South Park Studios/Comedy Central (March 7 – November 14 2007), Paramount (August 12 2008), 3 discs, 308 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital Stereo, Not Rated (parental advisory for explicit content: this program is recommended for mature audiences only as it contains adult language and situations), Retail: $49.99
[WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS REFERENCES TO MATERIAL FOR MATURE READERS ONLY]
As outrageous and trail blazing as ever, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s boys are back in town, again, for an eleventh season collection of all fourteen episodes from the 2007 run.
The Sweatbox Review:
After the first few highly inflammatory seasons, South Park seems to have settled down and could even arguably be called – in the right circles – a comedy institution. But let’s not think that the show has lost its greatest strengths: the power to shock and make us question ourselves is still very much in evidence, thanks to creators Parker and Stone, whom I believe to be the most original and uncompromising satirists on the planet today. If can’t find yourselves justifying that statement in any way, it’s probably best to leave this review now: South Park just isn’t for you. If you find yourself agreeing, then strap yourselves in for another walk in the Park…
Disc One’s episodes begin With Apologies To Jesse Jackson, in which Stan’s Dad Randy blurts out an inappropriate word live on national TV, causing friction between the little lad and Token, and commenting on the Michael Richards’ incident. Next, Cartman Sucks puts Butters into a compromising position when one of Cartman’s insidious plots backfires, ending up with the poor kid more confused than he usually is. The first of the season’s outstanding episodes, Lice Capades introduces us to a world previously unknown: deep within Clyde Harris’ head lives a fully conscious population of hair lice, who are all about to get the ultimate wash. Knowing this will wipe out his family and friends, louse Travis sets out to save his miniature world. Showing how great South Park’s animation effects can be when needed, the hair effects here are suitably epic, like some kind of demented shampoo commercial, while Travis’ plight plays out in what can only be described as a horrifyingly realistic DreamWorks bug drama!
Every now and then, an episode will break out from the confines of the show and make a bit of a wave for itself in the general media, and The Snuke is such an episode. Ostensibly a 24 pastiche, this is the now classic show that welcomes Hillary Clinton to South Park on a leg of her campaign rally around the same time that a new Muslim kid turns up at school. Taking place “between recess and geography class”, this is probably the best of the recent rash of animated 24 spoofs, by far the one that manages to capture the spirit of the show itself, from the electronic score and the “hand held” camera work, to well-worn lines of dialog, the split-screen technique, ticking clock and even the right phone ringtones! With Cartman in the Keifer Sutherland role, this is another well-observed episode, packing in an entire season’s worth of the Jack Bauer Power Hour into just 22 minutes and coming out as probably being more entertaining than that show’s last, admittedly not as hot as usual, season – and we haven’t even gotten to just exactly what the “snuke” is, or where it’s located!!
South Park is famous for its many Christmas-themed episodes, but in the Fantastic Easter Special another holiday gets the same kind of skewering, by way of The Da Vinci Code, as Stan discovers the truth behind the link between Jesus and the Easter Bunny. On Disc Two, Ms Garrison, who underwent a sex-change because as a man he couldn’t handle his homosexual desires, now finds herself attracted to women in D-Yikes (“Children, I’m gay”. “Again?”), told in the styled of 300, and in Night Of The Living Homeless, the kids take on the almost zombified down and out epidemic that threatens to take over the town. Cartman hilariously takes advantage of an affliction he comes across in Le Petit Tourette and manages to fake his condition to all but Kyle, until a life without language filters sees the real truth start to emerge… Always a bit of a secondary character, this season really sees Randy Marsh come to the fore, and in More Crap, Stan’s Dad attempts to take the world pooh record from Bono, but finds the U2 frontman isn’t about to give up his status.
A three-part highlight of the season heads up Disc Three. Actually titled Kyle Sucks Cartman’s Balls onscreen, but more generally referred to as the Imaginationland Trilogy, these classic episodes come next. Previously released on DVD in a “Director’s Cut” movie edition, the trilogy is correctly presented here as originally aired, as Episodes I, II and III. The premise is that Butters, that questionably behaved young lad who often drifts off into flights of fancy, literally does fly off to the land of our collective imagination, where all the non-existent created characters of folklore, books, films, games – and even corporate branding – live in harmony, with the happy folk living one side of a great wall, and the villains residing on the other.
When terrorists attack, the bad guys break through and threaten to destroy Imaginationland and, thereby extension, our own inventive minds as well! Of course, while all this is going on, Eric Cartman has much more important – and highly personal – goals to accomplish and sets out on a mission to relieve himself from his decidedly dry balls. It’s a vastly amusing idea, and often outrageously played, but contrary to some claims of these three episodes being among the best ever put out in the series’ now ten-year history, it seems that, in their attempts to sledgehammer their points home, Parker and Stone, for once and very rarely, forgot to put in their usually very clever humor or jokes, going for regurgitations of other ideas already explored in South Park or aiming at oddly obvious targets for such a usually erudite program.
