Friday, February 06, 2004

The wisdom of Trey Parker

I just finished watching what I think is one of the greatest 30 minutes of television ... ever.

It was a rerun of last year's South Park episode called "All About Mormons". The wife and I saw it for the first time when it was fresh last fall, and I walked around in amazement for a few days after. And watching it on the DVR tonight drove home just what a great freaking show this was.

If you haven't seen it, here's a quick synopsis:

A new kid - Gary - moves to South Park, and Stan gets drawn in to his family. Turns out they're Mormons, and about half the show is spent on a period piece showing the history of Joseph Smith and how he founded the Mormon religion. The background of the historical stuff was a soundtrack with the refrain "dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb dumb" growing louder and louder.

The absolutely crystal-clear point of the show's first 29 minutes is that the story of Joseph Smith and the Mormon religion is - without a doubt - complete horseshit. There's a point late in the show when Gary's family tried to clarify "the best part" of the story; where Joseph Smith basically laid a bunch of bullshit down to try to prove he wasn't a lying jackass. After the explanation, Stan says "Wait, Mormons actually know this story and they still believe Joseph Smith was a prophet?"

We, the loyal South Park viewers, know what's up. Trey (and Matt Stone, who fetches coffee or something while the genius Mr. Parker is working) must have had a bad run-in with some Mormons, so he's using his show to ridicule them.

But then we cut to the final scene. Stan is fed up with the Mormon bullshit and tells the gang he's not hanging around the Gary kid anymore.

Then Gary walks up. Stan's thinking of ways to get rid of him when Gary says the lines that take the show 180 degrees and drive home the genius of Mr. Parker:

"Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense. And maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up. But I have a great life, and a great family. And I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don't care if Joseph Smith made it all up. Because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that's stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan. But you're so high and mighty, you couldn't look past my religion and just be my friend back. You got a lot of growing up to do, buddy ... suck my balls."

Cartman says "Damn, that kid is cool, huh?" ... then cut to the credits.

Brilliant. Parker sets up the Mormons as a thing of ridicule - as he's done many times (ala Barbra Streisand or Sally Struthers) - but in the last minute of the show gives us a twist that stops us in our tracks and - by the way - drives home an oddly beautiful point.

Most South Park episodes have a point buried somewhere inside them, but I've not seen an episode that executed such a big point in such a turn-on-a-dime and unexpected way.

I was left speechless after watching the first airing of "All About Mormons", and even the second time around - knowing the setup and the payoff - it's an amazing thing to watch.

Taken along with the stunning achievement that was South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, the stuff Parker puts out in the South Park series has convinced me he may be the most talented man in Hollywood.

At some point he has to cut loose the dead weight that is Matt Stone, however.


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