WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
I don't know how they do it.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been creating South Park episodes for going on nine seasons, and somehow—despite their admitted procrastinating natures and vocally careless attitudes—this show just keeps getting more and more outrageous and more bitingly funny. South Park remains a bewildering phenomenon, a show that you might have thought would last a few episodes when it all began in 1997 but that has endured spectacularly and has developed an appreciative audience of naughty-humor junkies and fans of the gross-out. In this, the show's fifth season, Parker and Stone have somehow not only kept South Park ground-breaking, they've also come up with a number of enduring fan favorites. I'm not saying it's a perfect season—it's got a couple of clunker scenarios, one of them being the lame lion-habitat sequences in "Here Comes the Neighborhood"—but I found myself laughing just as heartily as in past seasons.
It's interesting to listen to Parker and Stone talk about their cartoon on the included mini-commentaries on this set. With their "What the hell?" attitude and willingness to piss off anyone at whom they direct their immature wrath, South Park is definitely a thing of unlikely brilliance. Often, it seems as if they don't care a bit about the fate of the show, given their willingness to put its fate on the line every single week. But that's what makes the show so compelling: It's got the same go-for-broke mentality as its creators. They don't care who they offend, and they want to get away with as much as they can. And I'm often amazed by the blunt social and political commentary that these guys inject into most of their episodes. Teetering between left and right (but mostly leaning a bit to the right), Parker and Stone are intimately attuned to the pulse of laughable American pop culture and ridiculous (and also frequently laughable) governmental behavior, and they're unafraid to critique anything.
Still, I think it's something of a miracle that this show remains on the air and that Parker and Stone have kept producing episodes. There's a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants feel to South Park that would have doomed any other show very early. These guys are often up late on Tuesday night finishing their show for a Wednesday airing. You get the feeling they're hanging around the house all day, then finishing the show in a flurry of haphazard activity after watching the nightly news for ideas. They're like a couple of slacker college dudes racing to finish their homework—but that's one of the things we love about 'em. And it's one of the things that makes the show so edgy and unpredictable.
You probably aren't new to the show, but I'll recap a bit. South Park is set in the tiny mountain town of South Park, Colorado. The stars are four young paper-cutout boys: Eric Cartman, the fat, obscenity-prone angermonger; Stan Marsh, the show's voice of reason; Kyle Broslofski, the Jew with the abrasive mother and the adopted Canadian brother Ike; and poor Kenny, the unintelligible parka-wrapped dude who dies in every episode. At South Park Elementary and around town, the gang learns life lessons and, each week, find themselves engaged in amazing and disgusting adventures. One of the fun things about being this far into the life of the show is that the boys' increasingly strange adventures—for example, taking them into Afghanistan and introducing entire local amusement parks for the sake of the plot—are merely par for the course now. We just accept these situations in the South Park universe.
The fifth season of South Park contains only 14 episodes (as compared to the previous season's 17) and is presented in order of airdate. The episodes are as follows:
It Hits the Fan (6-20-01)—This episode is infamous for its use of the word "shit," uncensored, 162 times through the course of the episode. And it ends with a surprising message: "Watch your language."
Cripple Fight (6-27-01)—Big Gay Al is fired from his Junior Mountain Scout Troop and replaced by a child molester. This episode introduces Timmy's crippled nemesis Jimmy and contains the most politically incorrect scene I've ever seen, a parody of the celebrated fight scene from John Carpenter's They Live.
Super Best Friends (7-4-01)—The boys fall under the sway of the cult of David Blaine.
Scott Tenorman Must Die (7-11-01)—Cartman is on a quest for revenge after an older kid tricks him into buying his pubic hair for $10. And boy, does he get revenge. This episode is frequently cited as a fan favorite.
Terrance and Phillip: Behind the Blow (7-18-01)—Terrance and Philip have broken up under sordid circumstances, and the boys try their damnedest to bring the duo back together in time for Earth Day celebrations.
Cartmanland (7-25-01)—Cartman inherits $1 million and buys his own theme park so that he can bar everyone—especially Stan and Kyle—from attending.
Proper Condom Use (8-1-01)—This episode begins with a disgusting trick involving a dog, which leads the South Park parents to insist that sex education begin in kindergarten.
Towelie (8-8-01)—Here's a wildly silly episode that introduces a new character: a talking towel that only wants to get high.
Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants (11-7-01)—The boys receive a goat from American-bombed Afghani kids, but they end up returning it to Afghanistan and confronting Osama himself. Some pretty good commentary on US policy here, surprisingly.
How to Eat with Your Butt (11-14-01)—Cartman sees the funniest thing he's ever seen and loses his sense of humor. This has gotta be one of the funniest, most immature South Park episodes I've ever seen. I feel almost shameful admitting that, but its lowbrow absurdity just totally clicked at the right moment for me. You also get to see the boys without their hats.
The Entity (11-21-01)—Mr. Garrison becomes outraged by the airline industry and develops his own method of transportation, which proves quite popular. Meanwhile, Kyle's very Jewish cousin Kyle comes to visit.
Here Comes the Neighborhood (11-28-01)—South Park is overrun with rich celebrities who also happen to be black. The episode is a closeted race commentary, and its last line is hilarious.
Kenny Dies (12-5-01)—Cartman becomes very interested in stem-cell research when he stumbles upon a truckload of aborted fetuses—just in time to learn that Kenny is actually dying from a terminal disease. Kenny would be gone from South Park for about a year after this, replaced by the next episode's title character.
Butters' Very Own Episode (12-12-01)—Butters' family implodes when the secret gay life of his father is uncovered.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Paramount presents South Park: The Complete Fifth Season in a strong full-frame transfer of the show's original 1.33:1 broadcast presentation. As with all the South Park sets, I'm impressed by the levels of detail and sharpness on this effort, and colors are strong and stable. As always, viewing on a large monitor presents problems for a TV show such as this, and I noticed the typically distracting aliasing jags and blocking on my 65" monitor. The image quality is very much in keeping with that of the Season Four DVDs.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's Dolby Surround 2.0 audio track accurately represents the show's original broadcast presentation and is about what you'd expect, considering past sets. This is a front-and-center presentation, with occasional panning across the front. Dialog is clear, with only modest distortion at the high end. You'll hear only ambient effects in the rears. Music fares particularly well, in beefy stereo, such as the fifth season's high-gear theme song.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The sole extras of any value on this set are brief, 3- to 5-minute Episode Commentaries over the beginning of each episode, by creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Continuing a trend begun in the third-season DVD set, these mini tracks are hilarious little snippets about the origins and production of each show. They begin just after the opening theme song and last for exactly as long as either Parker or Stone have anything remotely interesting to say about the episode. I always get a total kick out of these tracks, and they're brief enough that I usually jump back after watching a given episode and enjoy them for their humor and insight. Parker tends to dominate the conversation and seems to have a better memory about each episode's origin, but both are infectiously funny. We get the same running joke throughout—"Well, we've rambled on enough about this episode, sorry about that, on to the next one"—and it's still funny.
You also get an annoying number of forced Comedy Central trailers.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
This show just keeps rolling forward, against all odds. You might dismiss it as immature drivel, and yeah, it's sometimes that, but more often, it's bitingly accurate satire and just plain hilarious gross-out material. This set, with its excellent sound and image, as well as its short, sharp mini-commentaries, is a keeper.