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The Complete Tenth Season
Running Time: 308 Minutes
Starring the voices of: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Issac Hayes
Retail Price: $49.99
Features: Mini-Commentaries by Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Stereo, English Closed Captions, Episode Selection, Three-Disc Set
Released: August 21st, 2007
Hard to believe as I write this in August 2007, but "South Park" has been on the air for a full decade. It's a weird thought that Stan, Kyle, Kenny and everyone's favorite 8 year-old bigot Eric Cartman have been in our lives for ten years. The Comedy Central show was a phenomenon right from the start, not only spawning waves of critical accolades and buzz, but also catchphrases (admit it: you probably spouted "Respect my authori-tah!" or "They killed Kenny!" in the late 90s), merchandise (I still have some "South Park" t-shirts somewhere... and the Nintendo 64 game) and a hit movie musical (nominated for an Oscar, no less). But on top of it all, the show was controversial and became quite the lightning rod.
It's interesting to reflect on the early years of "South Park" now, and how much outrage the earlier episodes caused... and just how tame they are now. Kathie Lee Gifford getting shot? Big deal. The big secret of Cartman's mom? Eh. It's hard to tell: have the standards for "acceptable" television degraded in the past several years? Was the potential of cable television's unique rules being tapped more thoroughly? Or did "South Park" successfully pushed the envelope in that same time frame? It's hard to tell, but it just might be a combination of all three.
"South Park" was always an enjoyable show, but it really came into its own a few seasons in - when the show's production became perfected, where an episode could be created in a single week. Since it typically takes a standard animated program a few months time to complete an episode, "South Park" was on top of the chain when it came to highly relevant satire, often offering big laughs and sharp social commentary within days, or even hours of what might be gripping America or the world. Creators and showrunners Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been known to fiddle with episodes, or change them completely at a moment's notice to reflect what might be in the news. In addition to wacky storylines and great pop culture parodies, the episodes that have an integration of serious topics with the outlandlishy bizarre has definitely kept "South Park" fresh for so long. Whereas with perhaps another animated program (or live-action comedies, even), their poking fun would arrive a few months late - and even worse, its humor on a specific topic would be pretty worn out and dull (*COUGHthesimpsonsCOUGH*).
While "South Park" has produced plenty of memorable episodes throughout the years, the tenth season of the show just might have the highest density of memorable episodes in a single season since... since the show's very first year. It might be a bold statement, but I think many fans of the show can agree. Perhaps more importantly though, the tenth season probably offers a tremendous amount of variety that perfectly reflects what the series is known for, and the internal controversies within (the more things change, the more they stay the same?). Not only did Stone and Parker do battle with the world at large and pop culture phenomenons (as we've always expected from them), but they also took aim at those who scorned them (Scientology and Comedy Central, round 2).
The personal knives were thrown right at the start of the season, which began in March 2006. The first episode, "The Return Of Chef," was a direct attack on Issac Hayes - who abruptly left the series when he was offended by an episode that mocked Scientology, and accused Parker and Stone of being bigots. (Rumor has it that someone quit for Hayes.) The episode focuses on Chef returning to South Park after being with "The Super Adventure Club," but his beloved students feel that he's changed. It's all a thinly veiled statement, of course - that maybe Hayes (err, Chef) isn't to blame, but maybe the "club" that changed him. Given the circumstances and behind-the-scenes drama, it's a pretty brilliant episode (with a moral we can all take to heart) that gives such a popular character a decent send-off. Chef is indeed in the episode, but his dialogue is from Hayes' recycled voice clips. (Hmm, perhaps having people put words in his mouth without control is also implying something?)
The show also went on the double offensive though with the two part episode "Cartoon Wars." Fans of the show are well aware that these two episodes totally rip on the hit Fox animated show "Family Guy" to an incredibly harsh degree (might I add, even though a lot of it is played for laughs, Trey and Matt have a point - and probably aren't off the mark in how that series develops its gags). But more significantly, the two episodes are a response to Comedy Central banning an image of the prophet Mohammad after the newspaper cartoon riots in 2006 - which was clearly done out of fear, and shows hypocrisy on the network's part since the show had used Mohammad as a character a few seasons back. These two episodes are a must watch. Not just for "Mr. T's Tea" and other "Family Guy" ribbings, but in a semi-meta way, of the articulated points these two shows make about the real issue Parker and Stone faced, and how they let their own characters really speak the truth. Well done.
