Paramount // 2001 // 380 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // February 23rd, 2005
My mom says that God has a plan for everyone. I guess I was "Plan B."
Perhaps no one was more shocked that South Park had made it to a fifth season than creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Season Four had been an absolute killer for the pair, a cobbled-together collection of ideas, fashioned on the fly, while simultaneously trying to complete work on their magnum opus -- the feature film South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. The strain and stress threatened to undermine everything they did, and Comedy Central wasn't cutting them any slack. By the end, the boys were tired and tapped out. Coming back for another year seemed like a task of Herculean proportions to consider, let alone make a reality, especially with yet another new project -- a new sitcom entitled That's My Bush -- taking up most of their time and efforts. It wasn't a lack of popularity that was eating away at the series, but a lack of time and consideration by the creators (even if Season Four was some manner of milestone). The end appeared to be near.
But thanks to a dogged spirit, a sense of sardonic adventure, and oddly enough, the horrible events of September 11th, the gang from that Podunk mountain town in Colorado did return for another laugh-filled season. Familiar targets were once again trounced upon and a brave new world of up-to-the-minute manipulation was introduced into the narrative. Park would no longer sit idly by and let shows like Face the Nation, Cross Fire, and The McLaughin Group steal all the political thunder. They would add as much current events anarchy and policy platform pratfalls to their muse as they could. Trey and Matt had rediscovered their activist roots (who knew they had them in the first place?), and the results were another magnificent, if slightly mutant season of the show. In its fifth variation on a twisted theme, South Park proved it could attack the war in Afghanistan and issues of free speech along with celebrating stories about incredibly gay experimental vehicles and talking towels. Season Five set the benchmark for all South Park to come. And it would create a very high bar indeed.
Believe it or not, but Kyle, Kenny, Stan, and Cartman are still vigilantly roaming the snowbound boondocks of South Park, Colorado sticking their parka-ed private parts into everyone's business. Stan is still a wuss, vomiting over the merest mention of Wendy Testaburger. Kenny is still dying at the drop of a hat, or a piano. Cartman is still a loudmouthed, abrasive bully, maintaining his big-boned girth nicely. And Kyle is still as Hebrew as they come. During Season Four, the boys graduated to the fourth grade, got a new homeroom teacher -- Ms. Choksondik -- and discovered the delights of having a severely handicapped friend named Timmy in their midst. Season Five will introduce yet another crippled pal, the worst character sidekick of all time, and the emergence of Butters as an equal in the South Park universe. The individual episodic hijinks the boys get into, spread out over three DVDs, are as follows:
* "It Hits the Fan"
When the boys learn that a nighttime cop drama is going to say the "S" word on the air, they gear up for some curse word coolness. Too bad then that the use of such foul language has a very demonic consequence.
* "Cripple Fight"
There's a new handicapped boy in town, a motivational speaker/stand-up comedian named Jimmy. While the rest of the guys think he's great, wheelchair-bound Timmy is unimpressed. Meanwhile, a local organization bans gays from being scout leaders.
* "Super Best Friends"
When magician David Blaine starts his own religion, all the boys in South Park are amazed...except for Stan. He senses trouble and gets Jesus, along with the Messiah's Super Best Friends, to fight the crazy cultist.
* "Scott Tenorman Must Die"
Cartman finally gets his pubes...from a kid down the street. Indeed, when he learns that you don't buy body hair, he makes it his goal to reclaim his money, and his dignity, from this shifty fifth grader.
* "Terrance and Philip: Behind the Blow"
When Kyle promises the Earth Day people a reunion of the once popular fart fellows, the boys soon learn the sad truth: Terrance and Phillip have broken up. They need to get them back together, however, or face the deadly wrath of the environmentalists.
When a relative leaves Cartman $1 million, the young man decides to fulfill a lifelong dream. He buys an amusement park and refuses to let anyone else inside, especially his false friends Stan and Kyle.
