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SOUTH PARK: SEASON FIVE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Creators and Voices:  Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Audio:  Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Trey and Matt's 'Mini' Commentaries. Previews
Length:  315 Minutes
Release Date:  February 22, 2005

"You're breaking my balls here, man...seriously."

Shows ***

Seasons Three and Five of South Park both had tragic endings.  The earlier year found the show coping with the suicide of Mary Kay Bergman, one of its terrific voice talents.  The tragedy of the fifth year was that one of the great all time seasons of the show was marred by two horribly unfunny and distasteful episodes at the very end.  Sure, South Park was never loved for its good taste, but come on...a mother distraught over her husband's homosexuality deciding to drown her own child?  And Kenny's slow, sad, final demise from a terminal disease?

Trey Parker and Matt Stone spent their years on South Park pushing the envelope of comedy.  They showed us things on TV we'd never seen before, starting with foul-mouth eight year olds and going on from there, making fun of everything and everyone it their wake with no apologies and political correctness be damned.  But they always used comedy as their jumping off point.  When they try to take heartbreaking scenarios and play them for laughs, it just feels mean.  And poorly timed, too...as mentioned, this would have been one of the best seasons ever if not for these last two episodes leaving such bad tastes in our mouths.

The year started with the now infamous "It Hits the Fan" episode, where in response to NYPD Blue airing an utterance of the S-word in prime time, South Park decided to do the same, but to the tune of 162 uses of the word (a counter in the lower corner keeps track for you).  And our beloved boys Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny come to realize there's actually a good reason why they're called 'curse words' when they unleash an unholy plague!

"Cripple Fight" is also infamously funny, when Timmy takes on Jimmy in an epic battle that closely mirrors the brawl from the movie They Live.  "Super Best Friends" has Jesus joining Buddha, Mohammed, Joseph Smith and other religious figures in a battle against a cult formed by magician David Blaine.  "Scott Tenorman Must Die" has one of the most outrageously twisted finales to a revenge tale you're likely to see!

Other favorites include "Cartmanland", where Cartman gets his own amusement park with the idea of keeping everybody else out (even running ads on TV telling people they CAN'T come!).  "Proper Condom Use" takes a no-holds barred look at sex education in public schools, where you won't believe Mr. Garrison teaching his kindergarten class how to put on their rubbers...and I don't mean for playing in the rain.  "Towelie" introduced "the worst character ever" to South Park, a public service announcing talking towel who just wants to get high. 

All of these are top notch, but two of the season's episodes are true classics.  Just a few weeks after 9/11. Trey and Matt dared to show us we could laugh a little about the world situation in "Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants", a hysterical romp where the boys end up in Afghanistan, and where Cartman torments the terrorist leader in a series of Looney Tunes styled escapades.  And "Here Comes the Neighborhood" is a clever look at racism, in which rich people (all black) start moving into South Park to find hostility from the poor and middle class white residents.  Not because of color, mind you...just because of economic status.  Unless you want to explain the very last spoken word in the episode...

Had the year ended there, it would have been a four star season.  But unfortunately, Trey and Matt struck out their last two times at bat.  In "Kenny Dies", the duo decided they were tired of coming up with ways to off Kenny week after week, and decided to bid him a final farewell by giving him a terminal illness and where the other boys, who saw Kenny die dozens and dozens of times before, actually cry and mourn for their pal who was going for good.  I'm not sure who thought this material was funny.

And in the last episode, "Butters' Very Own Episode", Butters' obviously unbalanced mother tries to drown him when she learns her husband has been experimenting with homosexuality.  She then tries to hang herself.  Butters lives, of course, only to have to make an impossible trek on foot back home, where his parents have been telling everyone their little boy was kidnapped by "some Puerto Rican guy", and joining a support group that includes the Ramseys, O. J. Simpson and Gary Condit.  At the risk of repeating myself, let me repeat myself...I don't know who thought this was funny.

In a fourteen episode season, it was surprising to realize how quickly the steam could escape in just the last two shows.  There's still enough comic brilliance at play here to merit a recommendation, but it could have been a more enthusiastic one had the boys not tried to play tragic situations for chuckles.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Kenny would return to the show after a year or so.  Yes...alive.

Video ***

The colorful world of South Park, which uses the highest tech computers to create the lowest tech looking animation possible, keeps on rendering well in the digital world.  Images are bright, clean and sharp throughout, with rich colorful tones and good levels of detail.

Audio ***

The stereo mixes are clear and boast a fair amount of dynamic range as the shows continue to grow in scope.  Spoken words are clean and clear, and the effects are well mixed and balanced.

Features **

The continuing feature on these sets remains Trey and Matt's 'mini' commentaries, where they basically say what they have to say at the beginning of each episode and then announce they're done so you can skip to the next.  It's not a bad way to go...you can run through the commentaries in pretty good time, and there's not a lot of gaps or meaningless filler.  There's no track for the final episode, for some reason.  Rounding out are some trailers and previews.

Summary:

Like the Yankees in the 2004 playoffs, South Park Season Five stormed out of the gates with a commanding lead only to blow it at the very end.  This year boasts some of the program's funniest and most memorable episodes ever, but those last two might just be the ones that stick with you...too bad.

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