25 years ago, the worst sci-fi TV pilot ever launched a pop culture phenomenon

“A witless offering,” slammed The Hollywood Reporter. “If only the kids’ jokes were as fresh as their mouths,” Entertainment Weekly remarked. “A general air of malicious unpleasantness,” blasted The Washington Post. The scathing response to its opening episode in August 1997 prompt South Park wouldn’t make it previous a single season, not to mention nonetheless be churning out episodes at 25. And but, this month, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker will seem alongside the likes of Ween and Primus for a live performance celebrating the cartoon’s silver anniversary.

The above assessment excerpts would counsel the press, maybe perturbed by seeing a bunch of animated third-graders out-curse Andrew Dice Clay, acted in a reactionary method. But should you revisit “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe,” in all its adolescent puerility, you kinda should “respect their authoritah.”

Indeed, whereas South Park would ultimately turn into famend for skewering, subverting, and satirizing nearly each side of contemporary society, its Comedy Central debut was little greater than an excuse to repeatedly utter the phrase “dildo.” And its animation type is so rudimentary it now appears outstanding the episode was deemed match to air.

You have to chop its creators (notably the extra artistically-minded Parker) some slack for the latter. The inventive pair spent three months holed up in a Denver studio painstakingly chopping and pasting tons of of paper cutouts to provide simply 22 minutes of TV. (The preliminary edit was almost half an hour!). It’s why the non-speaking characters, together with future favourite Butters, barely transfer and why the pilot appears to be like as DIY because the viral festive shorts that first put the gang on the map.

Cartman in much less acquainted Kewpie doll mode.Comedy Central

Both Fox and Comedy Central courted Stone and Parker after “The Spirit of Christmas” almost broke the early web. Parker later admitted they felt the strain to “push things maybe further than we should” in a bid to repeat the quick movie’s success. That’s little question why you solely have to attend six seconds to listen to a intercourse toy reference, why irritable bus driver Mrs. Crabtree is repeatedly described as a “bitch,” and why the central storyline revolves round an alien life power inserting a probe up Cartman’s butt.

“We made three people cry.”

Given these information, it’s little surprise the primary of South Park’s 318 episodes (and counting) fared dismally in take a look at screenings. In reality, Brian Graden, the TV govt who helped develop the present, instructed Entertainment Weekly in an oral historical past that “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe” was accountable for the worst focus group he’s ever seen. “We made three people cry,” recounted Graden. “They were saying that it’s inappropriate for children to say those kinds of things.”

Cartman and Kyle in South Park’s pilot episode.Comedy Central

Following the take a look at screenings, Comedy Central demanded a special ending, leading to one other six days of laborious construction-paper work for Parker and Stone. These last-minute modifications appear unlikely to have placated these tearful viewers. After all, the debut’s finale nonetheless contains Cartman farting out an enormous satellite tv for pc dish and Stan inspecting the contents of his vomit with college crush Wendy Testaburger. It additionally includes Kenny getting attacked by extra-terrestrials, trampled on by a herd of cows, and fatally run over by a cop automotive. (At the time, nobody knew he would magically regenerate solely to undergo a equally darkish destiny each episode.)

However, it wasn’t simply the Middle America-riling, gross-out humor that left critics saying: “South Park is bad, mkay.” Most of the extra innocuous jokes — resembling Kyle instructing his child brother Ike to leap to security (“Do your imitation of David Caruso’s career”) or Cartman’s discovery that Scott Baio has given him pinkeye — fall flat, at the very least upon fashionable rewatch. (Nothing ages a comedy greater than a shoehorned popular culture reference.) While the extra absurdist touches — resembling when Cartman turns into an “I Love to Singa”-singing kewpie doll — really feel like Stone and Parker have been merely throwing jokes on the wall to see what caught.

Admittedly, some issues did stick. From “Screw you guys, I’m going home,” to “Oh My God! They killed Kenny! You bastards,” South Park’s debut episode spawned a number of the present’s best catchphrases and operating gags. Many of them double as the proper introduction to a number of the present’s best supporting characters. Officer Barbrady’s typical cluelessness: “This is nothing out of the unusual. Cows turn themselves inside out all the time.” Chef’s inappropriate intercourse jam. Mr. Garrison’s (and Mr. Hat’s) different historical past lesson: “Christopher Columbus helped the Indians win against Fredrick Douglass and freed the Hebrews from Napoleon and discovered France.”

Chef simply earlier than launching into his first inappropriate intercourse jam.Comedy Central

But these flashes of genius are few and much between. You can actually perceive why Comedy Central was reluctant to decide to a full collection. Only the much-improved and computer-animated follow-up “Weight Gain 4000,” which additionally deviated from a deliberate The X-Files-esque narrative arc, satisfied execs the present had potential.

Not that its viewers was so discerning. Indeed, whereas govt Brian Graden had hoped the premiere would entice round 200,000 viewers, the Nielsen scores got here in at a whopping 889,000. By the time “Cartman’s Mom Is A Dirty Slut” lastly resolved its season one cliffhanger, South Park was pulling in roughly 6.4 million! Thankfully, Parker and Stone had realized that laughs, narrative, and shock worth don’t should be mutually unique.

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