Drug binges? Peruvian flute bands? Internet porn? For Judge Victor Valdivia, South Park isn't fiction but a slice of life.
Our reviews of Christmas Time In South Park (published November 28th, 2007), South Park: The Complete First Season (published April 7th, 2003), South Park: The Complete Second Season (published March 8th, 2004), South Park: The Complete Third Season (published January 14th, 2004), South Park: The Complete Fourth Season (published July 19th, 2004), South Park: The Complete Fifth Season (published February 23rd, 2005), South Park: The Complete Sixth Season (published October 11th, 2005), South Park: The Complete Seventh Season (published March 21st, 2006), South Park: The Complete Eighth Season (published August 29th, 2006), South Park: The Complete Ninth Season (published February 28th, 2007), South Park: The Complete Tenth Season (published August 21st, 2007), South Park: The Complete Eleventh Season (published August 12th, 2008), South Park: The Complete Fourteenth Season (Blu-ray) (published May 1st, 2011), South Park: The Complete Fifteenth Season (Blu-ray) (published March 23rd, 2012), South Park: A Little Box Of Butters (published October 13th, 2010), South Park: Imaginationland (published March 24th, 2008), South Park: The Complete Twelfth Season (Blu-Ray) (published March 10th, 2009), South Park: The Cult Of Cartman: Revelations (published October 1st, 2008), South Park: The Hits, Volume 1 (published November 8th, 2006), South Park: The Passion Of The Jew (published September 13th, 2004), South Park, Volume 2 (published January 21st, 2000), and South Park, Volume 5 (published January 21st, 2000) are also available.
Craig: "Do you guys know why nobody else at school likes hanging out with you? Because you're always doing stuff like this. You're always coming up with a stupid idea to do something, and then it backfires, and then you end up in some foreign country or in outer space or something. That's why no one likes hanging out with you guys."
Cartman: "You're being extremely negative, Craig."
It's possible Craig might be onto something. This season of South Park contains some of the series' best moments, but also demonstrates that the show seems to have fallen into something of a rut. Maybe it's time to bring back Jesus, or the Christmas Critters, or even the Jakovasaurs. Okay, definitely not the Jakovasaurs, but there needs to be something that could make the overreliance on pop culture a little easier to swallow.
Facts of the Case
Here are the 14 episodes collected on three discs:
"Britney's New Look"
"Canada on Strike"
"Eek! A Penis"
"Super Fun Time"
"The China Probrem"
"Breast Cancer Show Ever"
"Pandemic 2: The Startling"
"About Last Night…"
"Elementary School Musical"
If there's any way to describe the twelfth season of South Park, it would be that this is the season where Trey Parker (and, to a much lesser degree, Matt Stone) decided to be filmmakers. Virtually every episode contains parodies, references, or homages to various movies. Just a quick listing of the movies referenced and parodied would include: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Heavy Metal, Cloverfield, Ocean's Eleven (the remake), The Grapes of Wrath, Twilight, High School Musical, and Stand and Deliver. Those are just the most obvious ones; there are surely many others. That heavy dependence on movie references has been a staple of South Park for years, but here it goes too far. The season starts off with some of the series' best episodes, but the second half relies so heavily on movie parodies and references that it stops being amusing or incisive. Simply referencing a movie isn't enough; there has to be a reason or point. Usually, South Park can be brilliant when it references movies, and there are several episodes this season that live up to that standard. The second half in particular, however, just settles for movie references for their own sake, and winds up disappointing as a result.
Take "About Last Night…," the episode about the 2008 elections. This episode actually has two storylines, and the difference between them highlights just what's so frustrating about this season. The storyline about the contrasting emotions between Obama supporters, led by Randy, and McCain supporters, led by Mr. Garrison, is riotous and smart. As Obama supporters burn cars, riot, and pick fights while proclaiming that America is great again, McCain supporters commit suicide and hole up in a cave with hoarded weapons and food while proclaiming that America is ruined. It's a wonderfully sharp satire of the overheated rhetoric that surrounded the campaign, but it's only partly explored. The bulk of the episode centers on a rehash of the 2001 remake of Ocean's Eleven with Obama as George Clooney, Michelle as Julia Roberts, and so on. This isn't funny or clever. It's just the movie with the presidential candidates and associates inserted as replacements. If that's supposed to be the joke, it's one that really might only translate to Parker, Stone, and legions of devoted Ocean's Eleven fans, whoever they might be. South Park can and has done much better than this before; why be so lazy now?
