Still funny? Yes. Still scatological? Sure. Still one of the best animated comedies on television? You bet your @$#&* "*&%^@ it is, even after six seasons, according to Judge Bill Gibron.
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 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.
Never underestimate the power of a free hat.
Have you ever wondered what the secret is to South Park's success? Do you spend time thinking about how Trey Parker and Matt Stone develop and deliver some of the most devastating satire to come out of television comedy? Does it bother you that, with a wealth of so-called humor on the air, only animated shows—South Park, The Simpsons, and Family Guy—seem to find the funny formula that so many skit-coms and reali-turd programming passes by? According to Stone, the answer is simple. Parker and his pal see people as, more or less, apes: dumb simians driven by instinct to act like total and utter idiots. It is up to society to straighten out these goofy gorillas before they fling their crap on everyone else. And it is within that struggle, that beautifully balanced back and forth, where South Park finds its wit. It is a comedy based in human frailty…and well as human flatulence…and feces…and foibles.
Indeed, with the arrival of Season Six on DVD, we can see just how elements of the outrageous and the redolent figure into the series' scheme. Mr. Hankey, that talking piece of Christmas poo, returns to help bring a first Noel to the perplexed people of Iraq. Cartman uses caca as a means of getting even with parents who can't talk to their kids about drugs. And new best friend Butters gets a "Hitler," a little butt-based moustache, from his precocious pals. Running the gamut from molestation to male sex slavery, and all the antisocial anarchy in between, this run of television's most misunderstood comedy confirmed what critics and fans knew all along. South Park wasn't in the entertainment race for the short term. With its foundation firmly in the "humans are hopeless" ideal, and a neverending supply of current events and famous faces to mock, the series was out to reset the benchmark of buffoonery. With this season, they almost did.
Facts of the Case
If you want to know everything that's happened in the sleepy Colorado town of South Park over the last five seasons, there are several other fine reviews of the series on this site. Otherwise, we will skip all the backstory and move right into the main "thrust" of season six.
Kenny is dead. Wait, you already knew that. After all, Master McCormick dies in every episode of the series, only to be magically "reborn" the following week. Well, this time, he's supposedly gone for good, and the original quartet of South Park boys—fat-ass Eric Cartman, perceptive and clever Stan Marsh, and hypersensitive Hebrew Kyle Broflovsky—is now a trio. They have held auditions for new best friends, and little blond boy Leopold Stotch—whom his mother and father call "Butters"—is the new best buddy. Endlessly comparing Butters to Kenny, the boys concoct several schemes designed to earn them fabulous prizes and untold wealth. Naturally, they all backfire. In the meantime, the regular citizens of South Park go about their daily lives, protecting and preserving their occasionally backward way of life.
Season Six, which aired from March to Decemeber in 2002, is broken up into 17 episodes. Strung across three DVDs, we are treated to the following marvelous stories:
• Jared Had Aides
• Freak Strike
• Fun with Veal
• The New Terrance and Phillip Movie Trailer
• Professor Chaos
• The Simpsons Already Did It
• Red Hot Catholic Love
• Free Hat
• Bebe's Boobs Destroy Society
• Child Abduction is Not Funny
• A Ladder to Heaven
• The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two
• The Death Camp of Tolerance
• The Biggest Douche in the Universe
• My Future Self 'N' Me
• Red Sleigh Down
While you wouldn't know it from all the storylines snatched directly from the headlines, celebrity spoofs, and outright parodies, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone actually prefer it when their adolescent stars stop making social statements and start being just plain old regular kids. For these inventive and witty creators, South Park is about children reacting to the world around them, drinking in the drama, the dumbness, and the dementia, and channeling it through their own pee-wee perception.
Unlike its chief rival, The Simpsons, there is no attempt at familial bliss, interpersonal insight, or subtle spirituality. No, Parker and Stone believe that kids are far more primitive than we allow them to be. In their eyes, growing up is the complication and deconstruction of something that is pure, prescient, and puerile. Kids are the perfect comment and the perfect commentary. It is South Park's position to highlight the happenstance between maturity and the infantile in any episode of the series—and if they can throw in a good poop, pee, or poot joke in the process, that would be super-sweet as well.
