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Wednesday, March 25, 2009
  DVD Review: South Park - Season 12

I’m not really a South Park fan. I’m familiar with the show, and I think it’s had some pretty hilarious and smart stuff on it (which I’ve seen primarily in clips on the Internet – there’s a Wheel of Fortune gag that’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, ever), and because of an ex-girlfriend who was REALLY into it, I’ve seen the 1999 movie, Bigger, Longer & Uncut, more times than I care to think about. (It’s a pretty funny movie, I’m not knocking it, I’ve just probably seen it 10 to 15 times more than was necessary for me.) Basically I think South Park is okay from what I’ve seen, but I haven’t been blown away enough to seek it out and watch it. So what does the show’s 12th season have to offer a guy like me? Quite a bit, as it turns out.
The first thing that struck me about season 12 of South Park is that if there’s a true successor to The Simpsons out there, it’s this show (Family Guy seems like the more obvious choice, because it’s a total ripoff from The Simpsons; working against it however, is the fact that it’s repetitive, hackneyed drivel). It went through the same period of almost gag-inducing mainstream popularity when it first hit (remember how ubiquitous Cartman t-shirts and dolls were when it first hit?), and once that faded the show sort of evolved into being a satire of media, society, and – eventually – the show itself. South Park a smart show made by smart people, that often – arguably too often – traffics in decidedly lowbrow humour, but make no mistake, there are some legitimately sharp minds at work here. It’s funny and it’s actually about things, and even when creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone err on the side of heavy-handedness in getting their message across (often in the form of a somewhat tongue-in-cheek speech from one of the kids at the end), the point they’re making is more often than not a good one.

Season 12 of South Park is far enough in that, if you’re not buying what Parker and Stone are selling at this point, the show’s probably just not for you. But it’s packed with awesome and hilarious pop culture referenWhat comes next is...not prettyces ranging from the somewhat obscure (the Heavy Metal parody “Major Boobage,” which had me in stitches the entire time) to the very obvious (a ham-fisted spoof of High School Musical). But for a season of television that ran last year, some of the jokes seemed weirdly stale (they just got around to making fun of goth kids? Really?), and in the aforementioned High School Musical spoof they actually directly reference the hugely successful tween franchise, despite the fact that, by that point in the episode, it’s beyond obvious that that’s what they’re satirizing.

But despite the crude animation, they manage to make a running gag of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg literally raping Indiana Jones (a metaphor for Crystal Skull’s crappiness) actually sort of creepy and disturbing – particularly when they riff on the infamous scene in The Accused. And the post-election night episode (which the staff remarkably turned around in 24 hours), “About Last Night…”, reveals that rather than being bitter political rivals, Barack Obama and John McCain are actually comrades in an elaborate Ocean’s 11-esque scheme to steal the Hope Diamond (also: Michelle isn’t actually Barack’s wife, and Sarah Palin is actually a brilliant British burglar merely disguised as a folksy hockey mom of questionable intelligence). When South Park is firing on all cylinders like that, it’s right up there with The Simpsons. A very funny show.



I guess it’s because I don’t watch much South Park and therefore don’t have any of the previous season-set DVDs, but apparently Parker and Stone only do “mini-commentaries” on most of the episodes (as opposed to full commentaries), and evidently what tDoes stealing a priceless diamond count as stimulus?his means is that they only talk for the first couple of minutes of each episode, and then they just stop. It’s a move that makes a certain amount of sense – it’s better than them trying to find ways to fill time for 20-odd minutes at a time. I respect it, even if I would have enjoyed hearing from them some more, as they’re both incredibly smart, funny dudes – but at the same time it’s sort of weird that after five or so minutes, the commentary ends and you’re left just watching the episode. It’s an odd choice, but I’m late enough to the South Park DVD party that I’m sure fans are used to it now.

There’s also a nice range of featurettes, including brief making-of bits about specific episodes (like the post-election show), and a six-part making-of mini-documentary, “Six Days to South Park,” which follows the day-by-day creation of an episode. It features six animators and producers and directors and editors explaining the process for creating the show, but conspicuously absent are Parker and Stone; I guess at this point they’re more the idea men, focusing on writing and other stuff, and now the nuts and bolts are handled by other folks (I could be wrong but I seem to recall reading that in the early days they did much of the animation themselves), and it’s cool that they share the spotlight with their incredibly hard-working crew (they regularly turn out episodes in a matter of days, which is pretty amazing, regardless of what you think of the “crude” animation). Overall this is a very solid DVD set.

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