Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 17, 2005)
Once upon a time I thought that South Park had worn out its welcome quickly. I gave up on watching the shows as they were broadcast way back in 1999 and have only seen subsequent episodes on DVD. I was wrong to dismiss the series so early, as later seasons demonstrated solid work.
In fact, I might even like some of the more recent seasons better than those early ones, something I realized while I watched the 14 shows of Season Five. I’ll examine each of these programs in the way presented on the DVDs, which also appears to be the order in which they were first broadcast. Most of the synopses come straight from the DVD’s liner notes, but since four of the 14 episodes also appeared on the Insults to Injuries compilation DVD, I simply copied my prior remarks from that review. (Lazy? Maybe, but why reinvent the wheel?)
It Hits the Fan (aired June 20, 2001): In this program, a TV network decides to break a taboo and use the word “shit” on the air of its hit show Cop Drama. Ratings go through the roof, and the term becomes just about the most popular thing ever, as the entire populous starts to fling it about wildly.
However, people start to become violently ill and die for no apparent reason. This disease spreads more quickly with the greater use of “shit”, and the TV network escalates the profanity with each new episode of Cop Drama. Eventually the TV folk plan an evening of “Must Shit TV”, in which they’ll use the word with insane abandon.
The boys of South Park - Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny – discover that the increased use of profanity in society causes the illness that abounds. The swearing also awakes the Knights of Standards and Practices, an ancient order who try to protect the world. You see, it just so happens that curse words got that title because with excessive usage, they actually curse people. So along with the boys and Chef, the Knights need to stop the swearing and save the country.
South Park may well be the only show on TV that can successfully support and oppose heavy swearing at the same time. Of course, the program revels in the use of profanity, and its makers gleefully run a counter onscreen to keep track of each use of the word “shit”. However, they also come down on the side of responsibility; the Knights and their cause actually seem appropriate and helpful, as the show doesn’t really mock them. It’s a weird balance between the two sides, but the program somehow makes it work.
Cripple Fight (aired June 27, 2001): Here we find the return of wheelchair-bound Timmy as the boys join the Scouts. The show actually takes on two controversial issues. First, the boys discover that Big Gay Al acts as scoutmaster, and some of the parents don’t like the presence of such a – hmm - flamboyant personality in charge of their kids. He gets the boot and sinks into depression, so the kids try to help change the rules.
For the other plot, when the boys start in their Scout group, they discover another disabled boy in their midst: “handicapable” Jimmy, who possesses greater linguistic and verbal skills than Timmy, and who entertains the kids with his stand-up comedy. This doesn’t sit well with Timmy, who apparently likes his status as the token handicapped kid. As Timmy’s stock drops, he gets more and more angry, which ultimately culminates in the titular battle of the cripples.
That fight sure could have been tacky, but in the hands of the Park crew… well, it’s still pretty tacky. Actually, I thought the bits with Jimmy were funny, if just because they mocked the patronizing way many people treat the handicapped, but the actual fight didn’t work; it tried too hard to make its point and it fell short of the mark. The bits with Al were somewhat more successful, and I rather liked the surprisingly open-minded and sensible conclusion to his plight.
Super Best Friends (aired July 4, 2001): “Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny discover David Blaine, magician and cult leader, performing in the streets of South Park. Stan finds out early that the Blainiacs are not as nice as everyone thinks. He tries to convince the other boys they’ve been brainwashed, but they have forsaken their friends and families. Teaming up with Jesus, He and Stan call upon all the Super Best Friends to destroy the magician and thwart the mass suicide pact he has launched!”
Since cults offer fertile territory for mockery, it’s a surprise South Park didn’t go after them earlier. The ever-lame magician Blaine certainly helps create a fun target; really - what was the scoop with that “sitting in a box” stunt? I also like the “Superfriends” parody, as this ends up as a clever episode that doesn’t suffer from the series’ occasional lapses into bad taste.
Scott Tenorman Must Die (aired July 11, 2001): This program finds Cartman the victim of eighth grader Tenorman. That kid convinces Cartman to buy a supply of his pubic hair with the promise this means he’s reached puberty. When the other boys tell Cartman he’s a fool, Eric goes on a campaign of revenge against Tenorman, all in the hope he’ll get back his money. Matters continue to escalate as Tenorman consistently gets the better of Cartman, at least until the shocking conclusion.
”Tenorman” lacks the attempts at social commentary found in this DVD’s other three episodes, but it’s probably the strongest of the four shows. The battle between Tenorman and Cartman is plain fun to see, and the bizarre ways that they fight against each other seem very entertaining. And when I say that the ending’s shocking, I mean it; I kept expecting to find out that parts of it were in jest, but they weren’t, which makes the whole thing all that much more amusing. It’s a great ending that helped turn “Tenorman” into a very memorable episode.
Terrance and Phillip: Behind the Blow (aired July 18, 2001): “Flatulent Canadian superstars Terrance and Phillip have broken up over creative differences. When the boys discover their idols have called it quits, they’ll go to any length to reunite the duo and recruit them for South Park’s Earth Day festivities.”
Whatever else one may think of South Park, no one can accuse it of taking sides politically. Both left and right get skewered frequently, and here the liberal tree-huggers take it on the chin.
But that’s not the best part of the show. God help me, I always enjoy the series’ bizarre depiction of Canadians, and I’ve never had more fun with the concept than during the staging of Hamlet shown in this program. The idea is amusing, but it works mostly because the joke just doesn’t end. It keeps going and going, and that makes it absolutely hilarious; I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at anything from South Park. The rest of the episode doesn’t keep pace, but I still loved this show.
