is heavily criticized for its animation, but the quick way of making episodes allows a quick production time, with some episodes being made in as little as three days.
Some episodes feature completely different animation. The episode "Make Love, Not Warcraft" was made in machinima to represent the boys playing World of Warcraft. The episode "Good Times with Weapons" also uses anime.
Many actual pieces of music are featured in the show, yet a lot of songs are original and written by Trey Parker. Trey and Matt also have their own band, called DVDA which has had a few of its songs featured in episodes.
The show's theme music was originally composed by Primus, but throughout the series' run the music has been replaced. The original theme ran up until "Fourth Grade" in which a new and much quicker piece replaced it. This theme lasted until the start of Season Six when it was replaced with a much more country sounding theme. This was the longest running theme, but it was finally replaced in "Make Love, Not Warcraft" with the current theme. This theme features the first few notes of the original and replaces the rest of the music with the track "Whamola" by Colonel Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade.
The lyrics have remained almost the same since the start (with the exceptions of Kenny's lines). Kenny's lines are usually rather rude and vulgar, but are muffled by his parka. When he was "killed-off" during Season Six, Timmy replaced him, singing only his name over and over with another of his catchphrases "Livin' a lie!" added in.
- Main article: List of Opening Sequences
The opening sequences tend to differ over the seasons as well. The first one just showed the boys' heads falling out of the sky along with the scenery as it fell into place. The boys were then shown going to school on their bus surrounded by replays of previous events (such as Mecha-Streisand rising up behind town hall). In Fourth Grade, a new opening was used with the new theme music. This one showed the beginning of the first one, but as everything forms into place it explodes. The rest of the opening shows 3D animations of the boys and clips from previous episodes with tag lines such as "More explosions". From Season Six up until now a simpler opening is used. This one features the boys being made out of construction paper (as they were originally) singing their lines while clips of episodes from the previous half season are used. This opening remained despite the change of theme tune in "Make Love, Not Warcraft".
Starting from the remaining half of episodes from season 11, a brand new opening was introduced. This time, the music was more rock- style and upbeat, which was the new tune starting from "Make Love, Not Warcraft" The boys instead said their lines while appearing on different sides of the screen.
The show has so far won four Emmy awards, a Peabody award and a CableACE Award. Other awards include an MTV Movie Award. The show was also nominated for the 2006 Teen Choice Award for "Best Animated Show" but lost to Family Guy (the show which the creators despise).