Judge Bill Gibron doesn't look anything like Marlon Brando.
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 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 (published March 9th, 2009), 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.
I'm the King of Fingerbang and that's all right!
Topicality can be deadly to comedy. When you decide to base your belly laughs on the known sources of hilarity inherent in current events, you cause yourself some major concerns. Primarily, you run the real risk of losing any timelessness to your work. Jokes about the Jonestown Massacre, WIN buttons and Khrushchev's United Nations shoe pounding may have put them away in the decades of those events' origin. But crack wise today about Imelda Marcos's shoe fetish, or John DeLorean's drug dealing as financially sound fiscal planning, and the reference may fall on ill-informed ears. So you have to be careful when you incorporate breaking headlines into your scatological slapstick or surreal satire. One false move and you're cursed with the comic equivalent of last week's newspaper lining the bottom of the kitty litter box.
As they rounded the water-treading corner of Season Three, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker had to find a way to open up the show's subject matter. Having long ago drained the barrel of poo, poop, crap, flop, feces, and fart humor, the talented animation titans needed an injection of new irreverence. And they found it in that most problematic of potential plot heaps—the evening news. Mining such memorable stories as the debate over the South Carolina state flag, the Elian Gonzalez case, and the nation's growing fixation with boy bands, South Park started breathing current relevance into their shows. And unlike other examples of topical humor, South Park: The Complete Fourth Season managed to find a way to surpass the previous installments in both invention and outrageousness.
Facts of the Case
Believe it or not, but Kyle, Kenny, Stan, and Cartman are still vigilantly roaming the snowbound boondocks of South Park, Colorado, sticking their parka-clad 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 will finally graduate to the fourth grade, get a new homeroom teacher with a strangely suggestive name, and discover the delight of having a severely handicapped friend who can only sputter his name like an arrant air horn. The individual episodic hijinks the boys get into, spread out over three DVDs, are as follows:
• "The Tooth Fairy Tats 2000"
• "Cartman's Silly Hate Crime 2000"
• "Timmy 2000"
• "Quintuplets 2000"
• "Cartman Joins NAMBLA"
• "Cherokee Hair Tampons"
• "Chef Goes Nanners"
• "Something You Can Do with Your Finger"
• "Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?"
• "Fourth Grade"
• "Trapper Keeper"
• "Helen Keller, The Musical"
• "Fat Camp"
• "The Wacky Molestation Adventure"
• "A Very Crappy Christmas"
Season Four of South Park is a milestone in the series. Not only does it represent the work of Trey Parker and Matt Stone at their most political and provocative, but it pushes beyond the boundaries previously shattered by the show to explore even more totally taboo subjects and situations. When an entire episode can safely revolve around the North American Man-Boy Love Association—otherwise known as PETA for Perverted Pedophiles—and be both funny and profane, you know the show's creators are doing something very right.
Previous seasons of South Park have provided their fair share of memorable characters and moments, but Season Four is perhaps their most consistent outing ever. Almost every episode is excellent, with a few standing the test of time as true South Park classics. With the brilliant addition of the handicapped scene-stealer Timmy and the move to the fourth grade (and the new, pendulous-breasted teacher, Ms. Choksondik) the playground for South Park's comedy to cascade around has grown even greater and more diverse. From sex to scandal, from craven crime to uncalled for punishment, Season Four ushers in a new mentality and methodology for South Park. No longer would there be a multi-layered focus to the plots, trying to tie A, B, and C stories into a single segment. No, Parker and Stone have abandoned that format and are now employing a single-situation, free-for-all style. They draw a particular premise (the boys form a boy band) and then build all manner of wild and weird branches off that idea. Thus, Season Four seems simultaneously streamlined and dense, more fully packed while covering less narrative ground.
Through a combination of factors including the show's continued success, the establishment of an excellent ensemble of characters, and a basic freedom to explore any territory the creators want, Season Four feels like a leap for liberty in the series' sense of adventure. Almost as if they have a blank check to do whatever they want, Parker and Stone manipulate their show to conform to a new set of ideals based in excess, experimentation, and energy. What you'll notice more than at any other time in the history of the show is that South Park is focusing its fervor, intent on not only exploiting a point or political agenda, but also overselling it outright to the audience. From the anti-NAMBLA riffing to the equally adversarial tone toward the idea of false accusations of molestation, the series is starting to take tough stances (a factor that would grow and swell over the course of the next few seasons, until you'd find massive rants against network reality shows, George Lucas, immigrants, and a certain Australian and his Passion).
Season Four is the seed of South Park's political awakening, and it's wonderful to watch. Having such brilliant buffoons as Cartman or Kyle pushing the buttons of disagreement and debate over diverse social subjects adds another layer of ripeness to the already overstuffed sack of satire, slapstick, and scatological humor on which the show relies. The fact that Parker can consistently come up with this kind of material (he is usually credited as sole scripter, though he admits to a great deal of help) illustrates how the show always seeks out ways to keep the perspectives fresh.
