For over a decade now, Trey Parker and Matt Stone's South Park has remained a consistent source of comedy---and not just because it's caused plenty of controversy during its lengthy broadcast run. This visually-primitive production relies more on pop culture timeliness and a keen sense of satire than simple vulgarity, though it isn't afraid to throw some in for good measure. As one of the longest-running animated series in television history (and arguably the most consistent), South Park has retained much of its fanbase and sucked in plenty of new followers along the way. Though I'm admittedly not a lifetime disciple of the irreverent adventures featuring Stan, Kyle, Cartman and company, South Park has always been a dependable source of laughter for slightly demented individuals who don't mind their buttons being pushed and prodded.
As with most animated series, certain characters tend to stand out more than others. Eric Cartman has remained one of South Park's most vocal and provocative figures since the first season: as a practitioner of whiny tantrums, hate-filled speeches and at least three of the seven deadly sins, this pudgy curmudgeon usually serves as the perfect villain to his own circle of friends---and despite the friction caused by his mere presence, people tend to let him stick around anyways. The Cult of Cartman: Revelations, a new two-disc collection from Paramount and Comedy Central, pays tribute to the mischievous young man by highlighting 12 memorable episodes from past and current seasons. Since the earliest years of the show, Cartman has gone through a bit of a transformation: he's always been the reactionary of the bunch, but also developed a manipulative, vengeful center of gravity about seven years back. Without further delay, this two-disc set includes the following episodes:
As expected, no Cartman collection would be complete without the masterful "Scott Tenorman Must Die" (at top). The slow-burning tale of revenge unfolds with surprisingly graphic results, punctuated by a "killer pony", Cartman's chili cook-off and a guest appearance by Radiohead. This fan favorite episode was perhaps the first exploration of Cartman's truly dark side, and it works wonderfully during this fun-filled adventure. As expected, it's the oldest of the bunch: the rest of these 11 episodes were broadcast during the last four years, so those who haven't been keeping up with South Park should find plenty of new material. Other highlights include "A.W.E.S.O.M.-O" (above left), in which Cartman dresses up as a Japanese-made robot to trick Butters into sharing his most embarrassing secrets; "Cartoon Wars, Parts 1 and 2", where Cartman attempts to get Family Guy cancelled for offending Muslims; "Up the Down Steroid" (above right), in which Cartman enters the Special Olympics under...let's just say...false pretenses; "Cartmanland", where our hero buys his own theme park; and "Ginger Kids", which depicts freckled redheads as soulless abominations...until, of course, Cartman turns into one.
From start to finish, there's really not a bad episode in the bunch---and it probably goes without saying, but your reaction to this collection depends solely on your love for Eric Cartman. If you love to hate him (and don't own all of the season sets, of course), The Cult of Cartman should be right up your alley. If you can't stand the little runt (or despise double-dipping on principle alone), steer clear from this new two-disc collection. Regardless of your South Park experience level, Paramount's DVD package remains generally by-the-numbers: the technical presentation is right on par with earlier volumes, while only a few brief animated intros serve as the bonus content. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, these 12 episodes look very good from start to finish. As with many long-running series (especially within the realm of animation), visuals tend to improve with each passing year---but since the bulk of these episodes are from later seasons, the quality remains consistently on the higher end. Colors are typically bold and bright, image detail is good and black levels are fairly solid. Aside from touches of softness during the earliest episode, "Scott Tenorman Must Die", the only minor issue on display here is interlacing---which proves to be slightly distracting, but it's hardly a deal-breaker. For the most part, those familiar with the season sets and/or themed compilations should know what to expect.
Likewise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes are hardly enveloping but get the job done. Dialogue and music cues rarely fight for attention, while surround activity is strictly limited to a few atmospheric affects and most of the songs. In lieu of optional subtitles, Closed Captioning support has been provided during all 12 episodes. Again, this appears to be a direct port of the audio found on all previous releases (save for the uncensored audio, of course).
Seen above, the lightly animated menu designs are smooth and simple to navigate. Each episode has been divided into several chapter breaks, though selection sub-menus are not present. Obvious layer changes were not detected during the actual episodes. This two-disc set is housed in a nifty Bible-themed digipak case, complete with a leathery texture and gold-trim pages; a few promotional inserts, including an "Eric Theodore Cartman Society" sticker and membership card, are also tucked inside. For those with fuzzy long-term memory, a list of episodes is also printed in the removable back cover sheet.
No bonus material is included here, save for short Animated Intros by Eric Cartman presented before each episode. These brief snippets (roughly 10-20 seconds apiece, above right) are certainly a welcome inclusion, but hardly worth a double-dip on their own. A bookend "message" at the start and end of the complete program would've been nice, but these are still enjoyable while they last.
He's a character that South Park fans love to hate, so it's no surprise that The Cult of Cartman pays fitting tribute to the fat little bastard. Cartman's more clever and manipulative side (first fully explored in "Scott Tenorman Must Die", included here) is on display from start to finish, whether he's causing the trouble or just reacting loudly to it. Comedy Central's two-disc collection does its job nicely, offering a decent technical presentation and an appropriate packaging design. The new animated intros tie in perfectly with this batch of 12 terrific, irreverent episodes---and though no additional bonus features are on board, the entertainment value remains quite high. Die-hard fans of South Park (read: the ones with all the season sets) shouldn't bother with this double-dip, but everyone else should find The Cult of Cartman a perfectly devious diversion worth seeking out. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.