Imaginationland itself is an amazing place, drawn from all areas of popular culture, and populated by carbon copies of characters so blatant that I’m surprised there wasn’t any copyright fallout from these shows. When Ronald McDonald appears on screen trying, Saving Private Ryan-style, to locate his blown-off arm, I’m sorry, but that’s none other than Ronald McDonald looking for his arm on screen, and no-one else. I was continually raising my eyebrows as to just how close – sometimes even as good as using the originals – Matt and Trey dared to tread in their depictions, which is really where Imaginationland hits home, especially with its often extravagant (for South Park!) animated action sequences. There are times of the usual brilliance, including the truly inspired opening that sees Kyle get himself into that sticky spot with Cartman, highlighted by the absolutely classic realisation that Leprechauns do exist – yes, South Park’s comical grasp of the truly random is still greatly in effect. After all, where else can you see Popeye square off against Darth Maul, and Mickey Mouse’s head quite literally being blown off by a Cylon?
It’s back to more standard fare – and a commentary on videogames – in Guitar Queer-O, when Stan has a chance to break a million point score on a music game…if he ditches his game pal Kyle. With the two friends broken up, Stan falls into the perilous spiral so many other musicians have fallen before on the road to success. Finally, South Park Elementary’s girls come to the fore when they compile The List, a ranking of the boys in their class from cutest to ugliest. When Cartman manages to grab the list, it has a profound effect on the boys’ young minds, especially Kyle, who finds himself bottom of the roll. Proving that the more things change, the more they stay the same, the season’s final moments find a place for the return of two long-running gags.
While other long-running series have seen their creative output and popularity slowly fade, South Park just keeps going and going. That’s not to say it was the force it once was: we now know just what to expect when we tune in, and therefore some of the outrageousness, while still jaw dropping at times, is more accepted as being part of the package as opposed to the edgy feel of the earlier seasons. I have to admit to not following the show when it airs as often as I once did, choosing instead to catch the odd episode or dip in and out of the boxed sets, but whenever I do stumble across it I am still amazed by what they get away with, still highly amused, and still impressed at the questions posed and the points made. As the show continues its assault on everyone and everything, it looks like we’re in for a good few classic episodes yet!
Is This Thing Loaded?
Being well known for their attitude towards commentary tracks, Matt and Trey do adorn the beginnings of each show with their now infamous “mini-commentaries”, which have the pair speak for around five minutes at the top of the episodes. The guys are always infectious and their discussions always reveal both the huge amount of fun it must be to work on their program as well as why the scripts are so pointed, with the boys honing down every gag and situation, re-working and re-working each one until it’s razor sharp. Highlights are the reaction the real 24 crew gave to Parker and Stone when they saw their spoof episode, and the duo’s honest reaction to the 300 movie.
Quite rightly, those expecting the “movie version” of Imaginationland to be included here will have to look to that disc’s stand-alone release to get that edition. Although one might have an argument to include that for completeness sake, the South Park sets have always been pretty straight affairs: the show and little else (apart from an appropriate documentary for Season Two). To their credit too, this makes the Imaginationland release valid in its own right, leaving us the choice of which version to watch, and I’m glad the original television episodes are here in check.
Also included are four Comedy Central Quickies, which are essentially skits from some of the channel’s other shows, and full previews for the Jackass-styled torture comedy show Kenny Vs Spenny, which heavily promotes its Parker and Stone executive producer tag, Drawn Together: Season Three Uncensored And Extended and Comedy Central’s TV Funhouse: Uncensored are included. All three feature puking gags, which is either the height of amusement, or just boring.
As usual, the three discs come presented in a slipcased five-fold digipack, with episode listings including production number, synopsis and air date for each, surrounded by glossy production art that’s repeated on the discs. The insert featuring Jesus’ ready for action pose is, frankly, hysterical and gets me every time I pull the discs out of the box. The title of the set is, as usual, placed the “wrong way up”, just as intended by its creators, to mess with obsessive collectors’ minds!
Ink And Paint:
Going from murky composite video based masters to what must now be digital transfers, South Park has looked great in its past few seasons on DVD, and this eleventh season is no different. Keeping its lo-tech values in place, the show is still created 4:3 full-frame (the Imaginationland DVD release was reframed and cropped for a widescreen appearance) and this is how it’s presented.
Leave it to Matt and Trey’s big screen movies to blow the stuffings out of your surrounds: the turnaround on South Park is so fast that they just don’t have time to produce anything wider than 2.0 stereo! Nonetheless, any episode of the show has enough pyrotechnics to make a small dent in whatever set-up you have, and the onslaught of audio is well reproduced here.
South Park: The Complete Eleventh Season brings us up to date in the broadcast history of the show, and it’s still going just as strong as ever. By the time a show reaches eleven seasons, its audience members already know if they’re going to pick up the eventual DVD collection, so this is likely already lining up on the shelf next to the previous ten volumes if you’re a fan. For those who might be tempted to say ten’s enough, I’d say push for at least one more and go all the way up to eleven, as there are some pure South Park moments included. A show with a big reputation that needs little introduction, those yet to discover the delights of the most depraved program on television could sample the set and come away with a little inspiration, but might be better off starting with an earlier season or the big screen movie. Try to find the set online for a more reasonable cost than the full asking price (it’s going for around $30 or less online) and, whatever else, for those with the right minds, you can’t really go wrong with South Park: The Complete Eleventh Season.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?