Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 1, 2008)
Time for some more South Park fun via the series’ 11th season. This DVD release gives us all 14 episodes from 2007. I’ll examine each of these programs in the way presented on the DVDs, which also is the order in which they were first broadcast. The synopses come straight from the DVD’s liner notes.
With Apologies to Jesse Jackson (aired 3/7/07): “Randy faces public ridicule for using the ‘N’ word on live TV. Back at South Park Elementary, Stan tries to understand Token’s feelings about what Randy said and Cartman fights a midget.”
I love me some Cartman, and as usual, his part of the show works the best. When the school brings in a “little person” to teach sensitivity, of course Cartman remains immune, and his constant amusement at the short fellow makes him delightfully crude.
The other parts of the program are good as well, and I like the twist in which the profane white characters manage to cast themselves as a downtrodden minority. At times the Stan subplot feels forced, but it fills so little of the episode that it causes no harm.
Cartman Sucks (aired 3/14/07): “When another one of Cartman’s practical jokes puts Butters in a compromising position, his dad is determined to ‘straighten him out’. Now Butters has to go to a special camp where they ‘pray the gay away’”.
South Park doesn’t often walk down the subtle side of the street, and “Sucks” tends to go with obvious gags. Putting Butters in the slot as “bi-curious” creates some funny bits due to his eternal naiveté, but the show’s attempts to mock religious “cures” for homosexuality feel predictable and obvious. Cartman’s parts fare better, though, especially when we see his attempts to humiliate Butters – and his quest to deal with the aftermath of his mistake.
Lice Capades (aired 3/21/07): “When a breakout of head lice hits South Park Elementary, Ms. Garrison refuses to say which child spread the filthy creatures to the rest of the school. Cartman takes it upon himself to find out who has head cooties so all the other kids can make fun of them. Meanwhile, a louse named Travis is desperate to save his fellow lice from imminent destruction from a conscious world.”
Essentially “Capades” splits its story down the middle, as it devotes pretty much equal time to the story of the kids and that of the lice. The latter is the better of the two. It presents events in a dramatic horror context; we’ve seen this kind of spoof before, but it’s still amusing. The rest isn’t quite as good, but those parts work well enough to make this a solid episode.
The Snuke (aired 3/28/07): “The citizens of South Park are gearing up for the arrival of Hillary Clinton for a big campaign rally. Cartman suspects the new Muslim student is plotting a terrorist attack. Every minute counts for Cartman as he uses his own unique interrogation methods on his suspect. He soon discovers the plan to target Mrs. Clinton is just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Snuke” takes on a 24 parody with decent results. It goes down a bit of a predictable path, especially in its treatment of the new student; not a lot of creativity emerges there. Still, the show moves well and offers reasonable entertainment along with some cool twists.
Fantastic Easter Special (aired 4/4/07): “Stan refuses to decorate one more egg for Easter until someone explains what eggs and bunnies have to do with Jesus dying for our sins. Kyle and Stan travel to the Vatican to get some answers and, on the way, become involved in an eccentric society that guards a Biblical secret.”
Does this episode exist just to feature the pub “The Hare Club for Men”? Could be. “Easter” gives us another show with an adventure plot too soon after “Snuke”. No, it doesn’t copy that episode, as it prefers a Da Vinci Code vibe, but it’s just a little too close in its dramatic tone. Expect a few laughs but this doesn’t turn into a particularly strong program.
D-Yikes (aired 4/11/07): “Ms. Garrison gets dumped by yet another selfish man and once again, she takes it out on her fourth grade class. This time the boys have had enough of their teacher’s erratic mood swings and excessive homework assignments. They find there are people for hire that can help with any situation. Ms. Garrison discovers that life without men has its advantages.”
Time for another movie spoof, as 300 gets the treatment here. Three movie/TV parodies in a row is too much, to be honest. Sure, South Park mocks 300 with roughly eight jillion times the creativity of dreck like Meet the Spartans, and the episode entertains, but the movie parody route is getting stale.
Night of the Living Homeless (aired 4/18/07): “The homeless population in South Park is increasing at an alarming rate as they eat, sleep and beg for change across the town. While the adults try to find creative solutions to deal with the homeless, the boys deal with the problem once and for all.”
Another episode, another movie spoof. This one uses the Living Dead flicks as the template; it doesn’t seem specific to one of them, though Dawn feels like the main inspiration. Like “Snuke”, it attempts some social commentary and occasionally hits the mark in that way. Like the last few, it’s reasonably funny, but c’mon guys – lay off the film parodies for a little while!
Le Petit Tourette (aired 10/3/07): “After seeing a kid with Tourette’s Syndrome at the toy store, Cartman believes he’s found the magical ticket to happiness. Drunk with the power of saying whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without getting in trouble for it, Cartman lines up national TV coverage to take advantage of his new life without filters.”
