Monday, March 16, 2009

South Park: The Complete 12th Season
TV on DVD review by Sombrero Grande

Unlike other animated sitcoms that have made it to the season 12 milestone, South Park remains in its prime. If anything, the show seems to keep getting better with time and the 12th season is rather exceptional in that, while some episodes were clearly better than others, there's not a single unworthwhile clunker in the mix.

Topics covered in the 12th season include timely plotlines surrounding the 2008 presidential election, the writers' strike, the Olympic opening ceremonies in China, High School Musical 3, an upsurge in interest in vampires stemming from the popularity of Twilight, and YouTube sensations like "Chocolate Rain."

South Park has become known for pouncing on hot topics during their peak (due largely to the fact that the show is produced over the course of the week before it airs), but their episode "About Last Night..." took that timeliness to new heights by broadcasting the very next day after the election with a full story about Barack Obama and his first actions as president-elect. In a clever Ocean's Eleven spoof, the show reveals the whole election to be a cover for the biggest diamond heist in U.S. history, playfully including McCain and Palin in the plan.

South Park is also known for pulling no punches when it comes to pushing the boundaries of good taste and relishes dealing with content no other broadcast television program dares to touch in a comedic manner. For example, season 12 opens with Cartman going into the hospital for a routine tonsillectomy and ending up contracting the HIV virus. Seeing Kyle (whom Cartman is always pushing around) enjoying Cartman's bad karma catching up to him, a furious Cartman takes some of his own blood and injects it into Kyle while he sleeps. The comedy stems from the fact that when Kyle tells everyone what Cartman did, he gets in the same amount of trouble for tattling on Cartman as Cartman does for deliberately giving him AIDS .

In another episode that spoofs The Grapes of Wrath, the Internet mysteriously disappears in "Overlogging." Stan's dad, panicked over the fact that he can no longer masturbate to Internet porn, packs up the whole family Joad-style and heads out "Californee-way" where he hears there's still some Internet left. In "Britney's New Look," the media's ongoing antagonistic obsession with Britney Spears culminates in her attempting suicide as the show compares the whole scenario to a kind of cult sacrifice.

South Park's effectiveness in making a point through humor is especially evident in "Eek, A Penis!," when Ms. Garrison leaves teaching to undergo another sex change operation and Cartman is put in charge of teaching her class. When the students' test scores hit an all-time high (because they all cheated), Cartman is asked to help teach underprivileged intercity kids calculus. In a great parody of Stand and Deliver, Cartman extols to the teens the virtues of cheating just like Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots did. As Cartman puts it, "Bill Belichick proved that, in America, it's okay to cheat, as long as you cheat your way to the top!'" This episode is a prime example of the show's ability to make a satirical point in a memorable and very funny way, in this case, the show's creators' ire over the way they felt the NFL glossed over the Patriots' tactics after they were caught cheating.

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have playfully hazed George Lucas and Steven Spielberg before when they poked fun at the duo's penchant for "updating" their classic films with new special effects, but in "The China Probrem" the gloves come off as they issue their disgust over "the raping of Indiana Jones" in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull by showing Lucas and Spielberg actually raping Indiana Jones over and over again in the episode. The image of Lucas getting red-faced, bent over Indiana Jones on a pinball machine is about as disturbing a sight as I've ever seen, but, as with the "messages" in their other episodes, Parker and Stone ensure that their voices are heard.

But not every episode of the show has a satirical point to make; some are just for laughs. The two-parter "Pandemic" contains some of the funniest moments I can recall seeing on television in a while. In a parody of Cloverfield, Stan's dad's new video camera records a world-wide invasion of adorable giant guinea pigs. "Major Boobage" pays homage to Heavy Metal and "Super Fun Time" muses how stringent the rules really are about actors "breaking character" while working at a period pioneer village. The cringlingly-titled "Breast Cancer Show Ever" sees Wendy finally saying enough is enough when Cartman insists on poking fun at her Breast Cancer Awareness presentation and beats the ever-loving snot out of him.

Blending smart satire with shock humor, the 12th season of South Park offers up far more hits than misses (several episodes from season 12, specifically "About Last Night..." and the "Pandemic" two-parter, are sure to go down as some of the series' best). Alternating between being very clever and surprisingly offensive, all the while still being quite funny, the show walks a fine line skillfully and season 12 is a prime example of just that.

The extras included with the season 12 DVD set include Parker and Stone's signature "mini-commentaries" and three rather exhaustive, overly-long behind-the-scenes documentaries for episodes "Major Boobage," "Super Fun Time" and "About Last Night..." The set is highly recommended for any South Park fan.


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