South Park vs. The Simpsons, a debate that has raged since the former hit the air and shocked TV audiences in 1997. The Simpsons was an innovative, hilarious show that paved the way for series like South Park and Family Guy. However, The Simpsons came on the air in December 1989, the month Ice Cube left NWA, when George HW Bush was president. The show's best years are behind it. South Park, on the other hand, continues to stay fresh, entertaining and even stunning audiences more than two decades after its debut. If it's true South Park is more relevant than The Simpsons, the next question is, relevant to what, and why?
Regarding relevance, the context here is social and political. The Simpsons is, by design, a show that largely stays away from addressing real political events or social movements as a means of creating an abstract and allegorical parallel world, in which the human condition can be lampooned in an absurd, but also grounded and emotionally complex, way. The show is an existential satire of society and history. South Park is a beast of a very different nature.
South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have written, produced, and voiced each episode of the show. Their goal is to keep material as irreverent and fresh as possible by maintaining the voice and vision conceived of at the idea's inception. Stone and Parker are willing to attack any celebrity, cause, group, and religious institution. The show's animation may be crude (for years, it was made with paper cutouts), but because episodes of South Park only take six days to produce, Stone and Parker can comment on current events and trending pop culture news.
It may seem blasphemous to create a list of reasons why South Park is better than The Simpsons (assuming your metric for "better" is based solely on political and pop cultural relevance), but the animation war is real. Vote up all the reasons why you believe South Park is more culturally relevant than The Simpsons.
Here's the deal: it takes months to produce episodes of The Simpsons, which are created on a traditional TV schedule - the writer's room meets to break story, episodes are drafted, re-written, then submitted for table reads. Actors record their dialogue, the dialogue is matched to a storyboard created in LA, then everything is shipped to South Korea, where an animation studio called Akom, based in Seoul, draws the episode. The animation comes back to LA for editing. Multiple episodes are in production simultaneously at any given point during this process.
South Park is a far less traditional show, for several reasons, and its atypical production schedule allows its creators to keep pace with the news cycle. Parker and Stone can pump out an episode in six days, in part because they write as they go, rather than writing every episode at once. And, because the animation is much cruder than that of The Simpsons, and easy to do very quickly on computers, episodes can be churned out quickly.
Take, for example, when Barack Obama was elected in 2008. South Park used pieces of his victory speech in an episode aired just 24 hours later.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone still write, produce, direct, and voice every episode of South Park. The Simpsons has had more than 100 different writers, several producers, and a team of voice actors throughout the years (although it maintains a creative brain trust headed by James L Brooks and Matt Groening, who have been with the show since its inception). One of the reasons why South Park has been so consistently relevant and entertaining is the quality of writing.
Parker and Stone know their characters in and out, and understand the tone of the show (since, duh, they created it). They also understand what makes the show so successful. Their hands on involvement in every single episodes helps maintain a consistency unlike that of any comedy other than Always Sunny.
The Simpsons certainly has its share of pop cultural and public figure satire, but the humor is typically absurd, bizarre, or gently mocking. South Park, on the other hand, gets downright nasty. If you prefer your humor as bleak, nihilistic, and relentless, and have no time for The Simpsons' flirtations with dadaism and psychedelia, South Park is most definitely the show for you.
The Simpsons often centers its narratives around characters and their relationships to one another. Homer Simpson may be a buffoon, but he is a loving father and husband, who would do anything for his family. You won't find any such tenderness or sweetness on South Park.
Parker and Stone like to aim for the jugular. No celebrity is safe from South Park satire, even ones that are generally well-liked by the public, such as Katie Couric. In South Park measurements, two and half pounds of human feces is one Couric, making it the official unit of measurement for poop on the show.
One of the knocks on The Simpsons, especially in the 2010s, is that the show has become stale. That's probably to be expected on a program in its fourth decade on the air. Parker and Stone have done a nice job with keeping South Park fresh, despite the show being only eight years younger than The Simpsons.
In part, Parker and Stone have kept South Park fresh by being unexpected. After years of the show existing outside all bounds of temporal law, an entire season was created in continuity, as one giant story. That season, 18, opened a new avenue of narrative options for show. For example, Randy Marsh being Lorde became a plot point that ran through several episodes. Radicalizing your show's narrative framework 18 seasons in is a bold move, and it worked in spades.
Matt Stone talked about wanting to break away from the traditional sitcom format and make the show more serialized:
"One thing we talked about a lot with this episode was that South Park basically is a movie structure in some ways, but it's very sitcom in other ways where we don't serialize things. It's just the end of this show, then everything goes back to normal; we start next week. And that's the whole thing - this is just the same sh*t over and over ... the form of the show, being one where everything's going to be okay in the end and it's going to reset, it's sort of like an immature view of the world, and I think that's why some of these cool new shows that are serialized, why it's been so popular lately is because it's a really cool form to just say well the world doesn't work that way."