Applying this mindset to their brainchild, we get the genius that is South Park. Over five seasons, the series has grown and prospered, learned, and leveraged its effectiveness into something entertaining and ethereal. The resulting realization of just how great the premise and the characters are helped turn South Park from a labor of love to a television classic, and in the present discussion, provides audiences with one of the most consistently funny seasons of the series ever. Season six is not hampered by scheduling conflicts (Parker and Stone were committed only to the TV show at this time) or outside events (9/11 had hindered some of season five). Thus, the boys could concentrate on the characters, as well as the more creative ends of the series.
This is the season where the show broadened its horizons to touch on all aspects of the cartoon human experience. Sure, Cartman's still a dick, Stan a straight arrow, and Kyle a complainer, but the boys seem to be showing signs of complexity and layering. Cartman may know that bottom burps are hilarious, but he is now also starting to understand why farts are funny. At this point in any show's run, the possibility of failure is flush. Fatigue sets in and hype often holds everything together. But with Season Six, South Park finally proved it had the laugh legs to go the distance.
It definitely takes a couple of episodes to get this new season started. Disc One begins on kind of a strange note. While topicality has always worked for and against South Park, the nods to Subway, its lo-cal sandwiches, and that former fatso shill Jared seem incredibly strange satire subjects. Of course, the main purpose of the episode is to overwork the AIDS/aides misunderstanding and, for a while, the reactions of the South Park residents are priceless. Only making meandering matters worse is "Asspen," a direct take-off of those lame 1980s teen comedy/adventure movies where a regular kid (in this case, Stan) is forced to take on an insular group of locals (in this case, braggart rich kids) in some manner of competition (in this case, skiing). It's inventive and interesting, but not up to par with classic Park. The jokes are just too "need-to-know" to totally transcend.
Once "Freak Strike" arrives, we start to see the satire ship righting itself. This look at daytime chat fests is fantastic (as is Cartman's over-the-top impersonation of an out-of-control kid), and the sequence involving a flirtatious infant is brilliant. Butters really starts to stand out here, bringing catchphrases ("Ham-burgers!") and a wholesome heart to the debauched boys surrounding him. Still, even with all the feel-good vibes around, no one could anticipate the left-turn twist into near PC pro-action of "Fun with Veal." Parker and Stone are not animal-rights activists by any stretch of the imagination, but they apparently have something against eating veal (they confirm this in the commentary). As a result, the show goes from good-natured to outright goofiness in a clear display of schizoid silliness. By the time Stan has broken out in vaginas (the result of turning vegan), we finally get the guys' message.
Disc One ends with two very intriguing episodes. First, Russell Crowe is taken to task for his tendency toward fisticuffs as the boys suffer through his boring assault-and-battery kidvid show to see a preview of the next Terrance and Phillip epic. The material with the superstar Oscar winner is right on the money, and the eventual trailer is terrific (so perfectly part of the tired "teaser" ideal). Yet it is little Leopold who takes center stage again for what is one of season six's best episodes. When the guys reject him, Butters develops the diabolical alter ego Professor Chaos and, with the help of some tinfoil and cardboard, he plans on destroying South Park. Only problem is Butters is rather ineffectual at managing menace. His plans for taking over the world are as naive and innocent as his character's crackerjack personality. Tied in with the first episode on Disc Two, we see how Butters quickly became one of South Park's favorite residents.