* "Proper Condom Use"
When the South Park elementary schools teach sex education, the ramifications are immediate and extreme. It is soon an all-out war for sexual hygiene superiority between the naïve males and the scared shitless females.
The boys meet up with the worst character ever, a genetically engineered piece of linen named Towelie. When their video game console is stolen, they discover that this retarded, pot-smoking towel may be the key to getting it back.
* "Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants"
It's a few weeks after 9/11 and South Park is in a tizzy. The boys are required to send $1 to children in Afghanistan. The kids send our boys a goat in return. Getting the livestock back to its home will be tough, especially with all the terrorists around.
* "How to Eat with Your Butt"
After a school photo prank goes awry, a family with asses for faces comes to South Park looking for their son. Cartman, seeing butt-faced people in the flesh, is struck humorless and unable to find anything funny anymore.
* "The Entity"
Mr. Garrison, sick and tired of the post 9/11 annoyance at the airport, decides to create a new mode of transportation to compete with plane travel. In the meantime, Kyle's incredibly Jewish cousin Kyle comes for a visit.
* "Here Comes the Neighborhood"
When the boys make fun of Token for being so rich, the little black boy takes out an ad, hoping to get more of his kind to move to South Park. Suddenly, incredibly wealthy African American celebrities overrun the small mountain town.
* "Kenny Dies"
Kenny is diagnosed with a terminal disease and the boys are devastated, especially Stan, who just can't face it. It is up to Cartman, and the several dozen fetuses he found, to advance the cause of stem cell research and save his friend.
* "Butter's Very Own Episode"
Everyone's favorite blond-headed sprite gets his very own show. When Butters uncovers his dad's secret same-sex life, it sets his mom off into a homicidal rage. And Butters is the object of her destructive tendencies.
There are actually two distinct halves of South Park's fifth season, a bifurcated nature that stems directly from the horrible events of September 11th. Unlike The Simpsons or King of the Hill, which is mapped out, scripted, and recorded months in advance, Parker and Stone pride themselves on keeping up to date with current pop culture trends and the ever-changing media landscape. They also blame a slacker sense of procrastination mixed with a terrible tiredness derived from overwork for the last minute logistics of most of their shows. Any way you look at it, the freshness factor usually serves South Park well. When an episode can take a story or an image ripped directly from the headlines of a few hours ago, and implant it into their surreal cartoon satire, the results are usually amazingly anarchic and just a little bit unsettling. Constant calls of "how'd they do that?" are usually met with humbling humility from the incredibly talented duo. After all, they're just lucky enough to have the kind of set up that allows for timely topicality. If they had been saddled with a much longer and lengthy production schedule, the show might not be as fresh, or feel as current.
But 9/11 changed all that, retrofitting the series into a strange situation it didn't quite know how to emerge from. With the new segments of the season weeks from production (Comedy Central always automatically divides South Park into two seasonal presentations -- Spring and Fall), Parker and Stone had to figure out how to address the tragedy. Naturally, for the usually taboo busting boys, certain subjects were out of the question (NYC and the Twin Towers, for one). But the war on terror needed addressing, and the duo decided to attack the one cow that was no longer all that sacred. Actually, he was wanted, dead or alive. From this point forward in Season Five, all bets were off, all angles were open for exploration, and the series developed an oddly compelling social and international conscience. South Park was never really known for its political stances (except that everything that Parker and Stone hated was "lame" and the people who promoted them were "douche bags"), but Season Five would seem more overtly agenda-oriented than ever before.
So, after the 9/11 inspired episode "Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants" (which earned the show an Emmy nod), every subsequent installment of Season Five was fashioned around yet another notorious hot button issue. Whether it was racism ("Here Comes the Neighborhood"), the piss poor airline industry/anti-Semitism ("The Entity"), or the whole Susan Smith/John and Patsy Ramsey world of child murder ("Butters' Very Own Episode"), South Park was percolating with passion. Heck, even an obvious parody of that "very special" stigma that the sitcom loves to wallow in ("Kenny Dies") derails into a pro-Stem Cell diatribe.
