The SmarK DVD Rant for South Park – The Complete Ninth Season

Available at Amazon.com

You have to know that after years of doing this show, there would be highs and lows for Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the gods of computerized cardboard cutouts. Given the rather spotty airing schedules of the show here in Canada, for instance, it’s really hard to even know what falls into which season for us, so I hardly even realized they were onto a tenth season this year. While this one has proved to be a return to the glory days for them, the one that preceded it was less than stellar. Still damn funny, but not quite transcendent.

The Show

Disc One

– “Mr. Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina” And we’re off to a rocky start, as the season premiere is more about pure shock value than having anything funny to say. And they even admit it on the commentary! Mr. Garrison gets a long overdue sex change operation (which includes graphic footage of a real operation for no real reason), and Kyle learns that Jews can’t play basketball, so he wants to be black. Now, normally these story points wouldn’t intersect, but in this case Kyle is given a Negroplasty by Garrison’s doctor, which involves using Garrison’s former testes as new knees. The silliness increases as Kyle’s dad realizes that he’s a dolphin trapped in a lawyer’s body and also has an operation to “fix” himself, becoming a Law-phin. Just all kinds of inappropriate from Garrison here, as he learns about the wonders of being a woman and can’t figure out why he can’t get pregnant, which gives us head-shaking lines like “Oh boy, now I can have an abortion!” and “What kind of a woman am I if I can’t bleed out of my snatch once a month?” Indeed. He actually becomes more a complex character here, breaking through into a whole new universe of self-loathing once he realizes that Mr. Slave has no interest in being with a woman and can’t just stop being gay.

– “Die, Hippie, Die!” It’s the Core redone with hippies, as Matt & Trey go for obscure by spoofing a movie that basically no one but me saw. And I liked it! Only Cartman realizes that hippies are moving in on the town, doing hippie things and preparing for a massive hippie jam festival that will certainly consume the entire town. Even worse, the other boys are seduced by that most evil of philosophies — the first year university student who now knows everything. Great lines here from Cartman, the voice of reason for once (“Here’s some pot and a guitar, now deal with it.” and “Hippies don’t HAVE any money!” in response to the town wanting to host the festival to help the economy) Even better, this one came out well before the wankery that was Live 8, the world’s largest and most expensive music festival that produced nothing. I’m actually glad someone had the balls to say something on the subject.

– “Wing” Special guest voice: Wing, as Wing. Token is black and thus naturally can sing, so the boys fake a talent agency to get 10% of his money, since they deserve it just as much as he does. But when an actual talent agency steals him, they’re left with Lu Kim’s wife, Wing, who has problems with the Chinese Mafia and only sings Abba songs. This of course leads to a battle between the boys and the mafia that’s straight out of Scarface, which comes across as Matt & Trey taking potshots at talent agencies. They don’t like them, you see.

– “Best Friends Forever” The second-most famous episode of the season, but it’s a case where their super-fast turnaround time means that a timely episode one week becomes a dated reference by the time the DVDs are released. Case in point, this one, as PSP-mania and Terry Schiavo dominate the jokes. Kenny gets a PSP and plays so much that he gets run over and sent to Heaven, where he has to play PSP and lead the warriors of Heaven against Hell. However, Kenny is revived with a feeding tube and can’t fulfill his destiny as the Keanu Reeves of Heaven, and soon it’s a moral war between Cartman’s “Kill Kenny” side and the other boys’ “Let Kenny Live” side. Kind of loses something two years later, especially for those of us who didn’t give a crap about the story in the first place. However, the unmitigated snark of Matt & Trey in the final battle, where the whole thing is only summed up with “This is 10 times bigger than the last battle in the Lord of the Rings movie!” without actually showing anything, is pure South Park.

