Since I’ve not actively kept up with the world of South Park since 1998 or so, I’ve missed a lot of the show’s developments. The sporadic release of some themed four-episode DVDs keeps me moderately informed, at least, and I was quite happy to check out the one entitled Timmy!
You see, while characters like Butters and Token were totally new to me, I had some awareness of the mentally and physically disabled Timmy. However, my knowledge of the character confused me more than anything else. I’d seen his image on T-shirts and posters at some stores, but other than that, I remained totally ignorant. I thought to myself, “Boy, that kid looks like a character from South Park!” Despite that amazing insight, I wasn’t sure if Timmy appeared on Park itself, if he starred in a spin-off from the show, if he had some weird non-TV life, or if he simply came from some third party rip-off of the program.
Eventually I figured that Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld - also mentioned on the T-shirts and whatnot - were a band favored by the boys of South Park, but I didn’t think they’d function as actual characters; I thought they’d be an act we hear and see from time to time, but not as a concrete part of the show’s world.
I was wrong. As it happens, Timmy’s a classmate of our main characters Kyle, Cartman, Kenny and Stan. Confined to a wheelchair and mentally retarded, Timmy largely lives in a world of his own, and he mainly communicates via spastic declarations of his own name. I don’t know how much of a role his membership as lead vocalist in the Lords plays in South Park as a whole, but over the five Timmy-inclusive episodes I’ve seen - he also appeared in “Something to Do With Your Finger” on the Winter Wonderland DVD, which was his first appearance for me - the band came up only once, so I guess they’re not a consistent pairing with Timmy.
Admittedly, I have to do a fair amount of guessing in regard to Timmy, since I’m still not exactly an expert on the boy. Nonetheless, at least I know something about him now, and all that merchandise-related confusion resides in my past. The nation can heave a deep sigh of relief.
From what I gather, Timmy’s become a fairly popular South Park character, though I’m not terribly sure why. He’s a pretty one-note personality without a great deal of potential for growth. However, since the Park folks continue to get mileage out of Kenny, a faceless character with unintelligible speech who dies during every show, I probably shouldn’t shortchange their ability to wreak comedy out of Timmy.
With Timmy, the show’s staff walks their usual fine line between hilarity and tastelessness, and surprisingly, they stay on the positive side of that divide. Timmy’s a political correctness double whammy; since he’s both mentally and physically challenged, he has twice the normal potential to offend people. However, much of the charm derived from Park stems from its ability to seem brutally crude but not tasteless much of the time; they occasionally cross the line, but as nasty as the comedy can get, it rarely seems truly terrible.
Timmy only plays a minor role in the first episode on this DVD, “The Tooth Fairy’s Tats 2000”. In this show from April 2000, Cartman discovers a much higher than normal payment from the Tooth Fairy for one of his teeth, so he concocts a plan to bilk her out of enough bucks to afford a Sega Dreamcast. He gets his friends in on the deal, but after scores of teeth go through the mill, Mrs. Cartman has to tell him there is no Tooth Fairy and the money came from her own account.
All those exchanged teeth blew her wad, so the gang decides to expand their operation. They go to a posh neighborhood and figure a way to trick the parents of rich kids, but they plan is thwarted when they find someone else thought this up first. It turns out there’s an entire Mafia-esque “tooth trade” run by a young Godfather. The dental establishment suspects something is up, and they set a trap for the perpetrators.
How does Timmy factor into the show? Only barely, as we just see him when Cartman wants to remove one of Kenny’s teeth; they use a string to connect the tooth to Timmy’s electric wheelchair and will have him motor off and yank out the incisor.
Timmy’s small role may disappoint his fans, but “Tats” was the best of the four shows on this DVD nonetheless. In the best Park tradition, it offered a loose and fluid experience that had plenty of small but indelible moments. From Cartman’s reverential proclamation of the phrase “Sega Dreamcast” to his use of “tits” as a declaration of glee to Kyle’s crisis of faith when he learns there’s no Tooth Fairy, “Tats” was a very solid experience.
From April 2000, “Timmy 2000” focuses much more strongly on our wheelchair-bound friend. In this episode, the school staff seem unable to deal with the mentally-challenged boy. 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 authorized 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 overprescribed 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” wasn’t quite as entertaining as “Tats”, but I liked it nonetheless.
Timmy returns to a more supporting role in November 2000’s “4th Grade”. The first episode of that season, it finds the kids in a melancholy mood as they move on to a new level and a new teacher. Ms. Choksondik freaks out some people due to her pendulous breasts that are unsupported by a bra. She also has a lazy eye that means no one’s ever sure if she’s looking at them.
She can’t connect with the kids, and she seeks out the advice of their third grade teacher, Mr. Garrison. Unfortunately, due to a terrible event at the end of the prior year, he’s gone into hiding, and she needs to climb a summit to find him. When she does so, he becomes her Yoda-esque mentor and trains her to deal with the students.
In the meantime, the kids attempt to build a time machine to go back to third grade. This succeeds, actually, due to the help of some Star Trek-loving men. However, only Timmy ends up going back in time, where he goes through a mix of adventures that largely remain off-screen. In the meanwhile, the boys try to get the nerds to recreate their device, but a rift keeps them apart; they can’t agree if Star Trek: The Original Series had 72 or 73 episodes. (They’re both wrong: it featured 79, a mistake that I’ll bet was intentional to aggravate the real Trek geekboys in the audience.)