Granted, none of these political polemics detracted from South Park's greatness, but such a sudden, substantial shift was rather noticeable (they would carry this activist concept over into Season Six). In many ways, Season Five was an awakening and a centering for the show, a chance for the wilder elements to be toned down in favor of a more precise deconstruction of the frivolities and foibles of the world around us. While Parker and Stone, the kings of cartoon gross-out humor, seem hard pressed to be the messengers of such a new radical missive, there are several scene in the fifth season that play like practice pronouncements for a smarter, saner version of the show.
But back to the sophomoric for a second: Disc One of Season Five probably represents five of the most consistently excellent episodes South Park has produced. Moving from the free speech insanity of "It Hits the Fan" (where the word "shit" is said a record 142 times) to the introduction of handi-capable comic Jimmy and the beginning of his frightening feud with fellow freak Timmy (the classic "Cripple Fight"), there is nary a misstep present. Indeed, the one quasi-weak installment, "Super Best Friends," still has some of the best moments of any of the previous four seasons. And it has an actual depiction of Mohammed, which should be enough to get even the most ardent infidel in dutch with the Muslims. For all its foul language flagrancy, "It Hits the Fan" actually has some telling things to say about the meaning and merit of words. It contains some rock solid rationales for not swearing, more than any other potty-mouthed show ever issued.
"Scott Tenorman Must Die" proves that even the most juvenile junk (Cartman buying pubes from an older kid) can be turned into a twisted, darkly comic classic. "Super Best Friends" does make a monkey out of an already ridiculed retard (does anyone admit to liking that bald butthole Blaine?), and "Terrence and Phillip: Behind the Blow" is a nice attempt at tying in the major motion picture to the small screen situations. It also contains one superb set piece moment -- the Canadian version of Hamlet ("to be or not to be, buddy").
But "Cripple Fight" is indeed the landmark here, a combination of some older subject matter (child molestation and perverted pedophiles) with the Boy Scouts's ban on gay leaders tossed in to make the show more sensational -- not to mention giving Big Gay Al a chance to return. But with the introduction of Jimmy, we get the kind of envelope pushing parody that only South Park dares to attempt. Utilizing a cliché in the entertainment industry (the handicapped person who does motivational comedy to prove his or her proposed dignity and self-worth) and plopping him in the middle of the most politically incorrect kids in the nation is a masterstroke. And Jimmy's derivative jokes, a combination of putdowns and onerous observations, are just too funny for words. But the best bit is the shot-for-shot lift from John Carpenter's 1988 film They Live. Recreating the big burly brawl between wrestler-turned-actor "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Keith David with the wheelchair bound Timmy and crutches-utilizing Jimmy is just genius: a surreal circumstance that has the lame lads kicking each other's ass incessantly for untold minutes of mayhem. The result is so resplendent it almost undermines everything else in the box set.
It's no surprise then that Disc Two begins with a bit of a bungle. "Cartmanland" has a wonderful premise and a particularly powerful subplot (Kyle losing faith in God). But the situation seems to go nowhere, and Cartman ends up holding the short end of the stick yet again. The same could be said for "How To Eat With Your Butt," which revolves around Eric losing his ability to laugh, and only having it restored by the discovery of the butt-faced people's real son. No, the best three episodes on the second disc are "Towelie," "Proper Condom Use," and the 9/11-inspired "Osama Bin Laden has Farty Pants."
Towelie makes a terrifically mockable member of the cast. After all, who ever heard of a pot-smoking piece of cloth? When the kids are interacting and ridiculing the freshly fried piece of fabric (or when playing their video game), the show is sensational. But the minute the meandering government conspiracy plotline kicks in, the show kind of goes stale. "Proper Condom Use," on the other hand, is near perfect. Where else can you find a gay kindergarten teacher telling toddlers about the Dirty Sanchez, a full-blown sickening sex scene between Mr. Mackey and Ms. Choksondik, and a hilarious homage to The Road Warrior? With a take on sex education that is both reasonable and rib tickling, South Park proves it can make a point and piss all over it as well.
