South Park satirically soldiers on in its twelfth season, the first to be formatted in widescreen (at least on home video). This batch of fourteen episodes doesn't mess with a proven, winning formula: a balance of parody, satire, and Peanuts-esque observation about being a kid (let's not forget: Peanuts was pretty surreal in its own right). Though both adults and youngsters love South Park, its hardly a family show, and plenty of parents live in fear of its cartoon ultra-violence and dirty jokes.
In the category of parodies, the standout is "Major Boobage," in which hallucinogenic cat pee sends Kenny (and Randy) into paroxysms of delight that look suspiciously (or exactly) like the 1981 movie Heavy Metal. The new classic "Over-Logging" functions as a parody of The Grapes of Wrath as the Marsh family heads west to "Californee" in search of an internet "signal" (Close Encounters of the Third Kind is another touchstone). And High School Musical gets its due in the episode "Elementary School Musical," which has the funny idea that all the cool kid at South Park Elementary are breaking out in song; unfortunately, despite spot-on song parodies, the episode doesn't deliver many laughs. Like Saturday Night Live, South Park also gets cachet by turning around quick reflections of current events, though it's obviously more impressive to do so in animated style. This season's "About Last Night..." broke out President Obama a day after the 2008 election.
Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone haven't started scrimping on the outrageous humor for which the show is infamous. The Twelfth Season's most envelope-pushing scenes arguably come in "The China Probrem," when the kids go to watch Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and find themselves witnessing George Lucas and Steven Spielberg raping their hero, a metaphor for the movie's suckiness relative to the original Indy trilogy. Then there's the season opener "Tonsil Trouble," in which Cartman gets AIDS and then turns around and purposely gives it to an enemy. Parker and Stone still aren't making any friends at GLAAD, with their casual use of gay slurs for laughs and characters like Mr. Gueermo, a prancing, lisping slap-fighter in a pink shirt. (Regular character Ms. Garrison, a transsexual, wants his manhood back in "Eek, a Penis!").
The show is at its best when it integrates its comedy genres by, say, marrying a jaw-dropping premise to satire. That's the case in "Britney's New Look," which outdoes Chuck Palahniuk by having Britney Spears blow off her face with a shotgun. While the episode is in extremely bad taste, it also has a point to make about our absurdly celebrity-obsessed cult-ure. For some, "Over-Logging"'s porn jokes will also be repulsive, but it's a part of a satire of our dependence on the internet. It's outage leaves the entire town bereft and useless. The show also successfully goes after little social annoyances, like the proliferation of Peruvian flute bands and the staunchly in-character tour guides of "Pioneer Village 1864" in "Super Fun Time." So far, so good: the fans are still on board as Parker and Stone have yet to hit a major dip in quality.
South Park makes its home-video widescreen debut with The Complete Twelfth Season on Blu-ray. At times the image looks unnaturally crowded at the top and bottom of the frame, but that may just be the result of a paradigm shift in our viewing: most of the season looks at home in the new aspect ratio. The image is typically crisp and colorful; the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound certainly presents the series at its best aural advantage, especially for episodes like "Major Boobage."
Bonus features expand a bit this time out, in the area of behind-the-scenes featurettes about the animation. As always, we get a full season of "mini-commentaries" by Trey Parker and Matt Stone; each runs a few minutes each at the beginning of the episode.
Features like "Behind the Scenes of 'Major Boobage'" (13:17 with "Play All" option, SD) will appeal mostly to "animation nerds" and South Park fanatics. Animation producer Eric Stough, art director/producer Adrien Beard, and co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker contribute observations, and we get concept art, storyboards, computer models, live-action test footage, and comparisons of animation at various stages of development.
"Six Days to South Park" (1:22:26 with "Play All" option, SD) allows several production staffers to narrate storyboards, animatics, and evolutionary animation elements in the telling of how "Super Fun Time" was made over the course of a week. "About Last Night..." (22:01, HD) does the same for the historic post-Obama-election episode.
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