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SOUTH PARK: SEASON TEN

Review by Michael Jacobson

Creators:  Trey Parker, Matt Stone
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Mini-Commentaries, Previews
Length:  308 Minutes
Release Date:  August 28, 2007

“You just HAD to be nice to Al Gore!”

Shows ***1/2

Recently, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone signed a deal with Comedy Central for three more seasons of their groundbreaking show.  The contract was reportedly worth a cool $75 million.  Not bad, guys.

But turn the clock back a year, and things weren’t so rosy for our favorite foul-mouthed cartoon.  The boys ran a hysterical episode poking fun at Scientology, and specifically Tom Cruise and John Travolta.  Fans loved it, but some toes were stepped on.  Comedy Central chose not to air the show again when it came time for reruns.  And Isaac Hayes, the stalwart voice of Chef since the inception of the program and a Scientologist himself, would abruptly exit stage left.

So the tenth year began with “The Return of Chef”, in which the boys bid farewell to the beloved character by editing together pieces of Isaac Hayes and turning Chef into a cultist who ends up getting brutally dispatched, putting a rather alarming exclamation point on his run with the show.  But soon, more trouble was afoot as Trey and Matt attempted to comment on the worldwide Muslim outrage over depictions of the prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper by putting Mohammed into the show.

That two part episode “Cartoon Wars” is now more famous for their shellacking of Family Guy, but at the time, it represented an all out battle between the South Park creators and their network, which didn’t want to venture into such troubled waters.  The boys lost that fight…Mohammed was censored, but they managed to spin that into comedy gold by proving what many of us already know:  you can rake Christianity over the coals as much as you want, but don’t screw with Islam.

I feel a sense of déjà vu in reviewing Year Ten, because like a few previous seasons, it started out of the gate strong and faltered at the finish.  Season Three had a real-life sad ending as voice star Mary Kay Bergman committed suicide.  Season Four just seemed to run out of steam at the end.  And Season Five ended in bad taste with an episode about how Butters’ own mother tried to kill him. 

Now, after a decade’s run, I find myself complaining again at a horrible lapse of judgment right at the end.  “Stanley’s Cup” has Stan coaching a pee-wee hockey team, where one of the boys is dying of cancer, and whose last wish is to win one game, but the team ends up bloodied and battered by the Detroit Red Wings.  The show ends with the kid’s death.  And no, the kid wasn’t Kenny.

A shame, because apart from that, the tenth year could have been one of the best.  One of my new all-time favorite episodes are now “Smug Alert!”, where self-righteous environmentalists driving hybrid cars create a new toxic pollution of satisfaction that threatens to form a perfect storm with the smugness of George Clooney’s Oscar acceptance speech.  I’ll never forget Cartman’s daring attempt to break into San Francisco to save Kyle and his family!

Another new favorite is “Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy”, in which not only does Ike’s kindergarten teacher start up an inappropriate relationship with the toddler, but Cartman gets to become school hall monitor, and his take on it resembles a recently-released-from-jail bounty hunter we all know and love.  Cartman also gets a bit of come-uppance in “Tsst”, when his exasperated mother seeks help from The Dog Whisperer to control his bad behavior. 

Always topical, Trey and Matt turned their attention toward Oprah’s book scandal, as the ever-burned out Towelie decides to pen his memoirs “A Million Little Fibers”, but is a little less than truthful when it comes to the details.  And Oprah’s…er, orifices get in on the action.  Even better is their spoof of Al Gore in “Manbearpig”, in which the ex-veep tries to warn the world of the coming danger of a half-man, half-bear, half-pig (isn’t that three halves?), which, come to think of it, is actually a little more believable than man-made global warming.

“Mystery of the Urinal Deuce” points the boys’ wit at the ridiculous 9/11 conspiracy theorists, who apparently in real life never stopped trying to convince them their ideas were real, even as they crafted the show.  And the two-parter “Go God Go” shows a future without religion…would it lead to world peace?  No, it turns out, different factions of atheists end up in a war that threatens all civilization over who has the most pure science.  Yikes!

But there was more silly fun to be had, as the boys team up for a marathon video game session in “Make Love, Not Warcraft” to thwart a super-player who keeps killing everyone in the game.  And “Hell On Earth 2006” has Satan throwing his own coming out party in Los Angeles.  The best part is the trio of murderers Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy, who end up in Three Stooges-styled misadventures!

I laughed long and hard during my trek through the fourteen episodes of the tenth year.  I just wish that last episode hadn’t left such a bad taste in my mouth.  How can two consistently funny creators have thought anybody would have enjoyed seeing that?  I guess it’s true that artists are often the worst judge of their own work…after all, Trey and Matt still think that Terrance and Phillip in “Not Without My Anus” was their finest moment.  Dawg!!

BONUS:  The tenth season, at least for now, includes a free 14-day trial of World of Warcraft.  Just don’t end up like the boys, okay?

Video ***

The animation continues to look good, bright and colorful on DVD, with ever more technology creeping in the margins for extra eye candy.  The “Warcraft” episode is particularly striking.

Audio ***

The stereo mixes are better than average, with increasingly noticeable dynamic range and clear dialogue throughout.

Features **

Each episode contains a short commentary track at the beginning by Trey and Matt, and disc one also features some Comedy Central previews.

Summary:

South Park is scheduled for the moment to go at least 14 seasons, with the seasons running at 14 episodes a pop.  Thirteen might have been the lucky number for season 10.  Trim off the final show, and you have a classic year.  With it, you still get plenty of laughs for your buck but a bit of a bad vibe to go with it.

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