This sort of slackness is emblematic of the second half of the season in particular. The two "Pandemic" episodes, for instance, take up nearly an hour purely to satirize the idea behind the film Cloverfield. Unless you have a particularly strong opinion about Cloverfield, you'll be hard-pressed to understand why it warranted taking up two entire episodes. Moreover, just as with the election episode, a funnier and more promising storyline is shortchanged to make room for this one. The story about the boys discovering a growing abundance of Peruvian flute bands and their attempts to bring in their schoolmate Craig, who mercilessly dissects their lives, is far better than the guinea-pigs material. There's also "The China Probrem," which is ostensibly about Cartman's burgeoning xenophobia but which is actually devoted to likening the last Indiana Jones movie to literally being violated. Really? Of all the things that happened in 2008, Crystal Skull was the one that truly provoked Trey Parker's outrage? Yes, of course it's a joke. It's just not a particularly funny or original one, no matter how much you disliked the movie.
It's a shame to see South Park go for such easy targets when this season has enough moments to recall just how hard-hitting this show can be at its best. Arguably the season's best episode, "Breast Cancer Show Ever" is a prime example. As Wendy begins to wonder if fighting Cartman is a good idea, Principal Victoria rallies her with a speech that's one of the most jaw-dropping pieces of satire ever seen on this show: she likens cancer to Eric Cartman. Meaning, cancer is just like a greedy selfish little punk who only takes and can't be reasoned with. The only way to defeat cancer is the only way to defeat Cartman: you kick his ass mercilessly and you never let him take anything from you again. Parker mentions on the commentary track that this episode was something of a catharsis for his deceased grandmother who died of breast cancer a few years ago, and when seeing it, it's hard to understand how the show could be so devastatingly brilliant this moment and yet so lazy and formulaic in several subsequent episodes.
Technically, the show is the usual full-frame transfer and stereo soundtrack. Fans should note that this season, like the previous one, is uncensored, so even the strongest profanities are unbleeped. Also, the Heavy Metal sequences in "Major Boobage" are meant to look grainy and fuzzy to recreate that film's early-'80s look.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It would actually be unfair to peg this season as an entirely weak one. In fact, the ratio of good to bad would easily come out to about 2:1. There are only a couple of outright clinkers, such as the two "Pandemic" episodes and maybe "Tonsil Trouble," which even Parker and Stone essentially cop to on the mini-commentary tracks. The excessive reliance on movie parodies and references only becomes tiresome if you watch these episodes as a set. Dipping into one or two at a time makes their flaws less apparent. Also, not all the movie references are lazy either. "Major Boobage," "Over Logging," and "Eek! A Penis!" actually make clever use of the movie references without either relying too heavily on them or cramming them in needlessly. South Park actually hit something of a slump around the ninth season, but there's more than enough good material here to easily outrank that era.
In addition, fans will be pleased to note that this is the first South Park DVD set to contain sizable extras since Season Two. The mini-commentaries by Parker and Stone are always a pleasure to listen to, as they explain the ideas and making of each episode, sometimes even copping to subpar writing or execution. This season, there are also behind-the-scenes featurettes devoted to three episodes: "Major Boobage," "Super Fun Time," and "About Last Night…" For these, storyboards, animatics, and some live-action capture footage used for the Heavy Metal sequences in "Major Boobage" are included with commentary by Parker, Stone, and various South Park animation staffers such as Eric "Butters" Stough and Adrian "Token" Beard. Animation buffs who have been curious about the process of making an episode will enjoy these in particular, but even regular South Park fans should give these a look, especially the "Major Boobage" footage. The contrast between South Park's fast computerized approach with the painstaking process of rotoscoped ink-and-cel animation is immensely fascinating.
It's not that South Park: The Complete Twelfth Season is as lackluster as a couple of previous seasons. In fact, it's easily one of the better ones. It's just irritating to watch all the episodes in a row and realize how they all seem to fall into a sort of formula. Previous seasons were much more varied, with a healthy mixture of pop culture, politics, and just simple "kids-being-kids" stories, but for some reason this season comes off as rather repetitive even in its funniest episodes. Fans will obviously need this set, of course, but casual watchers might want to preview it first to see if the excessive repetition doesn't eventually get too frustrating. The great new extras, though, are very welcome and Comedy Central should continue adding more in future sets.
South Park: The Complete Twelfth Season is reluctantly declared guilty of too often settling for easy targets. It's released early, though, because the best episodes and well-produced DVD extras make this package a cut above some of the previous South Park sets.
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