Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"6 Days to Air" Shows How "South Park" Stays Fresh

Just the other day I found 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park on Netflix and gave it a watch.  I knew that South Park Studios produced episodes in only a week, but I hadn't realized how intense the process actually is until now.  It is truly a wonder to watch.

The documentary primarily follows creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone as they script, record, animate, and air an episode of South Park in only six days.  It is an ambitious schedule that is unlike any other animated show on television right now.  Other shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy take months to create and are shipped overseas to countries like South Korea for the actual animation.  In contrast, everything for South Park is done in house at South Park Studios in Los Angeles.  The result is a form of current events satire that is virtually unheard of in commercial animation.  A news story can break on Tuesday and it can be in the new episode that airs less than 24 hours later.  I'm simply fascinated with that degree of relevance in an industry where staying that up-to-date is virtually impossible.

It also gave insight into the relationship between Parker and Stone.  Often, the image seems to be that Parker is the bigger "face" of the series and does much of the writing and directing.  Stone has often been labeled the "Garfunkel" of the duo, but I don't really see it that way.  For one, the documentary indicates that Matt is much better at the PR side of things and helps prevent Trey from spinning off too far into his own inherent weirdness.  While he does provide many voices for characters, Matt seems to be more in a producer role rather than writer or director, although he is always present in the writers' room to act as a sounding board for jokes.  It's a fascinating dynamic, and one that works and works well.

I also gained a realization as to the evolution both of the show itself and Parker and Stone.  Back when South Park premiered, it was groundbreaking for its content and how far it was willing to push taste and what was acceptable to air on television.  Now, it is the standard by which all other "crude" animated shows are judged.  Even though copious swearing and poop jokes are still its trademark, it remains fresh and willing to go after any topic without fear.  The rabid First Amendment fan in me still squeals with delight to see the juxtaposition of discussing issues related to terrorism and freedom of speech with queefing and world-record setting craps.  Perhaps my favorite moment in the entire 42 minute documentary was Executive Producer Anne Garefino on the phone with Comedy Central Standards & Practices regarding the content of the episode in production, "HumancentiPad":

"We're not going to see feces in the iteration that I've seen so far, but, I don't know what's going to happen at the end yet.  We haven't written the end.  Maybe...yes...maybe we see them being sewn together.  Yeah...thanks...Happy Easter to you too."

Matt and Trey are a fascinating duo to watch.  They've gone from dressing in drag and dropping acid at the Oscars to writing and producing a smash hit Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, that has received accolade after accolade.  Yet even though they're now in their 40's, they still appear to be the same pair of young guys who just don't give a damn about pissing people off.  Because of their intimate control over the production of South Park, it is hard to imagine the show being able to continue without one or both of them.  I could see Matt Groening or Seth MacFarlane completely taking their hands off of their shows and their legions of writers could keep the machine running (voice acting not withstanding in the case of Mr. MacFarlane), but that's not the case with Matt and Trey.  After seeing the emotion and the turmoil that goes into creating each episode of the show, I kind of worry for their health/sanity and wonder how much longer they can keep up this pace.  I hope it is still for a while, because despite its age, South Park continues to stay fresh and very rarely has it made an episode that is a flat-out disappointment.  After seeing 6 Days to Air, I definitely will keep my mouth shut the next time I feel like being overly critical, if that ever happens.

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