"The Simpsons Already Did It" is one of four masterwork installments of season six, and not just because of the reference to Springfield's finest. By this time in the run, Parker and Stone were growing bored with certain characters. They wanted to bring back Kenny, eliminate Ms. Choksondik, and give Mr. Garrison back his old job. Instead of doing it all at once, however, they slowly started working toward those ends. With its joking juxtapositions between sea monkeys/semen and South Park/Simpsons, this episode outlines the basics of what makes this series so remarkable. Following it up with the priest porn of "Red Hot Catholic Love" is par for this show's crazy course. Jam-packed with sex, scandal, and surrealism, no other animated program would dare challenge Papal doctrine with giant spiders and the 1980s video game Pitfall. Along with the last episode on the disc—the insane parents as overprotecting pinheads of "Child Abduction is Not Funny"—we see how insightful and inventive Parker and Stone are. They really appreciate the world of adults and children and how to make the most out of that sometimes-strange interaction.
But the other two offerings on Disc Two are just as sublime. Coming of age is never easy, and little girls "growing up" mean many things—especially for sexually confused little boys. Bebe's "bumps" turn the elementary school males into oddly endearing baby apes, Alpha male-ing all over each other for dominance of the new dish. Just the thought of this concept brings a smile to one's face—it's at times both sweet and sick—but the execution by the Park staff is what really sells the sentiments. This is one of the best shows South Park has ever done…as is "Free Hat." Though the subplot revolves around the attempted release of a baby killer from prison, the main meat of the story is the ongoing efforts by George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg to modify their movies for future generations. The South Park gang considers these films "art" and can't stand to see them mangled and "reimagined." Using obvious and sly shots at the Hollywood big wigs, this brilliant dissection of the entire "special edition" ideal behind such films as Star Wars and E.T. really argues the right side. According to Park, once a filmmaker releases a film to the public, they lose a part of it. Trying to change it without outright moral ownership leaves a producer or director on very shaky ground.
Once we get to Disc Three, we are presented with the most consistent run of shows in the history of the series. From "A Ladder to Heaven" to "Red Sleigh Down," these episodes represent Parker and Stone at their creative zenith. Each one takes on a current issue (at least for the time) and messes with multiple pop culture references. Some are obvious (gee, I wonder what "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers" is about?), while others ("The Biggest Douche in the Universe") have long faded away into the woodwork of time. Yet whether it's hot-button issues like gay bashing ("The Death Camp of Tolerance") or drug use ("My Future Self 'N' Me"), South Park never loses its laugh factors. Indeed, it seems like when the series strays away from the focused and hits the frenzied button, we get nothing but non-stop snickers.
"A Ladder to Heaven" starts the cycle that will see Kenny return to the series. Cartman's "bad taste" beverage is matched in comedy craziness by the obvious jab at Alan Jackson's post 9/11 dirge. The media have never received an easy time of it at the hands of Parker and Stone, and such an ideal doesn't change with this episode. One imagines Peter Jackson would be proud of "The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers." The boys' honest love and belief in the world the films created is terrific, as is Butters' obsession over a porn video. The use of a Tolkein-esque storyline to illustrate the aspects of growing up and maturing is perfect, and the way in which the story is acted out and accented is priceless. Equally engaging, but for many different reasons is "The Death Camp of Tolerance." It introduces Mr. Slave (the friendly, fey lover of Mr. Garrison) and tries to show how acceptance of differences can be just as damaging as intolerance. The entire episode is campy, crazy, and out of control, and treats its subject with both seriousness and satire. Perhaps that's why it's so extraordinary.
For the final three episodes of the season, we see the creative forces behind the show mixing reality with the ridiculous to make its points. John Edwards is a douche, frankly, and it's nice to see Parker and Stone put him in his place once and for all. The use of aliens at the end is hilarious, since it really brings home the point about how big a butthead this pseudo-psychic is/was. Mixing Terminator techno-myth with a "Just Say NO!" situation results in the brilliant "My Future Self 'N Me." The narrative is so knowing, effortlessly picturing how clueless, responsibility-shirking adults would act to save their offspring that you don't know whether to laugh, or simply hang your head in shame. Wrapping things up, we get another example of how South Park forever shaped the holidays. It just wouldn't be Christmas without a visit from Mr. Hankey, and his return, along with a battle for Santa's life in pre-wartorn Iraq, makes for one messed-up episode. Jesus packing heat, and Kris Kringle getting his cajones shocked are just two of the spellbinding bits that make this episode—and South Park in general—such a fantastic and funny show.
