Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 13, 2007)
Back before Comedy Central started to release full season sets of South Park, they put out two holiday-themed compilation DVDs: 2000’s Christmas in South Park and 2001’s Winter Wonderland. Since it’s been six years since that last one – and since the full season sets are up to date and they need more product – I guess the time seemed ripe for a new one. That’s why we now have Christmas Time in South Park, a complete package of all seven of the series’ Yuletide episodes.
I’ll look at these in the order originally broadcast. As usual, the synopses come from the DVD packaging – the prior DVDs, that is, because I see no reason to use the new disc’s shorter recaps.
Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo (aired December 17, 1997): “I believe in Mr. Hankey! While South Park Elementary is attempting to stage a non-denominational holiday play that won’t offend (or entertain) anyone, Kyle has checked himself into the South Park mental house. It’s just Christmastime in South Park. In this landmark episode, an unlikely hero saves the day.”
“Poo” introduces two semi-major Park characters. We get the titular piece of crap as well as the school’s counselor, Mr. Mackey. The show tosses some good jabs at attempts to secularize Christmas, and Mr. Hankey provides one of the most oddly endearing characters in a while. In addition, it’s hard to beat Cartman’s song about Kyle’s mother. “Poo” provides a solid episode.
Merry Christmas Charlie Manson (first aired December 9, 1998): “When Stan’s parents say no to a road trip to Cartman’s grandma’s house, Stan sneaks out to join Kyle, Kenny and Cartman anyway. Dinner with Cartman’s family takes a bizarre twist when their Uncle Howard shows up after breaking out of prison. He brings his cellmate, Charlie Manson, and the holiday results in a police standoff.”
I figured that "Manson" would mistake offensiveness for irreverence and humor, but I was completely wrong. This show is one of the season’s best and offers a hilarious visit to Cartman's grandmother's house. If nothing else, the scenes with Cartman's relatives - especially baby cousin Elvin - are terrific and the show manages to avoid any gratuitously crude elements. It should seem lame, but it instead comes across as very amusing.
Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics (first aired 12/1/99): “Hosted by Mr. Hankey himself, holiday songs are performed in unique South Park style. Highlights include Cartman’s rendition of ‘O Holy Night’, Satan’s own version of ‘Christmastime in Hell’, and a festive duet with Jesus and Santa performing all-time favorites.”
This show didn't attempt a plot and instead cobbled together a bunch of holiday songs. Although it has a few good moments, I thought this episode was generally weak. Mr. Hankey was always a questionable character anyway - after all, he is a singing and dancing piece of poop - and this show included too many unnecessarily offensive elements. I mean, is there any point to depicting JFK and son, Princess Diana, and Gene Siskel as residents of hell? None I can discern, other than to upset some folks.
A Very Crappy Christmas (aired December 20, 2000) finds the burg of South Park without the spirit of the holiday. Mr. Hankey doesn’t make his annual appearance, which sends Kyle and the other kids into the sewer to find him. There they discover Mr. Hankey with his drunkard wife and three kids, and they get him to increase his efforts to renew interest in the occasion. Along with the South Park kids, they plan to do so via a special animated film called “The Spirit Of Christmas”. The boys will create it while Mr. Hankey and clan will revitalize the town’s drive-in movie theater for a special showing.
The big day comes and… kerplonk. The equipment fails and though briefly excited, the town re-enters their doldrums. However, Cornwallis, one of Mr. Hankey’s boys who also went through a crisis of spirit, finds a way to fix the projector, and eventually the citizens of South Park remember the true meaning of Christmas: to spend lots of money on presents.
“Crappy” is one of the better episodes, if just because it found some very witty ways to spoof various subjects. When Mr. Hankey confronts his son’s concerns, he does so through a musical number baldly based on The Lion King’s “Circle of Life”. As seen during the Bigger, Longer and Uncut theatrical movie, the South Park crew absolutely excel at musical parodies, and this one is no exception; they nail the project.
In addition, another spoof takes on a more obscure subject. I don’t know if it still airs widely, but I strongly recall a Rankin-Bass animated special from the Seventies called ’Twas the Night Before Christmas that featured George Gobel as Father Mouse. His brainy and nerdy son Albert ruined the holiday because he sent a letter to Santa that essentially told St. Nick to go elf himself. When Albert learns that his intentions were way off base, he fixes a special clock intended to alert Santa that the town really loves him despite the contents of the letter.
Clearly the movie theater aspect of “Crappy” takes from this concept, and the show also includes a nice little parody of a ’Twas tune called “Even a Miracle Needs a Hand”. The Lion King spoof was fun because it came in an unexpected place; the movie may be awfully famous, but one doesn’t anticipate a connection to it in a Christmas show. Obviously, segments that mock a Yuletide program are more logical, but “Crappy” earns points through the use of a somewhat obscure inspiration. “Crappy” seems like very good South Park.
Red Sleigh Down (first aired 12/11/02): “When Cartman has to score one big ‘nice’ to be eligible for Christmas presents, he joins up with Santa, Mr. Hankey and Jesus to attempt to bring Christmas to the downtrodden citizens of Iraq.”
Don’t expect much from this erratic show. The only real laughs come from Jimmy’s interminable rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas”. The episode periodically revisits this and always gets laughs from it. The Santa parts are crude and unfunny, though. A show that focused solely on Cartman’s attempts to be nice would be more amusing than this choppy spoof of action films.
It’s Christmas in Canada (first aired 12/17/03): “The Broflofski family is dealt a devastating blow when Ike’s Canadian birth parents show up unexpectedly and want their baby back. When the townspeople decide to forgo Christmas gifts and take up a collection to get Ike home to South Park, the boys are distraught. Before all the money for their Christmas presents gets spent, they hightail it to Canada to bring Ike home themselves.”
South Park’s Christmas episodes tend to be hit or miss, and that goes for “Canada” as well. I like the Wizard of Oz spoof and think it has some good moments, but it lacks much bite overall. It ends the season on a positive but unspectacular note.
Woodland Critter Christmas (first aired 12/15/04): “Stan is approached by a group of adorable woodland critters and asked to help them build a manger in anticipation of the birth of their Lord and Savior. Stan complies, only to find out that they serve Satan.”
It must be tough to come up with different ideas every year for a Christmas episode, and I give the series credit for the mix of concepts it uses. That said, how do you ever top a talking piece of poop? “Critter” acts as a decent parody of the usual animated holiday fable, but it doesn’t do enough beyond that to excel. The whole Satanic twist doesn’t stand out as especially clever, to be honest, and it undercuts an already tenuous show. I do like the ending, though.