But it is Osama's dirty drawers that draw the most attention here, even if the A story is a little sloppy. The whole dollars to Afghanistan plot is kind of pointless, seemingly used only to get the boys over to the Middle East to scrap with terrorists. But when you've got a goat being mistaken for Stevie Nicks, a "bomb first and ask questions never" attitude from the US military, a nation of scared citizens glued to CNN (Stan's mom has been immobile for weeks), and an actual glimpse of Osama's shriveled sex sausage, you've got some incredibly smart satire. The whole Cartman/Osama -- Bugs/Elmer idea plays flawlessly. In fact, it should have taken up more of the episode. Using the Warner Brothers ideal of crime and punishment to simultaneously show the stupidity of the terrorists as well as the less than clever conceits of the American government (who is off in the distance discharging round after round of ammunition in a massive firefight), Cartman's dressing down of this international criminal is classic. The show still is a little slow in the beginning, but it ends with quite a bang.
With only four episodes, Disc Three is a bit of a letdown from a sheer numbers position. The fact that one doesn't even feature our main characters (the boys make a brief cameo appearance in "Butters' Very Own Episode") gives the impression of the season ending on a whimper, and not a scream. This sentiment is only partially true. "The Entity" and "Kenny Dies" are still first-rate Park. Using the airline debacle in the aftermath of 9/11 to basically highlight a unicycle that ass-rapes you ("The Entity") is excellent, giving Mr. Garrison a chance to showcase his more "flamboyant" facets. "Kenny Dies" is equally deceptive. Parker and Stone superimpose a serious storyline about Kenny dying from a mysterious disease with stem cell research in what seems like a natural, if slightly nasty combination. But there are a couple of problems right at the start. In order to get the tone perfect, they spend too much time on the "serious" segment, continually wallowing in Stan's angst and Cartman's sadness. Far funnier are the scenes with Eric as a fetus broker (he found a truckload of abortions on the side of the road). His classic line -- "You're breaking my balls here" -- is next-day-at-school repeatable. But only the ending, which takes an unexpected twist into the cruel and callous, seems to save the show.
It's up to Butters and bigotry to hold the fifth season firm, and both "Here Comes the Neighborhood" and "Butters' Very Own Episode" do so luminously. The entire black/white issue is retrofitted as a battle between the new rich and affluent African American celebrity culture (actors, rappers, musicians) and the dirt poor dunce caps of South Park. Watching the senseless citizenry burn lower case "T"s on the lawns of those they want to depart (the "t" stands for "time to leave") or wearing white sheets over their heads to "scare away" the newcomers is incredible bold and brave. What could have very easily turned intolerant became something focused and fascinating. Oh yeah, and funny too.
Butters braves the storm as well, as Parker and Stone use his personal program to deal with lying criminals who apparently got away with their crimes (they finger the Ramseys, OJ, and Congressman Gary Condit -- remember him? -- as the "looking for the real killers" lot). Pushing the limits of pro-homosexual content (some of the scenes with Butters' bi-curious dad are rather out there) and psycho mother murderousness, this is actually a really inventive show. The final moments, where Butters' dada calls out the freed felons, rambling and ranting as the camera focus on their smiling faces, is really well done. It seems to sum up everything funny and insightful about the fifth season of the show.
Indeed, Season Five is no holding pattern production, no attempt to tread water until some added inspiration comes along. Viewed as a whole, South Park can be seen as a potent work in progress, an ever-evolving platform for Parker and Stone to test out the tolerances of humor. They burst through and bust taboos, take on sacred cows as well as the standard sitcom crap. They apply irony and slander, the sophomoric and the satirical, all in an effort to continuously shape and shift their silliness. Had the series stayed with its original idea -- four profane kids living their loser lives in a backwoods burg -- South Park would have stopped being relevant years ago. But somehow, thanks to the true talent of its creators, the bucking of controversy by Comedy Central to keep the series on the air, and the ever-changing face of the funny facets of the scripting, South Park has managed the unthinkable. It has risen in the ranks to actually challenge The Simpsons as the best animated comedy of all time.