For the first few episodes of Season Four, Parker and Stone were still smarting from the grueling production schedule and the less-than-stellar box office / critical acclaim of their feature film South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. They relied heavily on the old multi-leveled formula for "The Tooth Fairy Tats 2000." All of the "Dentists vs. the Tooth Mafia" material is wonderful, and it's hard not to laugh seeing Cartman in a fairy's costume. But the middle act is bogged down in too many fluorinated Sopranos rip-offs. "Cartman's Silly Hate Crime 2000," the second episode on Disc One, finds Cartman in juvenile hall, smuggling in items for his older, tougher roommate via his own more-than-ample ass. The sound effects of him "retrieving" the contraband are priceless, and the whole boys-against-girls sledding race (with the little ladies really talking some incredibly rude smack) is great fun.
But it's not until the third episode, "Timmy 2000," that the new South Park philosophy takes center stage. Perhaps the second-best character creation after Eric C., Timmy is a breath of fresh air on both the comic and correctness side. Parker and Stone have suggested that they wanted Timmy added to the show to highlight that the handicapped are normal, numbskulled people too. Timmy's rock god dynamics, along with the always-welcome disrespecting of Phil Collins (the man deserves many more character assassins) and ADD means we have our first solid classic of the new season. Too bad the Elian Gonzalez lampoon doesn't quite save "Quintuplets 2000" from being less than satisfying. The Cirque du Soleil satire is fun, but the rest of the show's sentiments are rather shoddy.
But we'll take all manner of less-than-magnificent shows if each one could be followed by something as risky, ribald, and riotous as "Cartman Joins NAMBLA." It's impossible in just a few words to describe the brilliant comedic moments in this show, from Cartman's initial computer chat to the final French farce-style ending. Every element of this show is perfect, from the attacks on pedophiles to the ultimate resolution. In the pantheon of Top Ten South Park episodes of all time, this one ranks right up there. You can already begin to see how special Season Four is becoming. Along with "Timmy 2000," we now have two memorable episodes in the span of five shows.
The final episode on Disc One marks a historic moment in the canon of comedy. Cheech and Chong, who haven't worked together in over a decade, join up to play con artist Mexicans helping a holistic healer bilk the South Park residents out of their hard earned cash. Funny faux live action commercial aside, the rest of the show doesn't quite live up to the return of the mythological drug culture icons.
Disc Two introduces us to our first outright political preaching, the anti-racism riffs Chef spouts throughout "Chef Goes Nanners." The entire flag issue is treated with insight and intelligence, and the final resolution is clever and concise. But for all the wonderful stuff, the episode is not all that funny. It's smart and witty, but the belly laughs are few and far between.
"Something You Can Do with Your Finger" is something very special; a tired old routine made new and fresh thanks to inventive writing and crackerjack storytelling. Cartman's boy band dream (by this time a rather lame lampoon target, as these groups were already spoofs of themselves) becomes reality with some of the flat-out funniest moments in the show's run. Eric exposing his chest onstage, the mixed-up mall manager, and the sensational song itself (you have to love Cartman's explanation about just what "fingerbanging" means) provide dozens of repeat-out-loud moments. Add in some subtler jokes (Kenny's Sing Like Bocelli records) and the whole "Stan's dad" element, and this episode soars. Too bad the two-part attack on organized religion isn't more controlled. "Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?" and "Probably" have an excellent idea running through them (faith is based more on fear and paranoia than on outright, pure belief), but somehow, the message fails to get across successfully. Better is the Hell material, with Satan, Saddam Hussein, and the Dark Overlord's new boyfriend Chris battling it out for same-sex supremacy. Smart DVD owners should pause on the post-coital hotel room shared by Lucifer and his Iraqi lover. The various apparatuses and toys they have lying around are just a hoot.
When the time came to finally shake up the South Park universe, the most obvious way of doing so became an incredibly clever conceit. "Fourth Grade" takes the boys on the next logical step in their educational evolution, and the introduction of their new teacher, Ms. Choksondik, highlights Parker and Stone's rude, crude mentality magnificently. Too bad she becomes such a one-note joke throughout the course of her short life on the series. The next episode, revolving around a super-intelligent divider, also includes a clever attack on the entire Florida voting debacle in the 2000 election—the show's take on the entire childish nature of the fighting is fantastic (especially set in a kindergarten class). As a Terminator knock-off "Trapper Keeper" is a lot of fun. But adding in the political element really increases the deliciously derogatory tone.
Disc Three doesn't let up, either. Its first episode, "Helen Keller, The Musical" is a bad-taste serenade of epic proportions. Timmy is again featured as the deaf, blind, and mute child being taught to communicate, and along with a direct Peanuts parody and the so-pathetic-it's-funny retarded turkey named "Gobbles." this is a glorious installment of the show.
Now, for some fans, the next episode creates a quandary. Many of the South Park devoted do not like it when an ancillary character (like Terrence and Phillip, or Butters) takes center stage for an entire show, and "Pip" is an example of such a single focus. But by using Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, and with a brilliant comic turn by Malcolm McDowell as the very British host, this off-the-beaten-path chapter is incredibly atmospheric and very funny. It ranks with some of the most inventive material the show has ever offered.
