Be honest. When you saw the first episode of South Park in its primitive glory back in the day, did you think it would have gone for twelve seasons, while actually gaining relevance with the topics it tackled week after week? Me neither. I'm not saying I thought the show was dumb. It was quite the opposite in fact! It quickly became one of my favorite shows. The fact that it became so efficient at using social/political commentary was just an added benefit. As an aging fan, it was great to see South Park grow with me, by growing with the times. Now, South Park - The Complete 12th Season is on Blu-ray, but does it still pack the punch it used to?
It may depend on your particular comical tastes. As Matt and Trey reiterate in one of their infamous short commentary tracks, some episodes are really hit or miss with certain people. Either you're in on the joke from the beginning of the episode and find it hilarious, or you're not feelin' it, and just find yourself continually bummed out for half an hour.
For me personally though, I thought the 12th season was definitely more hit than miss. There may have been two episodes out of the fourteen available that I found to be under par, but even those were decent enough to keep me hooked throughout the runtime.
As expected, South Park keeps pushing the envelope whenever it possibly can. The very first episode out of the gate for example, Tonsil Trouble, finds Cartman infected with the HIV virus after a one in a billion fluke that occurred while his tonsils were being removed.
That may not sound so bad to some of you, but Kyle finds this to be absolutely hilarious. Cartman has been a jerk for years, and Kyle sees this as Cartman getting his dues. Insulted in his friend's giggly behavior over the matter, Cartman decides to get even by getting Kyle infected with the HIV virus, too. And Cartman's catch-phrase throughout the whole ordeal is both hilarious, and awful. "I'm not just sure, I'm HIV positive!"
The very next episode tackles a major problem we have in the United States, the paparazzi. Britney's New Look focuses on the strain the media places on celebrities every single day. If you don't know what I'm talking about, just open up a copy of US Weekly and flip to the They're Just Like Us! section. They drink water! They walk their dogs! They eat hamburgers! Really? Gee, I never knew stars were real people just like me! Thanks for treating the entire reader base like morons, US Weekly!
Britney Spears is driven to the point of suicide, and even in this simple task she finds herself surrounded by failure. Her head is tragically blown off by her doing, yet the music industry thinks she needs to get back on the horse, so they make her the main attraction at an MTV Music Video Awards event. Sound familiar?
It's in episodes like this that South Park truly shines. As I said, this is a show that finds more relevance with its take on our society than almost any other program on television. The message in this particular episode was that if a star is swirling down the drain of depression, perhaps we should all feel a little guilty, and just leave them alone before they kill themselves.
Sometimes the message in any given episode of South Park becomes more interesting than the characters that convey it. If you ask me, that says a lot about the merit of any show, especially if that show happens to be an animated one that's popularly thought to be about potty mouths and fart jokes. You know you're doing something right, when the message you're trying to send can be just as big a selling point as one your main characters, such as Cartman.
It's impressive how the show can practically write itself at times, as the creators are able to pen an episode within a week from its air date. Writing under the gun often inspires Matt and Trey to cover a hot topic in the news. The writing strike was covered shortly after its conclusion, and even more impressive, an episode aired one day after Obama was elected the President of the United States, depicting him as such.
Not every episode is about slamming home a message about how funny or strange our society can be however. There are still the episodes that are thrown out there just for the sake of being fun.
Take for example Major Boobage, an episode where people can visit a land that's reminiscent of the film Heavy Metal (but with more boobs), after they 'cheese' on hallucinogenic cat urine. Or Elementary School Musical, where every kid in school is hoppin' on the High School Musical craze, singing about everything, everywhere they go!
Fans will also find great satisfaction in Eek, A Penis!, where the saga with Mr./Mrs. Garrison comes full circle, as he/she finally wants to become a man once again.
The complete episode list is as follows:
-Britney's New Look
-Canada on Strike
- Eek, a Penis!
-Super Fun Time
-The China Probrem (Yes, I spelled that the way it was intended!)
-Breast Cancer Show Ever
-Pandemic 2 - The Startling
-About Last Night...
-Elementary School Musical
There are a couple of episodes that don't live up to the epically hilarious standards that South Park has built itself up to, but the 12th season as a whole is definitely solid.
It's up in the air as to how the show continues to stay so fresh year after year. Perhaps Matt and Trey are comical geniuses. It seems like that answer is a little too easy though, or at least too good to be true. I like to subscribe to a different theory.
The time I find a show to become unwatchable, is when it's given more money and more time during the writing and production stages. This usually tends to cause the writers to focus too hard on being funny, and the product ultimately is over-produced to be a watered down piece of junk.
Now, I'm under the belief that some of the best work on television is the work that's done under a short and tight schedule. Being that South Park usually only has a week to spit out an episode, I think the time constraint, as stressful as it can unfortunately be on the creators, keeps the show from slumping into a downward spiral. Funny is more of a spontaneous thing, not something that's supposed to be dragged out and revised time and time again.
Whatever the reason, South Park is still relevant, it's still funny, and it's just as unafraid to tackle sensitive subjects as it ever was. If you're a fan of the show, there's no doubt about it, the 12th season is one you need to own!
The verdict is in: Anything can look better in high definition. Anything!
