Judge Bill Gibron would definitely take taco-flavored kisses from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, especially in light of Season Seven's sensational selection of episodes.
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 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.
During a recent year-end round-up, this critic found himself in the awkward position of trying to simultaneously compare and contrast the viable animation efforts on the airwaves. Leaving Family Guy aside for now—actually, forever would be better—attempting to differentiate South Park from The Simpsons seemed like an analytical nightmare. Both shows use satire in its purest form to make salient points about all manner of social situations—political, ethical, interpersonal, etc. Each one offers unique characters whose personalities perfectly reflect the creative teams' caveats and both boast enough classic episodes to put other cavalcades of comedy to shame.
Still, there is one significant difference between the populace of Springfield and the citizens of that redneck, hick Colorado town. Though it loves to lambaste its many targets, The Simpsons never looks to destroy. Sure, there are exceptions, but for the most part, Matt Groening's surreal showcase has respect for the objects of its irony. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who combine to form South Park's sinister soul, would like nothing more than to see the individuals and issues they attack simply dry up and blow away. There is no reverence from these amiable assassins. Throughout South Park: The Complete Seventh Season, the famous get flayed. The Simpsons may go for the laughs, but South Park goes for the throat.
Facts of the Case
If you want to know everything that's happened in the sleepy Colorado town of South Park over the last six seasons, there are several other fine reviews of the series on this site. Let's move right into the main "thrust" of season number seven:
Kenny is back from the 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, when he was supposedly gone for good, the remaining members of the original South Park quartet—fat-ass Eric Cartman, perceptive and clever Stan Marsh, and hypersensitive Hebrew Kyle Broflovsky—held auditions for new best friends and little blond boy Leopold Stotch (whom his mother and father call "Butters") was named as replacement. Unfortunately, he was fired in the "Professor Chaos" episode and the poor distraught ex-buddy turned into a semi-mighty supervillain. Kenny naturally comes back again and actually manages to stay alive for a while. In the meantime, the regular citizens of South Park go about their daily lives, protecting and preserving their occasionally backward existence.
Season Seven, which aired from March to December 2003 includes 15 episodes. Strung across three DVDs, we are treated to the following splendid stories:
• "Krazy Kripples"
• "Toilet Paper"
• "I'm a Little Bit Country"
• "Fat Butt and Pancake Head"
• "Lil' Crime Stoppers"
• "Red Man's Greed"
• "South Park is Gay!"
• "Christian Hard Rock"
• "Grey Dawn"
• "Casa Bonita"
• "All About Mormons"
• "Butt Out"
• "It's Christmas in Canada"
By now, it has grown tiresome. Another season of South Park arrives on DVD, the critical community responds like laudatory lambs to the shill slaughter (present company obviously included). The same old pronunciations of praise are used—genius, brilliant, hilarious, inspired—while those who hated this animated masterwork spew countless blog hours of bile ridiculing those irrational enough to champion their non-Family Guy cartoon comedy funny business. Yet the sad truth is that Trey Parker and Matt Stone deserve every ounce of admiration they get. In an industry where quantity never means quality and derivativeness is just a drab Sweeps Week away, these flexible funnymen have in each and every season found new and improved ways of making their animated offering as lively and energetic as the day it first soiled Comedy Central's airwaves. By pushing the boundaries of taste while consciously working to solidify their satire, they have made South Park an entertaining talking point for the more tuned in members of the masses. Sure it delivers on its potent promise of toilet humor and lots of it, but the poop and pee jokes are consistently filtered through some of the freshest social commentary around.
As a series, each season builds on the successes before. It also tosses aside elements that seem overdone or past their point of productiveness. While Timmy was a wonderful novelty at first, he is by now a fully-incorporated cast member, no longer just a wheelchaired wonder. Equally, Ms. Choksondik was killed off when her pendulous breast histrionics went from delightful to disturbing. All throughout Season Seven, you can see Parker and Stone dragging the wells where almost everything works, while leaving the single-show experimentations with the works of Dickens or tacky TV-movie machinations behind. This makes the seventh go-round one of the more consistently creative in the show's short history. Instead of going disc-by-disc, let's look at these episodes in thirds. There are five installments here that represent good, basic South Park. Nothing amazing or timeless, just wicked wit perfectly executed. Another five fall into the category of near-mythical. These sensational shows mark a moment in time when the series stood up and grabbed for the bawdy brash ring. That these shows failed to snag it doesn't decrease their worth, it merely points out how close they came to achieving Parker and Stone supremacy. Then there are the final five, episodes that rank right up there with the greatest animated comedy conceits of all time.
Though they are lesser episodes in the grand scheme of South Park hilarity, there are elements of invention and interest that make these five offerings vastly superior to almost everything else in the realm of TV animation. For example, the notion of Earth as a reality show is vaguely interesting, but the wonderfully non-PC Joozins and their last act sex-and-drug orgy is a classic creative moment. Similarly, when the boys decided to "Toilet Paper" their art teacher's house, the slow-motion shots of flying tissue are a priceless spot of spoofing. Whenever politics pries its way into the town dynamic, there is usually some homespun hilarity to be found, but in the case of "I'm a Little Bit Country," it's Cartman's flashback to the first Continental Congress that wins the day. "Lil' Crime Stoppers" gets a lot of mileage out of the same old cop clichés and it's great to see the boys on the outside looking in as the insanity plays out all around them. Finally, "It's Christmas in Canada" takes us back to those beloved blockheads—i.e. the Canadians—as The Wizard of Oz is mixed with our culturally-confused boys to create another magical, if minor, journey through the holiday season.
