South Park "seasons" are actually produced in two seven-episode half-seasons, separated by a production break. As it happens, Season Eleven had a crappy front seven and a strong back seven, though the season is defined by the heavily promoted three-parter "Imaginationland" (released to DVD as a South Park "movie"). For a show in its eleventh season, South Park still has juice in it, but there are enough duds in this season to raise doubts about just how long creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone can sustain the series or how long they will want to try (their current contract extends to a 15th season in 2011). There's big money in them thar Colorado hills, so don't schedule the retirement party just yet.
The season launches with a one-joke premise: Stan's dad Randy guesses the "N" word on Wheel of Fortune, and then...uh, they got nothin'. Jesse Jackson wants his ass kissed, and Cartman laughs at a "midget." The first seven episodes seem to repeat the pattern of a seemingly sharp idea that sputters in the execution: gay panic and de-gay-ification camps in "Cartman Sucks," a lice-sized parody of apocalyptic action movies in "Lice Capades," a 24 spoof with a pointlessly crude assault on Hillary Clinton in "The Snuke," and a Dawn of the Dead parody likening the homeless to zombies in "Night of the Living Homeless." "Fantastic Easter Special" (another shot at the intersection of power-hungry religion and nonsensical customs) and "D-Yikes" (another Garrison dating-woes episode) feel like rehashes of former glories, without even a strong original premise to attempt.
But the "back seven" episodes of the season show significantly better follow-through by adhering more closely to what South Park does best: small ideas that let the kids be kids and big ideas that unleash Parker and Stone's creative energies on an epic scale. "Le Petit Tourette" exploits an idea so seemingly obvious it's amazing it hasn't been used up already—Cartman discovers that faking Tourette's gives him free license to say anything—while season closer "The List" goofs on the well-known grade-school-girl custom of making lists, and the havoc an attractive-ness ranking causes when leaked. "Guitar Queer-O" uses Parker and Stone's video-game geekiness to drive a parody of up-and-down rock-band tales (and in the process remain relevant to their target audience of adolescent boy gamers), while "More Crap" is a vintage South Park wild card, taking an absurd premise through stupidity to a kind of blissful nonsense.
The season centerpiece is, of course, "Imaginationland," a three-episode South Park epic about terrorists taking our imagination hostage, with Cartman all the while relentlessly pursuing the prize he's won in a bet (a humiliating sex act from Kyle). In a triumph over our squeamish litigious age, Parker and Stone populate Imaginationland with a huge cast of popular characters from movies, TV, cartoons, and video games. Of course, some familiar South Park characters have a place there as well: Cartman's woodland critters, Manbearpig, and (brace for a fresh avalanche of hate mail) Jesus. As long as Parker and Stone's outrages can be something more, following escalating trails of humor and satisfying plots, the series will continue to command devoted audiences.
South Park collectors will know what to expect from South Park—The Complete Eleventh Season. Paramount serves up Comedy Central previews (Kenny vs. Spenny: Season One, Drawn Together: Season Three, TV Funhouse), and "Quickies" (sample clips from Lil' Bush, The Daily Show, Reno 911! and The Colbert Report) but only one significant bonus feature. Since it's probably the only bonus feature worth producing at the moment (someday, a behind-the-scenes doc would be nice), fans will be satisfied.
The bonus feature is, of course, a mini-commentary—provided by series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone—on each episode of the eleventh season. The duo takes approximately five minutes per episode to explain their inspirations and motivations for each plot, with sidetracks and trivia (the brief commentaries on the "Imaginationland" trilogy are different from the one included on that storyline's initial DVD release). As for the fourteen episodes here, DVD becomes them: the video and audio quality is excellent.
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