Hooray – an episode that doesn’t spoof a movie! “Petit” demonstrates what South Park does well: it calls attention to a condition and creates some sympathy for folks with Tourette, but it also has a lot of fun with the issue. Dunno how it sits with folks who have Tourette, but I think it balances its two sides well.
Note that this DVD comes “uncensored”, and I imagine “Petit” benefits from the open profanity more than the other episodes. Honestly, I can’t imagine how this one would’ve worked on the air, as I’d imagine the beeps would cover half the show. Anyway, it’s a good return to form after a few less than stellar programs.
More Crap (aired 10/10/07): “Randy Marsh becomes a hero in South Park after the guys at the local bar see the size of his latest crap. Randy believes he could be a contender for the world record. He sets out to train for the title, only to find out the current record holder isn’t about to give it up.”
Back when I was in college, my roommates and I would offer “shit reports”, so clearly the male obsession with size/consistency/etc. of poop isn’t unique to South Park. It’s a funny subject for a topic, and it allows the series to offer a very subtle movie spoof: it provides a sly parody of The King of Kong. Okay, the U2 fan in me isn’t wild about the knocks on Bono, but it’s still a strong episode.
Imaginationland Parts 1-3 (aired 10/17/07, 10/24/07 and 10/31/07): “The doors of the world’s imagination are thrown wide open and the boys of South Park are transported to a magical realm in their greatest odyssey ever. Stan, Kyle and Butters find themselves in Imaginationland just as terrorists launch an attack that unleashes all of mankind’s most evil characters imaginable. With the world’s imaginations spinning out of control, the government prepares to nuke Imaginationland to put an end to the chaos. Racing against time to prevent nuclear annihilation, the citizens of Imaginationland realize their only hope of salvation lies in the mind of the unlikeliest of heroes: Butters. Ignoring the impending apocalypse, Cartman goes all the way to the Supreme Court to get justice for his case of dry balls.”
As I entered Imaginationland, I worried that it’d take maybe 40 minutes of material and stretch it to the breaking point. South Park hasn’t attempted anything longer than a 45-minute story since the 1999 Bigger, Longer and Uncut movie, so I maintained some concerns that the producers wouldn’t be up to the challenge of an extended tale.
While Imaginationland doesn’t work as well as the feature film, it does manage to succeed over its extended running time. That fact surprises me somewhat given the thinness of the plot. Really, it’s just about the war in Imaginationland as well as Cartman’s quest to get Kyle to suck his balls. I suspect that kind of story could’ve easily have been contained within two episodes – or maybe even just one, as there’s really not much to it.
Happily, the show never turns stale or redundant. Yes, some of the elements get repeated in a variety of ways, but each of the revived scenes manages to work on its own. For instance, the program comes up with a mix of different scenarios in which Cartman almost gets his balls sucked. These don’t vary a ton, but they stand on their own well enough to consistently amuse.
The same goes for the scenes in Imaginationland. These could’ve become tedious, especially since they often rely on some shock humor that involves graphic violence aimed at beloved characters. South Park often throws out that kind of material for its own sake, but the bits here seem less gratuitous. The episode stages the battle scenes in a clever manner and throws so many imaginary characters at us to keep us interested.
Indeed, Imaginationland is the kind of show meant for freeze-framing to identify all the different characters. I especially like the more obscure ones like the Crest Cavity Creeps. It’s easy to toss out Mickey Mouse or Santa Claus, but Captain Planet? Those choices are the most entertaining.
Overall, Imaginationland stands as a very good extended episode of South Park. It doesn’t quite match up with the series’ most inspired moments, but it still creates an entertaining scenario with plenty of clever bits.
Guitar Queer-O (aired 11/7/07): “Obsessed with the game Guitar Hero, Stan and Kyle score record points when they play together. Stan realizes he has the potential for enormous success if he plays with a different partner. He and Kyle break up, but without his friend, Stan quickly folds under the pressure of being a rock star.”
The whole rock lifestyle gets spoofed in a virtual way here. The show uses that framework in a clever way to create more than a few laughs. Heck, any show with a sly That Thing You Do! reference is A-OK in my book!
The List (aired 11/14/07): “The fourth grade girls have compiled a list that rates all the boys in their class from the cutest to the ugliest. When Cartman and Butters steal the list, the rest of the boys really aren’t prepared to deal with the results. They’re also not ready to see just how manipulative and psychotic little girls can be.”
We need South Park to tell us that girls – little or otherwise – are manipulative and psychotic? A week on Match.com will suffice. “List” actually provides some decent social satire, and I love its depiction of the girls’ secret list-making meetings, especially when they use girly language that often involves the word “sparkle”. This one offers a good finish to a generally good year.