When compared to the pentagram of near-perfection offered here, the previous lot does look a little limp. Tackling the notion of flamboyance and fads from the mincing on up, "South Park is Gay!" is a devastating satire on our social slippery slope—and the crab people are pretty great, too. It's about time someone stood up to those liver-spotted S.O.B.s known as the AARP and "Grey Dawn" does a brilliant job of combining '80s action movies with enlightened insight about our communal contradictions over the elderly. "All About Mormons" starts a trend for the series where outsider faiths are given a simultaneous reaming and respectful representation as John Smith and his Utah-based clan are called out, while "Red Man's Greed" twists the time-honored tale of our country's conquest into a potential case of white genocide. Just to keep things on the light and bouncy side, you've got to love Eric Cartman's freakish fascination with a Mexican restaurant, "Casa Bonita," where the atmosphere resembles an EPCOT version of ethnicity. When we later learned that the place actually exists, our joy turned to jealousy.
Yet once we've sampled the fabulous flawlessness of the Seventh Season's final five offerings, we instantly forget everything that's come before. Jimmy and Timmy, South Park's resident handicapped kids, deserve more screen time ("Cripple Fight," Jimmy's introduction to the series, is still a certified classic) and "Krazy Kripples" proves this perfectly. From the gang goofs to the catchphrase capper (Jimmy's violence-defeating "Come…ON!"), you couldn't ask for a better showcase. Taking topicality by storm, "Fat Butt and Pancake Head" eye that J-Lo joke Jennifer Lopez and her big bumbling Ben as terrific targets for a rather surreal episode. Since music is a big part of Trey Parker's life, it's no surprise then that "Christian Hard Rock" resonates with near-perfect lampoon pitch. The songs about loving Jesus—really loving Jesus—are superb and the side story about illegal file-sharing is equally effective. "Butt Out" brings a whole new nastiness to the world of activism as a positively porcine Rob Reiner attempts to thwart big tobacco with a perverted plan of lies, murder, and several dozen cheeseburgers. Finally, the exploitation and sexualization of children is given one of the greatest goofs ever, as the new South Park kids' restaurant "Raisins" offers Hooters-like charms at a grade-school level of lewdness.
All boastful bunkum aside, however, South Park remains a creative cartoon zenith because it is consistently funny. When Cartman and his clan dress like rejects from Project Runway and traipse around their backwater burg like a far more effete Menudo, you can't help but laugh. When the doughy, multi-limbed Joosyans start sucking and playing with each other's "jag-ons," the bi-curious comedy is sublime. Jimmy and Timmy as full-blown bloods, down with their homies at the local rec center is equally hilarious in concept and execution, and the jaundiced jibes at Jennifer Lopants and her one-time beau, bland Ben, are beauteous. We love South Park because we always find ourselves laughing at South Park. It doesn't stop its shenanigans to offer up a "very special episode," nor does it grate on the nerves of the fan base by denying its roots for the sake of some social mandate. Trey Parker and Matt Stone just know what's witty and have a very creatively consistent time putting it out in animated antics for the entire world to see. Argue over its merits as meaningful cultural content, but if you look below the scatological surface, you'll see that there's a lot of truth inside a standard South Park episode—and that's a scary thought indeed.
As usual, Paramount gives the South Park: The Complete Seventh 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 15 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 timekillers known as "commentary-minis." Speaking for five to seven minutes at a time, this compendium of recollection clips equals about 75 to 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. A lot of time is spent on how hurried and inspired most of the shows are (Parker constantly points to an episode and says "we thought of this literally at the last minute"), as well as the real-life inspirations for many of the more magnificent moments (Casa Bonita is real, people! Google it if you don't believe me). From the secrets of successful Christian Rock to how much the boys hate Jennifer Lopez (and how happy they were when they learned she hated the episode she inspired), these microscopic conversations will never take the place of full-blown, scene-by-scene deconstructions of the series. Sadly, Parker and Stone are such wonderfully witty hosts that you don't want this sole DVD extra to ever end.
So who are the victims of Parker and Stone's Seventh Season of South Park, those entities whose desire for respect is directly rejected by this daring duo? Frankly, it might be easier to pinpoint who isn't being maligned and/or disparaged and leave it at that. In one sensational collection of shows, we see everything from religion to civil rights, homosexuals to pre-pubescent hooters get the saucy send- up. Since it's done in a careful, controlled manner, not hobbled by Family Guy sloppiness or Simpsons-style stridence, South Park almost always hits its mark. Certainly, those other animated series will find a place among the paragons of comedic virtue and it's possible that when such accolades are aimed at Parker and Stone, the backlash will be brisk. Still, given time, South Park will definitely surpass Peter and his pathetic clan and equally match Homer and his brood in classic comedy creation.
What's the most amazing aspect of such a scenario? That South Park did it in almost direct contrast to the style of satire on The Simpsons. Indeed, these two series represents the creme de la creme of cleverness. In the Zen zone of hilarity, they will forever be the yin to each other's yang. Thanks to this Season Seven DVD set, such karmic completion can be enjoyed over and over again.
Not guilty! South Park continues to be a groundbreaking comedy extravaganza. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Mini-commentaries on each episode by Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone
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