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Outrageous in the Best Way: TV's 'South Park,' Broadway's 'Book of Mormon'
April 27, 2011  | By David Bianculli

Embarking on their 15th season of Comedy Central's South Park, have that show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, lost their edge? Uh. no. Not when Wednesday's season premiere (10 p.m. ET) imagines a new Apple piece of firmware that requires a human three-way -- and not when their hit Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, includes such indelible lyrics as "I have maggots in my scrotum"...

Parker and Stone lucked into their South Park gig in 1997, after a short video Christmas card they made, containing such now-familiar characters as Cartman and Kenny, was redistributed (on bootleg VHS tapes, pre-YouTube!) by such fervent fans as George Clooney.


On Comedy Central, the show quickly built a reputation for attacking satirical targets in all directions, from Scientology and Tom Cruise to Hillary Clinton and Mel Gibson. Most recently, I was bowled over by Captain Hindsight, a superhero who would descend on the scene of a disaster to suggest what could have been done to prevent it. Sheer brilliance.

South Park won Emmys, and a Peabody, and Parker and Stone kept making the show -- with each episode conceived, written, animated, voice-recorded, directed and delivered in about a week -- while pursuing attention-getting, attention-demanding side projects. The movie version of South Park, for one. The marionette action comedy Team America: World Police, for another.

And now comes Broadway's The Book of Mormon, which has garnered the most lavishly, giddily enthusiastic reviews for any musical since Mel Brooks' The Producers. (And he, too, started out writing for television, on NBC's Your Show of Shows.)

For The Book of Mormon, Parker and Stone, who have proven their musical mettle in all their movies and in many, many episodes of South Park, were smart enough to team with a few other creative, playful comic visionaries, with strong Broadway credibility. Robert Lopez, who conceived and co-wrote the wonderfully impish Avenue Q, teamed with Parker and Stone on the book, music and lyrics. Casey Nicholaw, who choreographed Monty Python's Spamalot, provided the choreography for The Book of Mormon, and, with Parker, co-directed.

Lots of cooks, but they sure didn't spoil the broth. The Book of Mormon, which I saw last week, is even funnier than I'd hoped, and is a lot more tolerant and optimistic -- reverent, even -- than I expected. It's an old-fashioned musical with a new-generation spin. It's about a pair of mismatched Mormon missionaries dispatched to Uganda, like an odd-couple buddy road movie.

Except the Road to Uganda, in this version, doesn't flinch from such real-life crises and atrocities as AIDS, starvation, dictatorial warlords, rape and female genital mutilation. It not only talks about them, but sings about them -- in ways that make you laugh, but also make you think.


Josh Gad, who stole the show as Barfee in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, is the show's comic center as the over-eager Elder Cunningham. Andrew Rannells co-stars, and has strong moments both musically and comically, as Elder Price, the seemingly perfect Mormon missionary, who finds converting the Ugandan natives much more challenging than his preferred post of Orlando.

When TV WORTH WATCHING launched in 2007, one of the first things I reviewed was the Broadway production of Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention -- an examination of the invention of television that, maddeningly, was never filmed or produced FOR television.

Now, four years later, I find myself even more enchanted by another Broadway show with TV roots. Once again, I'm not expecting TV to come to the rescue and make a wonderful stage work available to a wider audience -- but this time it's because of the content. Better The Book of Mormon should be turned from stage play to movie -- like The Producers, only in reverse.

Meanwhile, thank goodness, we have South Park.


In its 15th season premiere, it takes aim at the Apple organization, and, no doubt, will get to the core of what makes that organization so cult-like. Even the promos make it clear that it's making fun of Apple uber-guru Steve Jobs and his string of life-changing inventions.

The newest electronic device imagined in this new South Park episode requires a physical connection, and a shared interface, that -- judging from the evidence in the promo -- suggests that inter-FACE may not be quite the right word.

Yikes. After 15 years, South Park still makes me laugh, and cringe.

Good for South Park.




Tobin Vance said:

Cringe is the right word. Laugh a lot too. I've been a South Park fan for years, so when they came out with a play, I had to go see it. I got some tickets for Book of Mormon and I loved it! You really should see it if you can!

Comment posted on December 9, 2011 4:02 PM
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