Comedy Central's `South Park' Series Takes Adult-Aimed Humor A Bit Too Far

Flaming flatulence, inappropriate love songs and mutilated cows set tonight's "South Park" premiere apart from other animated series.

"The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill" might be subversive, but they don't have profane third-graders, a 10 p.m. time slot or a TV-MA rating (for mature audiences).

The Comedy Central series has all of those features, as well as a cruel outlook. It's as if Charlie Brown wandered into "Twin Peaks." Forget political correctness.

As depicted here, "South Park" is a Colorado mountain town with oddball children, perverse adults and frequent extraterrestrial visits. Comedy Central's own promotional material dubs the show "sick and twisted."

You bet it is. It's also sophomoric, gross and unfunny. It's great that a comedy wants to take chances - many sitcoms don't - but the adult-aimed "South Park" goes too far.

Especially galling is the show's treatment of young Kenny. In tonight's premiere, a spaceship fires at the boy and knocks him down. Stampeding cows run over him, a police car strikes him, and his corpse is left to deteriorate.

A child's death is inappropriate material for comedy, yet Kenny dies in each episode. (So much for logic.) In other episodes, an assassin mistakenly shoots the boy and volcanic material consumes him.

Tonight's opening sequence establishes the abrasive, tasteless tone: Little Kyle uses his baby brother to whack a pal and kicks the infant into mailboxes and through closed bus windows.

The hefty Cartman tells a strange and ugly dream about aliens visiting him. The little boys speak a salty vernacular.

The adults are no better. Mr. Garrison, their deranged teacher, garbles history and uses the hand puppet Mr. Hat to tell one boy to go to hell. The Chef (voice by Isaac Hayes) sings an explicit love song in front of the children.

A lot of this material is bound to make viewers as queasy as the fourth little boy, Stan, who throws up whenever he sees Wendy, the girl he loves.

The first episode makes such a bad impression that it's hard to get on the show's strange wavelength. Later installments are stronger, but that's not a recommendation.

In next week's show, Cartman wins a national essay contest through plagiarism and starts taking a weight-gaining product that makes him humongous. Prodded by his hand puppet, Mr. Garrison plots to kill longtime nemesis Kathie Lee Gifford, who comes to town to present Cartman's award.

Kathie Lee travels in a bubble like the pope, and she's aghast when the Chef sings her a suggestive love song. This time, the joke works.

More interesting than the show's humor is its offbeat style, a mix of construction paper and computer animation. The show's creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, made an animated short, "The Spirit of Christmas." It became an underground Hollywood favorite and spawned the series.

Yet the dark "South Park" wouldn't seem to have the staying power of "The Simpsons" or "King of the Hill." Those series have told wacky stories (Hank's constipation, Homer's chili problems) with some restraint.

That's what "South Park" sorely needs.

Its chances for success die each time Kenny does.