Comedy, Lenny Bruce once said, is tragedy plus time. Less than two months--hardly any time at all--had elapsed after September 11 when South Park
broadcast an episode that addressed the tragedy. Wit and satire have their place, of course, but in the aftermath of epochal upheaval, sometimes good old-fashioned ridicule can diminish an enemy and help to heal a grieving nation. The Emmy-nominated episode "Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants" does the cathartic trick, as Cartman plays Bugs Bunny to Osama's Elmer Fudd with a series of humiliating pranks, one of which reveals Osama's miniscule Bin Laden. "This is how we deal with stuff," creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone remark during the "commentary-mini," a listening option on each episode. In this fifth season, "It Hits the Fan," to quote the title of the notorious season-opening episode, in which the "S" word is uttered a staggering 162 times. In another series milestone, "Kenny Dies," and actually stays dead (at least until season 6). One of South Park
's best characters gets his own half hour in "Butters' Very Own Episode," while one of the series' absolute worst, "Towelie," also gets his. Over the course of these 14 episodes, many life lessons are learned about sex education ("Proper Condom Use"), prejudice ("Here Comes the Neighborhood") and stereotypes ("The Entity"). But perhaps the most valuable lesson is: "Don't tick off Cartman," as witness his diabolical revenge against the unfortunate ninth grader who rips him off in "Scott Tenorman Must Die."
The genius of South Park is its uncanny ability to make satiric hay with such otherwise sure-fire comedy killers as aborted fetuses, concentration camps, and cancer (which becomes instantly funny when the words "up the a**" are added to it, and funnier still when spoken by actual members of Radiohead). 2001 was a rough year for America, and while this country's "problems" provide Stone and Parker with a fount of material (most of it objectionable), we can take odd comfort that they remain vigilant in rooting for their "team." --Donald Liebenson