I actually enjoy waiting for the seasons to come out on DVD, because South Park is the kind of the show that has a lot in common with a can of Pringles. You can’t have just one, and season eleven is absolutely no exception.
It’s a well known fact that most television shows have a tendency to run their successful courses and then veer off the road entirely. “Jump the shark” is the popular term for such a situation. Very few television shows are so self aware that they are able to continue evolving and keep upping the ante on what they’ve done before while maintaining their quality. If you were to write your master’s thesis on an American sitcom that has that ability, South Park would be a natural choice. Eleven years in, and South Park is still shocking us with its uninhibited satire, its unbridled scatological humor, and its aggressive pop culture sensibility. When you look back to the very beginning, you have to be incredibly impressed with how far the show has come and how multidimensional the characters have become despite the fact that they’re still 2D cut-outs.
It’s utterly impossible to analyze the season as a whole, because every episode of this show is completely different from its neighbors. One episode has Cartman duking it out with a midget, and a few episodes later we’ve got a Roland Emmerich style epic, only with head lice! This always brings me back to this show episode after episode. Because this show has so much freedom, and because it has absolutely no problem being outrageous, it has the rare gift of being totally versatile. The show embeds itself into your memories by giving a constant barrage of comedic sucker punches. Only South Park could have Jesus Christ killing Bill Donohue with that cool bladed weapon from Krull. That’s the sort of thing that would cause many religious leaders’ heads to explode. Thank God nothing is sacred to Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and their entourage. From homeless people to 300 to sexual politics in elementary school, nothing is safe in South Park.
The brilliance of South Park’s brand of satire is that they use pop culture to poke fun at current events, and vice-versa. Additionally, because this show has run for as long as it has, their previous episodes come back to haunt the current ones. The episode(s) that comes to mind in this season, is the “Imaginationland Trilogy,” in which Stan, Kyle, and Butters get caught in a race to save all of Imagination from terrorists, the military, and Al Gore. Al Gore was satirized in season ten when his search for “Manbearpig” almost kills the boys. So when Manbearpig appears, Gore campaigns to destroy Imaginationland. It’s a testament to the show’s daring that they are able to rip into Al Gore and his rants about global warming without doing it with a mean spirit.
“Imaginationland” is a South Park masterpiece to rival its cinematic counterpart, Bigger, Longer, & Uncut. It takes skill on the writer’s part to juxtapose an epic battle with Cartman’s petty pursuits to get Kyle to pay up on a fallacious gambling debt. “Imaginationland” aside, the standout episodes are “Cartman Sucks,” in which Cartman tries to dodge a slew of gay rumors by disposing of a scandalous photo which was intended to humiliate Butters; “The Snuke,” which is an episode of 24 with a South Park twist; and the “Fantastic Easter Special,” which uncovers a church conspiracy of Da Vinci Code magnitude to hide the truth about easter. The weak episodes are rare but adequate. “More Crap,” “D-Yikes,” and “Le Petit Tourette” are entertaining but lack repeat value.
As in the previous box sets, each episode comes with a mini-commentary by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who say more in three and a half to four minutes than most filmmakers say in two hours on their long-winded commentaries. UNLIKE the other box sets, this is the first South Park season to be totally uncensored. Compared to Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, it’s pretty tame, and in the end it’s not that big a deal. Also, I do understand how much work it is to make extra features, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a couple of little features every now and then.
What started as a crude little show with even cruder animation has become a show which deserves the same level of prestige as the shows that previously inspired it. Clearly, on the strength of these episodes eleven seasons later, there is no end in sight for Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny.
FINAL GRADE: B+