The season isn't all battles though - Parker and Stone still know to have fun with issues that aren't so personal. They tackle the James Frey fabrication controversy via Towelie, the worst of reality television (ingenious lampoons of "The Dog Whisperer" and "My Super Sweet 16") and the standard TV news bulletins of teachers having affairs with their younger students. The two also take on the evolution debate in the phenomenally warped two-parter "Go God Go." Only in "South Park" can a point be made about such a raging issue in the American school system that also happens to bring in the Nintendo Wii system and otters from the future.
The season's centerpiece though is probably the opener for the second half of the season: the Emmy-nominated "Make Love, Not Warcraft." This is "South Park" at its finest: taking a piece of pop culture, and treating the actual plot in an uber-serious way like it is an epic movie, but also making fun and laughing at a particular audience - all while making a point in how some of us have no lives, or rather, make online gaming and its "socializing" a life.
But my personal favorite episode of the season has to be the finale, "Stanley's Cup." Stone and Parker's full-on "Mighty Ducks" parody plays on all the sports movie clichés, but also gives the genre their mocking a bit of a twist. A dated topic? Maybe, maybe not. But it just goes to show that something that may not be front page news can still bring the laughs if its juiced correctly.
And what else is there to say that hasn't been said about the show in the past ten years, or this season in particular? Not much. It clearly was a hard year for the "South Park" production team with all the controversies raging left and right, but their responses to some of what they were dealing with resulted in some of the best episodes in the show's history. Here's to hopefully another ten years of hilarious and insightful animated, entertainment-and-world-skewing mayhem.
Presented in 1.33:1 full screen, the tenth season episodes look decent - but suffer similar problems from seasons past on DVD. First off is that there's a high noise level, and the contrast level is on the pretty high side. The colors are decently saturated for the most part, but when it comes to the skin color of the characters, they look a bit washed out. There also seems to be a little bit of artifacting, and the transfers look a little soft. Not that this show's animation is the most advanced, and not that these transfers are unwatchable, but I was hoping for something a bit sharper. Maybe next year...
Like past seasons, all the episodes in the set are given the stereo treatment. There's not much to report here: the sound effects and music add a bit of life and sound slightly discrete at times, but these are really straightforward mixes. Which is fine, but I still wonder how this show would sound with more full mixes. Maybe it wouldn't make much of a difference, but some of the episodes have a bit of action in them, and I can only imagine if the sound effects were boosted up a few notches and made surrounds (who wouldn't love to be in an otter war, or in the middle of a peewee hockey game?). On the more positive though, dialogue comes in crisp and is easy to hear, and fidelity on the tracks are quite high.
English closed captions via your television are also available.
Also like past seasons, the only thing you'll find here are Mini-Commentaries by Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone on all the episodes. And just like before, the two men are incredibly entertaining and very honest about their work. Parker and Stone are very blunt about their fights with Comedy Central, and what happened with Issac Hayes. The two also make it clear that they really do hate "Family Guy," but Stone thinks it could be a good show if the staff worked harder. An air of disappointment though reigns over some of the tracks, particularly that the media and public didn't pick up on the issues that they were trying to explore in the episodes: it seems there was more interest about mocking Tom Cruise and their "Family Guy" bits than the whole Mohammad controversy.
On the lighter side, the two bash "My Super Sweet 16" - I won't disagree with Parker's comments that every girl on that show is probably evil. The two discuss what it was like to work with Blizzard for the "Make Love, Not Warcraft" episode - and how the in-game footage was accomplished. Parker and Stone aren't the types who seem impressed with themselves; they state on the first commentary that they don't feel the need to analyze 22 minutes, and could say it all in about 5 minutes. They certainly condense their thoughts and anecdotes, but truthfully, I'd still love it if these commentaries went on longer - I'm sure they could really say a lot more (or maybe its like pulling teeth, since they are making the comments about a year after the episodes were produced).
The first disc also includes previews for other Comedy Central DVDs, and some clips from other Comedy Central shows (actually, one's from the eleventh season of "South Park"). Oh, and included in the physical package is a free 14-day trial for "World Of Warcraft" - if your only familiarity with the game stems from this particular season's classic episode "Make Love Not Warcraft," now you can get addicted yourself. Too bad there aren't any featurettes in this set... I would have loved to literally see something about the synergy the show's creative team took with Blizzard.
Ten years strong, "South Park" is just as biting and hilarious as ever - and the show's latest season is truly one of the most memorable, if not the most memorable, yet. As a DVD set, it is just like past seasons: decent stereo mixes, good transfers and great mini-commentaries from Trey and Matt. Fans of the show (even casual ones, and those who love sublime comedy), I don't even need to tell you that this is a worthy purchase.