Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 7, 2006)
Slowly we approach current episodes of South Park with this newest DVD set. It gives us all 14 episodes from 2004’s Season Eight. 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. The synopses come straight from the DVD’s liner notes.
Good Times with Weapons (first aired 3/17/04): “The boys are transformed into Japanese warriors after they buy martial arts weapons at a local flea market. Their sworn enemy, Professor Chaos, confronts them and a highly stylized anime battle ensues.”
Season Eight starts on a decidedly quirky note with “Weapons”. I like the parts where the kids turn into ultra-muscled warriors, and these become especially amusing when the scenes transition between fantasy and reality. The boys’ attempts to cure a wounded Butters but not get in trouble with their parents also entertain in a perverse way.
Up the Down Steroid (first aired 3/24/04): “Jimmy is in training for an upcoming sporting event and he’s determined to win at any cost. Cartman decides he can easily take first place against Jimmy. He just has to convince the qualifying committee that he’s handicapped.”
Didn’t they steal this idea for that Johnny Knoxville bomb The Ringer? I never saw it, so I can’t compare the two, but the idea sure sounds the same. I can’t imagine that The Ringer was as funny as this show. Cartman’s attempts to make himself “special” are a riot, and the Jimmy elements are also entertaining. Add to that a hilarious scene in which Timmy tries to rat out Jimmy to Mr. Mackey and this episode’s a winner.
The Passion of the Jew (first aired 3/31/04): “All the years of Cartman taunting Kyle for being a Jew finally come to a head in this episode. As a result of seeing The Passion, a traumatized Kyle has to admit that Cartman may have been right about his heritage all along. Inspired by Kyle’s change of heart and a powerful love for Mel Gibson, Cartman incites many of the film’s hard-core fans to band together and carry out its message. Meanwhile, Stan and Kenny also see the movie and embark upon a quest to find Mel Gibson and get their money back.”
At the series’ best, it deftly mocks various forms of prejudice and stupidity. Unfortunately, “Passion” doesn’t find the show at the top of its game. The program suffers from too many obvious elements. C’mon - dressing Cartman as Hitler doesn’t require much cleverness. Park has done it before, and in funnier ways.
The main plot could become thought-provoking, but the show beats its message on us so heavily that it lacks the subtlety to make us think. There’s nothing to think about, for it tells us what to believe without any wiggle room. That’s unusual for Park, as the series usually makes its points more adroitly.
Most of the problems come from the “A” plot that involves Kyle’s self-loathing and Cartman’s fanaticism. The “B” plot in which Kenny and Stan try to get back their money works a bit better, mainly because it lets the show really hammer Gibson in a funny way. When they make him nuts, they make him absolutely looney-tunes. However, even these amusing moments wear out their welcome before long, as the radical lack of subtlety gets old.
I’ll hand it to the South Park folks for being willing to go after a controversial target like The Passion of the Christ. That makes the end product all the more disappointing, for “The Passion of the Jew” is a lackluster and flawed episode without much spark or creativity behind it.
You Got F’d in the A (first aired 4/7/04): “Stan has been challenged to a dance-off. It’s up to him to put a team of South Park’s best dancers together to compete against a troupe from Orange County. While Butters has won awards for his dancing, he refuses to help Stan. He hasn’t been able to dance since the tragic death of eight audience members at his last competition.”
I love the fact that everyone makes it seem like “getting served” is the greatest indignity one can suffer. It’s funny and odd enough when the Orange County kids pop out of nowhere, and the weirdness continues from there when Stan serves the kids back with the Achy-Breaky. After the strained statements made in the “Passion” episode, it’s nice for the series to rebound with non-political wackiness.
AWESOM-O (first aired 4/14/04): “Cartman dresses up like a robot, calls himself AWESOM-O and moves in with Butters in a plan to learn all of Butters’ secrets and then use them against him. While Butters is thrilled to have a new best friend, the US Army believes AWESOM-O is some new secret weapon, and Hollywood is after the phony robot to develop their next big blockbuster.”
If “F’d” was weird, the idea behind this episode is even odder – and just as fun. Cartman’s plan is great, and the way it inevitably backfires is even better. The show turns out to be a real winner.
The Jeffersons (first aired 4/21/04): “All of the children of South Park are attracted to ‘Mr. Jefferson’ and his home filled with games, toys and animals. Cartman goes out of his way to get ‘Mr. Jefferson’ to love him best. Meanwhile, the local police force resents ‘Mr. Jefferson’ for being black and wealthy and decides to bring him down.”
When it comes to easy targets, none get any easier than Michael Jackson. I expect more from South Park than an obvious parody like this. Yeah, it takes a couple of minor turns, but I just can’t find much to like in another slap at Michael Jackson; though he may deserve it, that territory’s been beaten to death.