South Park's satire is smart and simple. The show finds fault and then channels it through the most effective of vessels—children. Kids can be idiotic drool machines with mouths working overtime to blather out unfunny sitcom shite. But in South Park's domain, things are kept clever yet uncomplicated. There is no real esoteric deconstruction of comedy going on here, no rewriting of the rules. Parker and Stone simply mine the mint of wit, and use anything and everything at their disposal to draw out the jokes. That is why religion is roasted as readily as television standards, how liberals and conservatives can find themselves faulted in the same sensational way. There is no dicta here, no clear political or social formula supporting the efforts behind the show. The guys in charge of this greatness just want to come up with funny stuff, and they will get it wherever and whenever they can.
While it may seem so, South Park is not just overly simplistic potty pranks. True, it does go for the retarded and the sophomoric, simply because the show knows this approach works. Frankly, when done right, toilet humor is absolutely hilarious. By adding a wink of recognition to all the envelope pushing, taboo busting, and taste testing, Parker and Stone assert their creativity and cleverness. These shows are not the happy accidents they want you to think they are—thought up days before airdate and rushed through production in last-minute modification manner. Though they work fast, they work deep. South Park truly is thinking man's (and woman's) humor—because we all think with our privates now and again. Deny it if you can. Everyone has laughed when someone passes gas. Smiles slip around our lips when a killer insult (complete with appropriate profanity) hits its target. From shrewd social commentary to perplexing personal vendettas, this is one show that perfectly encapsulates its creators. With guys as great and goofy as Parker and Stone, South Park can survive forever. Here's hoping it does.
Paramount gives the South Park: The Complete Sixth Season DVD set a wonderful 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 2.0 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 (like trailers, really), we can at least be thankful for the stellar transfer, the able audio, and the alternate narrative tracks.
Speaking of these creator conversations, the sole important bonus on this DVD set is another installment of those tried and true time killers—"commentary-minis" as the boys like to call them. While they say they want to reduce the length of these crackerjack discussions even further, we still end up with an average of 4 to 5 minutes per episode. With 17 on the disc, that's nearly 90 minutes of solid Parker and Stone substance. More like a season overview than an episode-by-episode breakdown, the commentary-minis can be a hoot. The guys lay into Star Wars something fierce (Stone is officially over it, while both consider the prequels THE WORST MOVIES EVER MADE). Their friendship with Russell Crowe—and an odd experience at a listening party for his 30 Odd Foot of Grunts band—became the basis for the show ribbing the superstar, and we learn that the City Wok guy actually exists. From their "no baby eating" approach to meat to their love of Lemmywinks (and discussions of a possible live-action film), these are excellent added features. While they might not cover every issue you want, Parker and Stone are wonderfully witty hosts, and make this sole DVD bonus a real treat.
Perhaps it really is no surprise that South Park survives on the oddest of social standard-twisting conventions. After all, other classic comedies have used a similar sort of device to differentiate themselves from the three-camera sameness that showers the airwaves with mediocrity. That it's managed to be offensive and perceptive, clever and crappy on several different levels, all at the same time—sometimes in the same scene—makes it unique in the annals of animation. Previous pen-and-ink exercises merely copied the previous parameters of TV humor and failed to fulfill the unlimited promise of its format. But along with Matt Groening—and to some extent, Seth MacFarlane—Trey Parker and Matt Stone understand the concept of cartoon comedy. They properly utilize the boundless potential of the medium without falling into the trap of hysterical excess—unless, of course, it is necessary to the narrative. What we end up with is one of the masterworks of television humor, a show as sensational in spirit as it is in execution and eloquence. South Park is indeed a special take on our world. And when viewed up close, Season Six looks like only the beginning.
Not guilty! All parties, except that good-for-nothing baby killer Hat McCullough, are free to go.
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• Commentary-Minis on each episode
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