So "South Park" is now 18 years old, and under contract to continue at least through age 20. Not bad for something that started out as a primitive video Christmas card, and then became a cable series which its creators (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) didn't expect to last very long (it was said that they pretty much did the 1999 theatrical movie South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut as a big blow-out since they didn't think the show would last much longer.) With the kids having been in 3rd grade when the show started, they'd be done with college by now in real-time. Trey Parker voices Eric Cartman, the overweight kid who mostly thinks only of himself (thought of as a younger Archie Bunker) and Stan Marsh who most closely resembles a character out of the "Peanuts" series. Matt Stone voices Kyle Broflovski, one of the only Jewish kids in town, and Kenny McCormick, who comes from a low-income family and never fully shows his face (except in the movie and two other episodes where he assumed an alternate identity), usually hiding it in his orange hood and speaking in a muffled voice that the audience can never understand but everyone in the show seems to. Kenny traditionally died in a gruesome manner in every episode of the first few seasons ("Oh my God- they killed Kenny!"), stayed dead for a full year and then reappeared the next having a bit better luck in life- he's only been killed a few times since then and lives through every episode in this season.
I've been obsessively buying South Park DVDs since the first ones were released by Rhino in 1998, moving to Blu-Ray as soon as that became available. This latest 2-disc set is packaged in the same style as the previous Blu-Rays, with a colorful fold-out "digipak" cover with printed episode synopses. As with the previous season they've only done 10 episodes instead of the usual 14, and this time there's a lot more running gags throughout the entire season and references to the previous episode- for example the opening "Go Fund Yourself" has the kids start their own company (called the Washington Redskins) which does absolutely nothing, and in the next couple they're still dealing with "everybody hating" them for it. Randy Marsh (Stan's dad, voiced by Trey Parker) is also moonlighting as pop singer Lorde.
Social issues are still skewered, the main one here being the controversies over accommodating transgendered students at schools. Cartman gets tired of the stalls in the boys' restroom being occupied so he proclaims that he's "transgingered," changes his name to Erica and starts using the girls' room. When the girls object, the school has no choice but to build a 3rd restroom all for him- until others spoil it by also becoming "transgingered." The episode "Gluten Free Ebola" has the entire town of South Park adopt a gluten-free diet after a horrifying scientific revelation.
Technology also plays a big part in many episodes, such as "The Magic Bush" where the kids get ahold of a camera-equipped flying drone and spread naked pictures of Craig's mom across the school and then the entire internet, leading to an army of "neighborhood watch" drones protecting the town from further invasions of privacy. "Freemium Isn't Free" introduces a new mobile phone game featuring everyone's favorite Canadian stars Terrance and Phillip. While it's at least free to start playing the game, Stan puts his family in debt buying "Canadough" to reach the higher levels and turns to Satan (yes, the devil himself, a favorite recurring character voiced by Trey Parker introduced back in the first season) for help with his addiction. Cartman once again takes advantage of Leopold "Butters" Stotch's gullibility when he gives him some regular goggles and tells him they're a virtual-reality system and everything he sees through them isn't real- until a complicated Total Recall-like plot develops and things get further out of control. The final two episodes address a problem that is near and dear to me- the trend of kids favoring watching simple content on their computers or cell phones rather than something more worthwhile on the living-room TV. It starts when Kyle tries to bond with his adopted brother Ike by playing video games together in the living room, but Ike would rather stay on his computer and watch other people playing video games and giving commentary on YouTube. (This includes an appearance by Felix "Pewdiepie" Kjellberg, whom I had to look up online to see who he was and why he was relevant to any of this. Just call me "grandpa.") Eric Cartman jumps on the trend by doing his own online commentaries as "CartmanBrah" and the two of them jump into onscreen boxes during a network Christmas special while Kyle launches a #savethelivingroom Twitter campaign to beg for a return to the old, traditional pastime of sitting together watching a big screen.
Having seen every "South Park" episode up to here, these didn't make me laugh out as loud as the earlier ones did but are still pretty damn funny while the characters have continued to endure. I wouldn't suggest newcomers watch these without at least sampling the very first episode and some others in-between (besides getting to know the characters and their world, since the beginning there have been very subtle callbacks to previous episodes although they haven't been connected together nearly as much as the episodes in this season have been.)
All episodes are presented here in 1080p, consisting of computer animation which still retains the basic style of the paper cutouts with occasional photos used in the first episode but has obviously evolved over the years. The Blu-Ray picture quality does full justice to this animation, looking nearly perfect aside from some very slight banding which may have been inherent in the original material. There will certainly be those who question the need to buy these shows on Blu-Ray when they can be seen online, but even with a computer hooked up to your TV there really is no comparison. (Besides that, the last time I attempted to watch an episode through the South Park Studios website I saw that Hulu had taken over the video hosting duties, resulting in glitchy playback, a Comedy Central logo always onscreen and longer commercial breaks than before. It was at least a bit reassuring to read the negative user comments resulting from that change.)Sound:
As with the previous seasons issued on Blu-Ray, the audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby TrueHD which is more than adequate. The level of sound production has usually varied between episodes, and I noticed very little surround activity during this season. The discs also include a 2-channel mix in standard Dolby Digital, and hearing-impaired subtitles in yellow text.
A returning feature from the previous season set is "#Socialcommentary", which periodically brings up a text bar at the bottom of the screen with Twitter-like messages giving general info about what's onscreen. Some are interesting and point out when new animation elements are used, while others point out hidden gags that alert viewers will have already noticed. Trey Parker and Matt Stone continue the "Mini Commentaries" where they spend anywhere from the first three to nine minutes of episodes talking about how they got the ideas for storylines and anything interesting that may have gone on during that episode's production, quickly wrapping up with "All right, let's move on" and leaving the normal show audio playing rather than struggling to fill up the remaining time. A few minutes of deleted scenes are also included.
"South Park" might be criticized by some as not being as fresh as it used to be, but at this point I give it credit simply for being around as long as it has been without running things into the ground. I'm definitely sticking with it as long as it keeps going, preferring the annual binge-watching and picture quality the discs provide without the interruptions found in the show's other venues.