The stories and the structures the series followed in Season Five would mark the moment where nearly every aspect of the show came into its own -- the writing, the direction, the voice-over work, and the subject matter -- a time when there was no denying the distinctness of the show or its sentiments. While the next few seasons would bring about their own growing pains and giddy pleasures, Season Five is where South Park finally found its political voice. And the sound of its spoof was delightfully deafening.
Paramount gives the South Park: The Complete Fifth Season DVD set a pleasant sound and vision package. Each episode is pristine in its 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and the sound is sharp and clear. Dividing up just 14 installments over three discs means that the image quality is guaranteed and colors are dazzling and abundant. The Dolby Digital Stereo also sounds solid, especially during the musical moments. While it would have been nice to flesh out the extras with something other than brief segments for Comedy Central shows (called "Quickies"), we can at least be thankful for the micro-comments and a stellar transfer.
Speaking of the commentaries, the sole important bonus on this DVD set is another installment of the almost inventive "mini" narratives by the boys. Hoping to stay within the same running time -- three to four minutes maximum per episode -- of Season Four, Parker and Stone speed through material here, providing some insight into each show. Though they sound tired and a little preoccupied (there is Team America talk scattered throughout), it's still amazing to see how much information the guys can deliver in that short amount of time. Also, since we are used to it by now, the novelty has worn off and we can concentrate on the anecdotes and behind the scenes stories. It's hard to deny how funny and engaging Parker and Stone are, and their quick-witted quips add a lot to the DVD presentation.
They discuss at length the They Live connection to "Cripple Fight," offer their own insights in the post-9/11 mentality of America, and continually criticize Towelie as "the worst character ever." From where the animated David Blaine got his "twah" (and what the street magician had to say about his portrayal) to the original "play it straight" premise for "Kenny Dies," the reaction by fans to Mr. Garrison's last line in "Here Comes the Neighborhood" to how it feels to constantly lose the Emmy, these diminutive discussions really do add context to the episodes, as well as illustrating the genial, regular guy groove of Parker and Stone. They really do sound like a fun pair to hang out with.
Any other argument about Paramount's lack of additional extras is pointless. Like Rhino with MST3K, it's obviously a conspiracy of some sort.
While it may be a stretch to say that a horrible homeland disaster finally sharpened up South Park's sense of purpose, it is certainly clear that, over the last few seasons, the show had gotten more confrontational and controversial. It had sacrificed more holy heifers in the never-ending battle for cartoon comedy supremacy, and fought their own war on terror by farting all over the pompous policies of a government gone insane. True, there are still the crudities, the anus jokes and low brow witticisms, but the fact remains that South Park is one of the few animated television shows that consistently braves the barriers without getting pushed back, or breaking through into preachy, teachy territory.
Season Five will always be remembered as the time when Terrence and Phillip finally reconciled (with decidedly gassy results), when the military learned that you just can't come between a kid and his Okama Gamesphere, and that Kenny can actually die and stay dead (well, at least for about a season). It also proved that true talent always rises to the challenge when called upon. It has been said before, but it bears repeating: Trey Parker and Matt Stone have created a near-masterpiece of a show, a character driven animated sitcom that uses politics, as well as pratfalls, to stay relevant and ridiculous. So come on down to South Park and meet some friends of mine. As always, you'll be glad you did.
South Park: The Complete Fifth Season is hereby acquitted on all charges. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are also found not guilty of tampering with near-perfection. Paramount is sentenced to thirty days in DVD Extras Re-Education Camp for failing to provide more than a smattering of bonus material.
Review content copyright © 2005 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Spanish)
Running Time: 380 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Mini-Commentaries from Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone on Each Episode
* Comedy Central Quick Takes
* Official Site
* Season One Review
* Season Two Review
* Season Three Review
* Season Four Review