South Park: The Hits – Volume One appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I found visuals here that strongly resembled those of the prior few seasons.
Sharpness appeared strong. Occasional bouts of light softness showed up, but these seemed modest, especially compared to earlier seasons. Overall, the shows remained pretty concise and accurate. Shimmering was minimal, and jagged edges - a consistent concern in the past - were fairly minor. Curved lines still looked a bit rough, but not as much as during prior shows. No issues with source defects occurred.
Colors also demonstrated fairly good delineation. The tones mostly seemed pretty clear and vivid, and they didn’t suffer from significant signs of noise or bleeding. They were acceptably lively. Black levels tended to be somewhat drab and gray, and shadow detail usually looked slightly too dark, but not terribly so. This was a good representation of South Park and offered the show about as positively as possible.
As for the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of South Park, the soundfields offered a modest spread to the mix. Most of the material stayed within the front spectrum, where I heard mild use of directional effects and some decent stereo music. Vocals usually stayed in the center. Audio moved adequately across channels as well, though there's not a great deal of panning or directional sound apparent. The surrounds mainly added some light ambience that reinforced the music and effects; it gave me a decent impression but didn't contribute much to the experience.
Audio quality appeared good but unspectacular. Speech sounded natural and distinct, and the lines blended well with the action. Only a smidgen of edginess cropped up, as the lines usually were without defects. Effects were clean and acceptably accurate, and music seemed clear and smooth with moderate but decent bass heard at times. South Park presented a bland but decent auditory experience as a whole.
As we shift to the extras, we start with the usual “mini-commentaries”. We get these for all 10 episodes with creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. These begin at the start of each show and last a total of 29 minutes and 11 seconds.
Parker and Stone tell us the general rationale behind how they chose the programs in this set and get into details of each episode. They give us various specifics about the shows and also tell us why each one made this compilation. They tell us about the controversy related to “Trapped in the Closet” as well as other interesting issues. Note that even though they already did commentaries for eight of the shows involved, they offer new chats here. That’s a nice fresh aspect of the set, and I continue to really enjoy these fun commentaries.
In addition, DVD One presents some Previews. We get promos for That’s My Bush!, South Park Season Eight, Mind of Mencia, and Drawn Together.
We also get four bonus episodes on DVD Two. Here’s what we find:
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.
Timmy 2000 (aired April 19, 2000) focuses our wheelchair-bound friend. In this episode, the school staff seems unable to deal with the mentally-challenged Timmy. Mr. Garrison interprets his incoherence as insolence, despite the fact the kids point out Timmy’s retardation. Principal Victoria also becomes angered, but they eventually decide that Timmy can’t work because he has an attention deficit disorder; a doctor tests him in an unusual way and soon puts Timmy on Ritalin.
When the other kids see that Mr. Garrison now requires virtually no work from Timmy, they declare that they have ADD as well, and the quack doctor agrees. Soon the entire class is doped up on Ritalin, and their unusually high level of compliance drives the staff nuts.
In the meantime, Timmy stumbles across a flailing metal band, the Lords of the Underworld. His spastic wailings fit perfectly into their music, and the group soon rockets up the charts. They win a coveted spot to open for Phil Collins at a music festival, but their popularity becomes so enormous that the billing gets reversed. A jealous Collins – most definitely not voiced by the real singer – sabotages the band when he convinces the band’s guitarist to quit. Of course, a happy ending eventually ensues, although some controversy about whether fans mock or love Timmy crops up along the way.
“Timmy” provides a nice look at various actual issues. Amazingly, it views the whole ADD issue in a surprisingly accurate and fair light. It argues correctly that Ritalin is an over-prescribed drug used simply to placate kids who really don’t have attention deficit concerns, but it also states – also correctly – that some students really do benefit from it. The show also looks at the ways that we view the handicapped and reminds us that treating them like china dolls is almost as bad as mocking them.
Of course, since this is South Park, the episode doesn’t function like the message show I just described. It has the usual level of silliness and crude hijinks. I loved the ridiculous “test” for ADD used by the doctor, and the bizarre decision to voice Collins ala one of the Gumbys from Monty Python was also inspired. “Timmy” offers a solid episode.
Fat Butt and Pancake Head (first aired 4/16/03): “One of Cartman’s body parts becomes famous overnight and rivals the popularity of another superstar. The real ‘Jenny from the Block’ is enraged to learn that a new ‘Diva’ has stolen her record deal and her boyfriend. Taco kisses!”
The hilarious “Butt” entertains for a variety of reasons. From the surreal aspects of the Jennifer Lopez hand puppet to the amusing songs to Cartman’s psychosis, this program works awfully well. It’s one of the series’ all-time best shows.
The Death Camp of Tolerance (first aired 11/20/02): “Mr. Slave and Lemmiwinks make their debut as Mr. Garrison desperately tries to get fired from his new job as the boys’ fourth grade teacher.”
The set ends with this excellent program. With Mr. Slave, the Museum of Tolerance, and Lemmiwinks the gerbil, we find many amusing elements. Political correctness gets a nice jab in this terrific show.
Of particular interest to fans, DVD Two also includes the original Spirit of Christmas short. The five-minute and 15-second piece offers the first-ever glimpses of the South Park kids. It’s crude but entertaining and great to have for archival reasons.
Despite its title of The Hits, I think this South Park collection includes a fair number of misses. At its best, we get some truly inspired episodes, but a fair number of them are lackluster. This makes the set awfully uneven, as does the fact that nothing from the series’ first three seasons appears here.
The DVDs offer good picture and sound plus some nice extras. The “mini-commentaries” continue to entertain and inform, fans will delight over the inclusion of the original “Spirit of Christmas”, and the four bonus episodes are consistently terrific. Actually, those extra shows are better than almost all of the programs regarded as “hits”! This is a nice collection for fans who want a South Park sampler, but more dedicated viewers will be happier with the full season sets.