But for those who still like their South Park on the flatulent fatso side, "Fat Camp" comes along to give you jelly bellies in portly spades. Cartman's intervention leads to a strange stay at a weight management facility where even more obese children showcase some of the lowest, most hilarious lack of self-esteem ever. That Eric can take advantage of them is no big surprise, but it is still very funny. Equally effective are the Kenny / Jackass rip-offs, where the white trash tote out Knoxville's Johnny with increasingly disturbing stunts. The final wacky feat involving a very private area of Mrs. Crabtree is gross-out humor at its greatest.
Speaking of wild, "The Wacky Molestation Adventure" melds Children of the Corn, Logan's Run, and about 800 other exclusive-youth universes to offer an excellent parody of such science fiction mumbo-jumbo mixed with an excellent message about the alarmist nature of false accusations. While never excusing pedophilia or child abuse, the show does hint at how backward it sounds trying to teach normal adults about how not to molest their own kids.
The final episode of the set is another visit from Mr. Hankey, this time with his entire family in hand, to try and revive the spirit of the holidays in the ho-hum city of South Park. "A Very Crappy Christmas" finds a clever way to incorporate a good portion of Parker and Stone's initial holiday short (entitled The Spirit of Christmas) and it's nice to see that footage added in here. But the rest of the show seems rather oblique, never really building up a full head of seasonal steam until the boys' animation creation is well under way. Still, the chance to meet the rest of the Hankeys is great fun.
Without a single fetid episode, and sporting a wealth of new inspiration, the fourth season of South Park is not so much a turning point as a telling symbol of the shape of the show to come. When discussing the series in their mini-commentaries included on the DVDs, Parker and Stone refer to this era in the show as South Park Mach II, and the name really fits. One gets the distinct impression that the first three seasons were leading up to this moment, a time when all the divergent elements, mixed with a newfound desire to exaggerate and politicize, come together to create something even more special and unique than the original SP Version 1.0. Looking back at the chances and choices made by creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone in Season Three, you instantly understand that Season Four had to be the direct result. The series couldn't stay focused on the plight of third graders calling each other filthy names for much longer. In order to turn from flash-in-the-pan fad into all-time comedy classic, South Park had to start taking risks. It had to threaten to alienate the audience while testing out new ideas. It had to reach for the stars and stumble along the way. It had to embrace the clichés it wanted to erase and, in the end, the show had to toss out the rulebook it had been relying on for so long in order to begin the process of rewriting it. South Park: The Complete Fourth Season should be considered the first steps in the evolution of this crazy, chaotic cartoon show. It's some of the funniest animated humor in the history of television.
Paramount gives the South Park: The Complete Fourth Season DVD 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 17 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 moments for Comedy Central shows, 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 cut the running time by at least half from the seven- to eight-minute tracks on Season Three, Parker and Stone speed through material here, providing some insight into each show. While offering just three to four minutes of discussion per installment, 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, 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. Hearing them discuss the backlash toward and then ultimate embracing of Timmy is very revealing. So is the reaction by Comedy Central upon their first viewing of "Cartman Joins NAMBLA" (according to Parker, some thought the idea of a man-boy love association was so outrageous that it just had to be one of their made-up gross-out gags). They also explain just what it took to bring comedy legends Cheech and Chong back together, and address the stupidity of trying to create an entire musical about Helen Keller over a weekend keg party. From highlighting subtle jokes (the kittens surrounding Ms. Choksondik) to the fun working with Malcolm McDowell, 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.
So maybe it is possible to employ topical references to make your comedy current. Perhaps not all attempts at social or political significance lead to dullness or disaster. If the 17 episodes of the fourth season of South Park are any indication, there is a place for the preachy in the parody, an open avenue for analysis within the anarchy. Even today, several of the references (Elian Gonzalez, Election 2000) run the risk of raising some lack-of-recognition issues. But amazingly, foreknowledge may not be necessary. Even when making a direct connection to events in the news, South Park always manages to find a way to salvage the funny out of even the most serious subjects. Pedophilia, racism, and physical disabilities are not necessarily laughing matters, but when placed in the genius hands of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, they resonate with a randy hilarity that makes us feel guilty for laughing at their awfulness.
Indeed, one of the secrets to South Park is the way in which Parker and Stone find the humorous heart in almost any subject, no matter how solemn or sacred. While a contemporary view can undermine even the most well constructed show, South Park finds a way to work it into its formula of funny almost flawlessly. It's this ability to change with the changing times—and comment directly on them—that keeps this show on the crazy cutting edge. South Park is indeed one of the best comedies ever created for television. And that should be news to no one.
South Park: The Complete Fourth 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 30 days in DVD Extras Re-Education Camp for failing to provide more than a smattering of bonus material.
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Scales of Justice
• Mini-Commentaries on Each Episode from Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone
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