Cartmanland (aired July 25, 2001): “Cartman inherits one million dollars from his grandmother and fulfills his lifelong dream of owning his own amusement park: Cartmanland! A hemorrhoid erupts in Kyle’s ass when he learns of Cartman’s undeserved fortune, making him question the existence of God and whether there’s a reason to stay alive in a world where someone like Cartman is happy.”
In a normal show, Cartman would become lonely by himself and make amends with his chums. Of course, that never happens here. Not only does Cartman fail to learn a lesson, but also the other kids actively derive pleasure from his pain. How can you not like a show with so little redeeming moral value?
Proper Condom Use (aired August 1, 2001): Cartman shows the boys how to “milk” male dogs. When their parents see this, they’re understandably horrified, and they convince the school system to extend sex education to cover fourth graders. As instructed by Mr. Mackey and Ms. Choksodik – neither of whom has any sexual experience whatsoever – they get totally the wrong ideas. The girls fear that they can get diseases from the boys during normal daily contact if the guys don’t wear condoms, and the males learn how to be bitter and blame females for all their woes. An all-out war between the sexes ensues, while Mackey and Choksondik form a nauseating romantic pairing.
As often happens with Park, “Condom” provides a good slap in the face for parents who wants schools to teach their kids character. However, while it has some funny moments, it seems a little too gross for my liking. The whole love scene between Mackey and Choksondik really is disgusting, and some of the other moments were just too yucky. Park always walks a fine line between good taste and bad, and much of “Condom” simply is too nasty to be amusing.
Towlie (aired August 8, 2001): “The boys get a new videogame system and their plan for the foreseeable future is to play it! When the government steals their new Game Sphere, the boys will stop at nothing to get it back. Their one hope for infiltrating the top secret lab when the Game Sphere is being kept is to team up with Towlie, a genetically engineered towel who only wants to get high.
If nothing else, “Towlie” goes down as something different. Actually, the Towlie character comes across as little more than a riff on Mr. Hankey. However, the episode proves reasonably amusing, mostly because through all their adventures, all the kids want to do is get back their videogame console. Plus, it’s tough to dislike a program that features probably the only Alien Resurrection parody ever aired.
Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants (aired November 7, 2001): “Filled with American spirit, the children of South Park Elementary hace all sent their dollars to the children of Afghanistan. When the boys receive a package from the kids they sent the money to, personnel from every government agency descend upon the town to check the package for anthrax. As a result, Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman are forced to return an Afghani goat to its homeland and confront Osama Bin Laden.”
For the series’ first episode post-9/11, it was inevitable that they’d take on related topics. “Pants” was probably about as good as we could expect, but it seemed spotty. Some of the show’s moments are good, such as the running Stevie Nicks gag and the site of the Afghani versions of the South Park kids. The “Looney Tunes” style battle between Cartman and Osama is dopey, though, and a few too many easy jokes appear along with a sappy ending.
How to Eat With Your Butt (aired November 14, 2001): “Cartman manages to get Kenny’s school picture plastered all over every ‘missing child’ milk carton in the country. Cartman finds everything about his prank funny until a very strange couple turns up in South Park searching for their lost boy.”
“Butt” falls into the territory of the one-joke episode. Really, once you get past the concept of the people with butts for faces, what’s left? Granted, Cartman’s crisis in which he loses his sense of humor tosses out some laughs, but that’s about it in this ordinary program.
The Entity (aired November 21, 2001): “Garrison gets fed up with long lines, delayed flights and the airline industry in general and invents his own transportation device. Anticipation for the new closely guarded secret contrivance has built to a frenzy. Meanwhile, Kyle’s cousin ‘Kyle’ visits South Park from New York City. Kyle realizes he’ll have to bribe Cartman not to make fun of the new kid.”
“Entity” makes fun of the Segway - an insanely lame invention, given all its hype - but the spoof seems misplaced. After all, Garrison’s “It” actually is something unusual and useful. “It” derives its laughs from the physical methods required to operate it, which makes the show tacky. At least the bits with New York Kyle are good, as he turns out to be one of the most amusingly annoying characters to come along in a while.
Here Comes the Neighborhood (aired November 28, 2001): “Token is being picked on for being the only rich kid in town. Feeling like an outcast, Token succeeds in attracting several other wealthy people to South Park. Meanwhile, the townspeople, fearing that their little hamlet is rapidly going up the drain, attempt to run the new residents out of town.”
“Neighborhood” goes for a twist on racist concepts and usually does so in a clever way. It’s certainly a curveball to make Token, the one black kid at school, the rich one, and the bits with the wealthy celebrities create some funny moments. It peters out after a while, though, and the segment where Token lives with the lions goes absolutely nowhere.
Kenny Dies (aired December 5, 2001): “In a very special episode of South Park, Cartman fights for Kenny’s life when he speaks before Congress in favor of stem cell research. Meanwhile, Stan has trouble dealing with his friend’s impending demise.”
“Dies” may go down as the oddest South Park episode of them all, as it’s the one that almost plays it straight. It also may be one of the least interesting, largely because it so strongly replicates sappy TV dramas. It doesn’t do enough to spoof the genre to become entertaining, and that leaves us without much to get into here. Toss in some crude fetus gags and this is a surprisingly weak program.
Butters’ Very Own Episode (aired December 12, 2001): “Butters inadvertently reveals a deep, dark secret about his father’s late night ‘shopping’ sprees. Alone and lost, Butters determinedly makes his way through porn theaters and gay bathhouses in an effort to get his dad back home in time to eat at Bennigan’s for his parents’ anniversary.”
For something different, we get a show devoted almost entirely to a secondary character. The series has done programs like this in the past, with the most infamous being “Not Without My Anus”. “Butters” isn’t as successful as that “love it or hate it” show, but it’s decent . It gets in a few topical jabs at famous alleged murderers but mostly works because of Butters’ own cluelessness.