Goobacks (first aired 4/28/04): “Humans from the year 4035 are traveling to South Park through a recently discovered time portal and are looking for work. When the boys try to earn some extra money, the time immigrants, who are willing to do the same work for next to nothing, take their jobs.”
If nothing else, “Goobacks” offers a clever twist on the subject of illegal immigrants. This presents a break after the heavy-handed “Jeffersons”, though I wouldn’t call “Goobacks” a great episode. Although I like the fact that South Park tries to take on provocative issues, the series’ best episodes tend to be those that focus more on goofy twists in the kids’ lives. The boys get lost in the shuffle here, as “Goobacks” concentrates on the political side of things. It has some good moments but doesn’t fully live up to its potential.
Douche and Turd (first aired 10/27/04): “PETA demonstrates against the use of a cow as South Park Elementary’s mascot so the student body is forced to pick a new one. As the election approaches, Kyle tries to convince everyone that his candidate, a giant douche, is better than Cartman’s nominee, a turd sandwich.”
Leave it to South Park to make a commentary on the 2004 presidential election with the competition between a douche and a turd. The episode pokes fun at the tyranny of those who feel that the refusal to vote – even if for logical reasons – is a horrible crime against humanity. Hey, I’m all for voting, but if you really don’t have a preference among the selections, it makes sense for you to abstain, doesn’t it? “Turd” makes that point in a clever and amusing way.
Something Wall Mart This Way Comes (first aired 11/3/04): “The main street of South Park is like a ghost town when a giant Wall Mart lures all the townspeople to its newest store with all of its incredible bargains. Cartman becomes possessed by the power of Wall Mart and its low, low prices. In order to save their town, Stan and Kyle have to find a way to destroy the ever-expanding superstore while keeping Cartman from stabbing them in the back.”
Wal-Mart may not be as easy a target as Michael Jackson, but it’s close. Actually, it’s a surprise the series never confronted the retailing monolith in the past. The episode takes enough perverse twists to make it amusing, but the predictable nature of the show makes it less than terrific.
Pre-School (first aired 11/10/04): “For five long years, Stan, Kyle, Kenny, Cartman and Butters have kept a secret about an illegal incident that happened back in pre-school. Now the kid who took the fall for the group, Trent Boyett, is getting out of juvie and his first order of business is revenge.”
A show in the vein of Cape Fear, “Pre-School” offers fun via its look at bullies and revenge. It doesn’t excel in any particular way, but it amuses for the most part. I especially like our glimpse of the kids as four-year-olds, and plenty of other good moments emerge in this pretty positive program.
Quest for Ratings (first aired 11/17/04): “The boys produce their own morning news show on the school’s closed-circuit television station and are immediately caught up in the intense competition for ratings.”
It’s not exactly a stretch to mock TV news shows for their move from real information to tabloid nonsense. Nonetheless, the kids’ attempts in this regard are so funny that I don’t care about the predictable nature of the story and barbs. The show doesn’t excel, but it’s amusing enough to be a good one.
Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset (first aired 12/1/04): “All the fourth-grade girls idolize a rich, famous and spoiled socialite. They even have her brand-new toy set that comes complete with video camera, night vision filter, play money and loseable cell phone. Disturbed by the corruptive influence the trashy celebrity has on all little girls, one of the town’s favorite citizens challenges her to a ‘whore-off’”.
Time for another easy target! Granted, Paris Hilton was as tired a topic in late 2004 as Michael Jackson was, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to skewer her. I will admit the show takes a few decent tangents as it makes its points, but these aren’t enough to fully redeem the program. I do like the look at the young Mr. Slave, though.
Cartman’s Incredible Gift (first aired 12/8/04): “After sustaining a severe head injury, Cartman appears to have the power to see into the future. South Park detectives are quick to enlist his help in cracking unsolved murder cases and Cartman is more than willing to help… for a price.”
Cartman-based episodes usually work well, and “Gift” follows suit – to a degree. This wouldn’t qualify as something on a level with Season Seven’s excellent “Fat Butt and Pancake Head”, but it amuses as Cartman exploits his alleged gifts. Overall, it fares pretty nicely.
Woodland Critter Christmas (first aired 12/15/04): “Stan is approached by a group of adorable woodland critters and asked to help them build a manger in anticipation of the birth of their Lord and Savior. Stan complies, only to find out that they serve Satan.”
It must be tough to come up with different ideas every year for a Christmas episode, and I give the series credit for the mix of concepts it uses. That said, how do you ever top a talking piece of poop? “Critter” acts as a decent parody of the usual animated holiday fable, but it doesn’t do enough beyond that to excel. The whole Satanic twist doesn’t stand out as especially clever, to be honest, and it undercuts an already tenuous show. I do like the ending, though.