The 1.78:1 image is encoded using AVC, but unlike most other Blu-rays in your collection, is at a resolution of 1080i. I know, I know. I spun my nose up in the air when I originally heard that, too. However, you'd be hard pressed to find anything to complain about in this transfer!
The sharpness and clarity of the animation is startling, and that's saying quite a bit for a show that's generally considered to be simple animation. There are a lot of details and effects that wouldn't shine on DVD as they do on this Blu-ray release. There are times where there's a lot of little detail, and every little piece is identifiable. Simple animation for the most part it may be, but there's a lot of intricate and delicate work that gets put into each episode of South Park, and it's more clear than ever before.
The contrast is fantastic. The black levels are deep, while colors saturate at an impressive level. This show has a lot of bright reds, greens, blues, and more. It all leaps off the screen without any of the colors wandering outside of their boundaries.
The only minor complaints are ones that are normal for South Park in general. There is a motion blur effect at times, something that's always been prevalent in even the DVD releases of the series, and there's some minor halo edging, something that's also normal to the world of animation on home video. There's some very minor banding once in a great while, but it's never a big distraction.
This is a testament to the fact that anything can benefit from a high-def transfer. And in case you're worried about the widescreen aspect ratio, don't be. This was rendered in the widescreen format specifically, and there are no shots that look cut or clipped. The show actually greatly benefits from the widescreen treatment!
South Park isn't a show that's made with a constant surround field in mind, but that doesn't mean it hasn't benefitted from the lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track it was given!
Music is used all across the sound field, and there are some directional effects from time to time. Most of the sound the show has to offer does remain in the front channels however. Even so, the dialogue or sound effects have never sounded so clear and accurate. For those who are wondering, the audio presented is unedited. Swear word lovers unite!
There are some episodes in the season that offer explosions or other loud sound effects that activate the bass, and I was actually fairly impressed at how nice the lows sounded!
The show has never sounded better, that's for sure. The only way it could possibly sound better, is if the show utilized a better mix of sound itself, but with a one week turnaround, I think they do a pretty good job!
Mini-Commentary Tracks with Trey Parker and Matt Stone - If you've ever listened to the mini-commentaries on any other South Park release, you know what you can expect here. Matt and Trey sit down for a few minutes on each episode, and discuss how they came up with the ideas for each while exchanging some playful banter. It's an incredibly refreshing take, even after so many DVD seasons of South Park have utilized this method. Too often have I listened through endless minutes of nonsense that's supposedly a commentary elsewhere, yet Matt and Trey find more things of relevance to say in four minutes than most people do in a half an hour! Even non-fans of commentary tracks need to check these out. They're so short and painless, how could you not?
The Making of Major Boobage - This is an in depth look at how this particular episode was made. Although the animation team tried to recreate the look of Heavy Metal via computer shortcuts, it just didn't work, so they hired an outside team to come in and help create the old school style of animation that would be required. You'll see everything from storyboards to the final product.
Six Days to South Park - Since the team only has a week to get an episode on the air, this featurette covers such a week. The episode that we'll see in production is Super Fun Time, and what we get is a heavy dose of work that's not yet completed being shown to us. There's not a lot of time following Matt and Trey around, following the writing process, or anything like that. It's mostly about showing us how an episode progresses over the course of a week through the various stages of completion we're shown, as well as through commentary. It's a bit boring because of this, but pretty informative at over an hour in length.
Behind the Scenes - About Last Night - There was quite a bit about this episode that the South Park team couldn't produce until they knew the outcome of the election. Being that the election was literally the night before the episode aired, that left them scrambling over the course of 24 hours to get it done, and get it on the air! This featurette is only 22 minutes in length, but I found this to be a bit more enjoyable than the previous supplement. A lot of the information here is also presented through visuals and commentary, so it was all a lot easier to swallow in a shorter format.
There's really nothing with this much substance when it comes to extras on any given South Park release, so it's nice to see some of the processes behind creating an episode under certain circumstances. Even so, the extras aren't exactly fascinating, and their execution is a hair below average.
Also included is a digital copy of the entire 12th season via download code. Unfortunately, these aren't accessible to iPod users. Well, that's rather dumb now, isn't it? Everyone boo and hiss, I'll do it too!
South Park, as cheesy as it may sound, is like a fine wine. It only gets better as it ages. I know there are probably going to be more than a few people out there that will disagree, and try to convince me that this show has been in a decline over the last couple of years. As Matt and Trey said though via mini-commentary, if you're not in on the joke an episode is based on, then you're simply not going to enjoy what you're watching. I guess I should be fortunate that I found most of the subject matter to be worth some laughs!
That being said, there's absolutely no reason why any South Park fan, or even any newcomer to the series (crawl out from that rock!), shouldn't pick this up. The episodes through season 12 continually pick on society for their affinity to rely on media, government, internet, and there's even some fun poked at goth cliques, as well as the latest installment of the Indiana Jones franchise. There's something here for everyone, and I think we'd be hard pressed to find anyone that won't be able to relate to the topics that are tackled.
On top of it all, the Blu-ray image shines South Park in a whole new and unexpected light, and the lossless sound track is fairly impressive as well. The extras aren't extraordinary, but they are a step in the right direction.
I know it's hard for some people to justify spending extra money for a Blu-ray version of a show that already looks pretty darn good on DVD, but trust me, you should. I'll highly recommend this set without hesitation!