– “The Losing Edge”. Apparently, baseball is boring. Especially for the kids, who just want the Little League season to end so they can go do summer stuff. However, they unexpectedly end up in the post-season, and thus scheme to lose the big game so they don’t have to keep playing. They don’t count on everyone else in Little League being in on the scam, however, and in fact some of the other teams are really skilled at sucking. The subplot of Randy Marsh working his way up the drunken fighting ranks in the stands is much funnier than the main plot here.

Disc Two

– “The Death of Eric Cartman” Cartman finally crosses the line that shouldn’t be crossed, when he eats an entire bucket of chicken skin, leaving only the chicken! So the boys decide to ignore him once and for all, and of course Cartman is so self-centered that he assumes he must be dead. The only one that’s enough of an outcast not to be in on the punishment is Butters, so now he thinks he’s seeing a ghost, and it’s another neurosis to add to the pile. I didn’t even know about Super-AIDS until this episode. Cartman trying to make his life right is hilarious (“If God forgave the Jews, he can forgive me! Now let’s go see Token so I can forgive him for being black.”) and there’s some good callbacks to past episodes, like giving fruit baskets to Scott Tenorman and the Special Olympics to apologize. I thought this was one of the strongest episodes of this season, actually, as it holds up really well still.

– “Erection Day” Jimmy has that time-honored problem of puberty, which makes it hard (nyuk nyuk) to do his stand-up act on stage. Thus he learns the facts of life from Butters in a surprisingly innuendo-free and frank manner, and then gets led through a date by Cartman. Which goes about as well as you’d expect, although Cartman’s just manipulative enough to actually have some effective insights on women. The “authentic” Italian restaurant experience is great, and I suspect the guys were taking a jab at someone there. Jimmy, desperate to relieve his suffering, tries to buy a ho, but doesn’t realize that you don’t have to take her out to dinner first, and it turns into a car chase with the pimp. Well, what tender coming-of-age story would complete without that? Great line from Jimmy, with “I beg to differ, sir, she’s my ho, I paid for her.” Jimmy kinda rules, man.

– “Two Days Before The Day After Tomorrow” It’s South Park v. Global Warming, Katrina and Disaster Movies, all in one. Stan and Cartman accidentally flood the neighboring town of Beaverton, which is built next to the world’s largest beaver dam, and soon everyone is focused on solving the true problem: Assigning blame. (“With all due respect, cliched dissenting Republican…”) The culprit is obviously GLOBAL WARMING. My god, Al Gore was RIGHT. The mini-commentary reveals that the original plan for Team America was to film the script of The Day After Tomorrow using puppets and then release it two days before the real movie, but instead they just settle for swiping all the music and camera moves for this episode. The Katrina stuff is incredibly dated, but if you’ve seen the movie, the episode is hilarious just for the dead-on parody.

– “Margarine” High concept this time: The boys are collectively baffled by the girls’ fortune-telling device, which appears to be nothing more than a simple piece of folded paper and yet has strange powers. So Butters has to “die” and be reborn as a girl, so he can spy on the girls at a slumber party and thus steal the deadly device for the boys. As noted by Matt & Trey, this was really two pretty good ideas for full episodes mashed together into a half-decent episode that would have been better served as a two-parter. The Juwanna Man portions are pretty good, but once it veers into a random parody of Pet Semetary, it kind of loses track of itself and never really gets it going again. Funny episode in total about the boy-girl mindset differences, but it could have been a lot better if the Margarine storyline had been allowed to go longer than it was.

– “Follow That Egg” South Park v. Gay Marriage this time, as Mr. Slave is marrying Big Gay Al, which has newly conservative Mr. Garrison all riled up about the sanctity of marriage. And thus he takes it out on the kids, being the good teacher he is, and forces Stan and Kyle to raise an egg together to prove to the governor that gay marriage just doesn’t work. The egg stuff brings up all sorts of awkward relationship moments with Stan and Kyle and Wendy, and Garrison’s over-the-top crazed hatred of all things gay (“They can’t let a couple of fudge-packing fags get married!”) is so very wrong, but so very funny.

