In the first couple of seasons, they were just establishing characters, and their fanbase consisted mainly of people who just thought it was funny watching kids swear. A TV series can only live off that for very long.
I think the Osama Bin Laden episode was a huge step in the wrong direction. It was pretty much taking a very serious issue, and prancing all around it, showing off the point that they're not scared of talking about it.
Since then, they've really jumped in and have drawn logical conclusions about a range of important issues, while still being fresh and funny. It's not easy for a sitcom to actually make a point about anything without ending up as being totally lame and unfunny, but South Park has mastered that.
They still have some fun episodes, like Critter Christmas and Tsst, where they just have a bit of fun with the characters and don't try to make any big important comment. These episodes are pretty important - they just try to be as funny as they possibly can. And that's the main reason that people watch South Park, for the funnies.
I've been watching South Park off and on since it started, but I've only really become a big fan since around about when seasons 4-5 started showing in Australia, which would have been about 2002. Now I think it's the best thing on TV.
If it had've continued doing what it was doing in the first season, it wouldn't have lasted ten seasons. I think it's way better now.
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