“Grade” was another pretty good but not great show. Ms. Choksondik seemed a little too crass and unappealing; frankly, the program’s adult females often have trouble crossing that line, and she’s another relatively weak character. That said, I did like seeing her because she strongly reminded me of an educator from my past. For 10th grade Geometry, our instructor has a lazy eye that really did make it difficult to tell if she looked at you or not; when she’d call on you through vision, you’d always have that little pause to figure out if you were really the subject.
She also was infamous for her first day of school declaration: “You’ve probably heard that I’m a really mean teacher, and you’ve heard right.” That statement became well-known not due to its nastiness; instead, we remember it because when she said it, we thought she related that she was a really “meat” teacher. As such, she was universally known as the Meat Teacher after that. Honestly, I can’t remember her real name; she remains the Meat Teacher to me.
During the final episode on this DVD, Timmy again returns to a prominent role. In November 2000’s “Helen Keller, the Musical”, the fourth graders need to stage a Thanksgiving play based on the life of Keller. Due to his physical limitations, Timmy’s the only choice for the lead role, and all seems well until Butters regales them with indications that the Kindergartner’s pageant will be a serious extravaganza.
Not wanting to be outdone by five-year-olds, the fourth graders step things up a notch, and this includes giving Keller a pet turkey who performs tricks. When Kyle and Timmy shop for one, Timmy insists they buy a rather flawed bird in that grand Charlie Brown Christmas style. Inevitably, this goes over poorly with director Cartman and the others, and they hire a Broadway diva turkey to play the part.
Timmy sticks it out with his new pet, named Gobbles; that title adds another word to Timmy’s vocabulary, at least. Heartbroken when the gang won’t let Gobbles appear in the play, Timmy flees, but all ends well by the finale.
“Keller” was another decent but unspectacular show. It certainly had some good moments, primarily due to the two turkeys. Gobbles was wonderfully pathetic, and asjl added hilariously snooty elements to the feathered personality. However, the episode simply lacked a certain quality that would have made it great. It was quite enjoyable, but not a classic.
Still, overall I thought Timmy! was a nice package. Only one of the shows was genuinely terrific, but the other three were quite entertaining as well. Timmy himself doesn’t seem likely to become one of my favorite characters, but these programs were pretty strong nonetheless.
Timmy! appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the picture displayed the flaws inherent in the show's intentionally crummy-looking animation, but I found it generally satisfactory nonetheless.
Sharpness looked a little fuzzy and indistinct at times, but for the most part, the shows presented acceptably crisp and detailed images. Timmy! never seemed terribly sharp, but it rarely appeared excessively soft either; the program usually maintained a decent balance. Moiré effects occurred on a few occasions, but jagged edges were a more significant problem; many curved lines came across as excessively distorted in that manner. Again, I think a lot of these concerns stemmed from the limitations of the original material, but I still found the "jaggies" distracting nonetheless. The shows displayed no flaws such as distortions of the image otherwise. I assume the programs came from videotape, so normal print concerns like grain or grit wouldn't be an issue, and no other possible defects appear.
Colors were somewhat bland but also represented the program as created. Hues came across as a bit heavy at times, and they seemed vaguely noisy on occasion as well. Black levels tended to be somewhat drab and gray, and shadow detail usually looked slightly too dark; low-light scenes such as those in bedrooms were rather hard to discern.
The quality of Timmy! seemed very similar to that of past South Park DVDs, which actually disappointed me because three of the four episodes came from the show’s “fourth grade” season. During the one “fourth grade” show found on Wonderland, picture quality improved noticeably, and I thought other programs from that year would show similar gains. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, as those episodes looked virtually identical to the older ones. Overall, Timmy! remained acceptably watchable and clear, but it rarely rose above that level. I thought the disc replicated the original material accurately, though.
The same went for the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Timmy! The soundfield offered a modest spread to the audio. Most of the material stayed within the front spectrum, where I heard mild use of directional effects and some decent stereo music. Vocals seemed to stay 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. A little edginess cropped up on rare occasions, but the vast majority of speech sounded natural and distinct, and the lines blended well with the action. Effects were clean and acceptably accurate, and music seemed clear and smooth with moderate but decent bass heard at times. Timmy! presented a bland but decent auditory experience as a whole.
One audio oddity: the volume level for “Fourth Grade” dropped considerably from that of the prior two shows. I needed to crank up my receiver much higher than normal, and I have no idea why this was. When we got to “Helen Keller”, the sound returned to the same plateau heard in the first two shows. Weird!
The two South Park DVDs released in 2000 - Christmas In South Park and The Chef Experience - both included some decent extras. Unfortunately, Timmy! comes with virtually nothing. All we find is an ad that touts South Park and some other Comedy Central programming. It’s so weak that I acknowledge it as a bonus piece extremely grudgingly.
Despite the lack of extras, Timmy! still offers a pretty fun
experience. The shows aren't the best South Park has to offer, but
they seem entertaining and amusing as a whole. The DVD provides the usual
bland but acceptable picture and sound and fails to deliver any supplements.
Timmy! isn't the best Park DVD on the market, but I definitely