I’ve been a fan of South Park ever since a friend introduced me to the internet Christmas card that started it all. It was Santa versus Jesus and these short potty-mouthed kids that somehow wormed their way under your skin. Pretty soon I was downloading the episodes and watching them on my computer. For some reason I can’t quite explain, I’ve very rarely watched an episode on Comedy Central. By the time things were getting tighter and riskier downloading the shorts, the single disc, 4 episode DVDs began to arrive in stores. So my South Park viewing moved from the PC to the DVD player. In a short time season sets began to arrive, and I looked forward to them with much anticipation, still watching it infrequently on television. After all, who needs the commercials and those silly network bugs that distract you on the screen? The series itself evolved in that time. The show was once achieved through a stop motion process using construction paper cutouts. The animation was crude. After the Christmas card, the characters were significantly redesigned. They had a very evil look on that short. The first couple of episodes brought us an evolution toward the characters we know and love today. After a while the animation went to a computer process. The look remained the same, but gone were the paper cuts and stop motion photography. As the show progressed there were less and less bleeps. It’s not that the language got any tamer. Standards got a little looser. Finally the bleeps would disappear from at least the DVD releases. And now South Park has crossed another milestone. Welcome to Blu-ray and high definition, South Park.
I often have trouble believing that South Park has been around for as long as it has. It’s not just the passing of 13 years, but the sheer brilliance in the face of an increasingly politically correct society. It’s like watching old episodes of All In The Family. Who believes that Archie Bunker would have any chance of survival in the 21st Century? It’s no wonder that Norman Lear has become involved in the series. It’s the last remaining vestige of a once great freedom to be ridiculous and offend. Eric Cartman’s a lot worse than Archie ever was. We always knew that, in his heart, Archie had a soul. Cartman’s a psychopath without a conscience, and in a civilized society we would be terrified of the existence of such a demon spawn…except he’s just so dang funny. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been walking a tightrope for over 13 years now, and it just doesn’t get old. One of the reasons the show doesn’t grow stale is their ability to make such a quick turnaround on current events. Because the show takes literally days to write and produce, they are quite often always the first to address an issue. They had an election night episode on literally the next day in last season. That means the ideas stay as fresh as the headlines. Finally, you have to credit the expanding universe of good characters. The core group of Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny were great for a lot of years. But, watching this 13th season you have to admire how much Butters has infused himself into that core. We also have such great semi-regulars as Timmy, Jimmy, and Token. These characters allow the stories to expand in ways the core group could not. I’ve honestly come to think of Butters as one of the core now.
So what about the episodes themselves? Let’s play a little game called: The Good The Bad, and The Ugly, shall we?
The Coon: This Watchmen parody is a wonderful Cartman episode. Cartman begins to act as a vigilante dressed in a raccoon superhero outfit. Unfortunately, his thunder is stolen when another hero named Mysterion gets all the attention. Now Cartman teams up with Captain Chaos to bring him down.
Margaritaville: With the economy tanking, Randy becomes a cult leader, preaching that spending must completely stop, except for the essentials: water, bread, and margaritas. Kyle begins to counter the new ideology, and the show becomes a parody for the story of Christ and The Passion. Cartman combines the role of Judas with that of Quint from Jaws.
Pinewood Derby: Randy is so competitive in Stan’s Pinewood Derby race that he steals a superconductor and implants it into Stan’s car. The result sends the car into deep space where it breaks the warp barrier and brings the Federation of Planets to test Earth’s honesty. Unfortunately, they land in South Park.
Fatbeard: Cartman wants to be a pirate. Enough said.
WTF: The boys have a great time at a WWF performance. It inspires them to join the school wrestling team, where they discover that wrestling means something entirely different. So they start their own wrestling federation. Pure South Park gold.
Pee: We all suspected it was bad that everyone was peeing in those water park pools.
Eat Pray Queef: Let me begin by saying how much I love South Park but hate Terrance and Philip. This is one of the worst episodes of both. It brings us a female version of the farting Canadians in the Queef Sisters.
Whale Wars: This is a good example of what happens when Matt and Trey just go off the deep end. The boys try and protect the whale and dolphin population from the rampaging Japanese.
The F Word: A whole show about the meaning of “fag”. Give me a break, guys.
The Ring: I don’t know what clichéd means; is there anything more ugly than watching Kenny trying to get himself oral sex? Oh yeah, there’s the Jonas Brothers. Well, this episode has both. There is a rather funny moment when Mickey Mouse is kicking the crap out of a Jonas Brother. No, I don’t know which one. Does it matter?
Fishsticks: Cartman “helps” Jimmy write a new joke that becomes a worldwide phenomenon. Unfortunately, Cartman can’t seem to get the credit he feels is his due. Kanye West is also included as the only guy on the planet who does not get the joke. The idea could have put this episode in the “good” section, but it beats the wordplay to death. Then it would have merely been “bad” until the final 30 seconds of West humping sea life. That’s Aunt Esther Ugly.
Each episode of South Park is presented in an interesting center expanded 1.78:1 aspect ratio. I’m still not sure what exactly I was looking at. When I compared it to the standard DVD there didn’t seem to be that much more on the screen. Colors are fantastically bright in this 1080i image. Brought to you by a solid AVC/MPEG-4 codec, the picture certainly looks as good as it ever did. There are some problems here, however. I suspect it’s a flaw in the animation, but the faces often look out of focus, or at least blurred from time to time. At first I just kind of caught it, but once I knew it was there it was hard not to notice. Otherwise the picture is very clean and sharp.
The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 track is perfect. Even though I did not care for the episode, the Major Boobage episode made incredibly good use of surrounds. There’s some high flying music and wonderfully immersive ambient sounds. Otherwise, the audio differs mostly in the greater range of dynamics to the sound. It certainly felt much fuller than the standard DVD.
Stone and Parker are back with their “commentary minis”.
Inside XBox: (4:36) HD From the video game machine program, we get a look at an episode behind the scenes. Sections include storyboarding, lip synching, animation, editorial, but no Matt or Trey.
Deleted Scenes: (7:14) HD How about some completed animation extra footage? You get 2 alternate endings and 5 extra scenes.
The second South Park high definition release is another winner. Who would have believed that this rather crudely animated show could be so special in HD? While there are some real duds here, the show continues to be on top when it peaks. A lot of the inconsistency is the result of the swift working schedule they keep in order to stay so topical. I’ll gladly sift through the bad ones to get those moments of “television gold”.