Disc 3

– “Ginger Kids” Cartman’s latest prejudice du jour is red-headed, freckled kids, who he rightly notes are really creepy. And lacking in souls. This offends redheaded Kyle (“The Daywalker”) and after Cartman’s efforts set off a wave of anti-Ginger sentiment at the school, they decide to teach him a lesson by turning him into a Ginger himself. It’s looking like a plot out of Black Like Me, but then Cartman decides that the only way to fight hate is with MORE HATE, and things escalate into him leading a cult of redheaded children, until the episode kind of limps into the finish without a payoff.

– “Trapped In The Closet” You may have heard of this one. Stan discovers Scientology, and learns that he’s actually incredibly depressed — but for $240, they can help him. Turns out he’s actually the second coming of L. Ron Hubbard, however, which soon has Tom Cruise hiding in Stan’s closet. And he won’t come out. The history of Scientology narrated with a banner saying “This is what Scientologists actually believe” is some truly surreal stuff. Much like R. Kelly popping in to narrate his own bits in song form. Stan discovers that running a cult is tougher than it looks, and everyone gets sued. This was more about Matt & Trey having the balls to stand up to the Scientology crazies than any real story, but the end credits were worth the wait.

– “Free Willzyx” Kyle gets scammed into thinking that an orca whale at the local Sea Park can talk, and furthermore that it comes from the moon and needs to return there. So the kids shop around for someone to go to space, and the only ones asking less than 20 million are the Mexcians, who agree to do it for $200. And of course things get sillier with a radical animal rights group fighting for the boys by killing cops. You will believe that they can put a whale on the moon!

– “Bloody Mary” Randy gets nailed for a DUI, which leaves him doing public speeches about drinking and driving, and attending AA meetings. And once again, it’s South Park v. The Self Righteous, as Randy learns about the 12 Step Program and that alcoholism is a disease which he is powerless to fight alone, even if it seems like the answer is to just stop drinking so much. Luckily, a statue of the Virgin Mary is bleeding out its ass, bringing miraculous healing powers with it. This one teaches us two valuable lessons: Drinking iced tea and finding Jesus is much more fun than partying, and a woman bleeding out her vagina isn’t a miracle, according to Pope Benedict. You kids at home might want to write those down.

Overall, South Park is still one of the funniest shows on TV, but this one had ups and downs, for sure. The strongest episodes at the time have become somewhat dated, but there’s still more than enough demented humor here to satisfy fans.

The Video

Presented in 1.33:1 full screen aspect ratio (although apparently they’re going widescreen next season) as originally intended. Looking much better than the previous sets I have (which, to be fair, are only seasons 1-3), the colors are nicely vibrant and the cheap cardboard cutout look of the show is rich in detail, making it look like SHINY cardboard.

The Audio

Mixed in Dolby 2.0, it’s a mostly dialogue-driven show (duh), but there’s actually moments where the bass kicks in, like the musical interludes and the occasional explosion, and I never felt like I had to turn it up really loud to hear everything that was going on. A solid mix, although going to a 5.1 presentation would be appreciated, since it sounds like they’re moving the show to HD soon and the audio should go along with that.

The Extras

Matt and Trey of course do not do full commentaries for their season sets, but rather “mini-commentaries”, which run 4 minutes each and allow them to fire off thoughts about the episode and then move on to something else. It works well in that regard, although the total lack of show-related extras otherwise is a bummer. Especially considering the media frenzy surrounding two of these episodes. But given the previous skimpy nature of the South Park sets under Paramount, I’m not shocked.

The Ratings

The Show: ***1/2
The Video: ****
The Audio: **1/2
The Extras: *1/2

The Inside Pulse
A couple of infamous episodes and a couple of hilarious episodes definitely elevates this one above some of the lesser seasons in the middle of the show’s run, but constantly rushing the show to air really seems to hurt their long-term planning, as you’d expect, and these episodes are much more dated than they should be as a result.

Mildly recommended.

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