Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 25, 2003)
It looks like we won’t have many more of these South Park compilation DVDs to kick around much longer. I say that not because of any animosity toward the show. Indeed, while I don’t consider it to be one of my favorites, I usually enjoy it. However, fans of TV on DVD have clearly expressed their preference for full season collections instead of these scattershot releases, and studios have definitely listened; 2002 will go down as the first year that TV programs really appeared in droves on DVD.
Apparently the powers behind South Park finally got the message. Actually, though they didn’t come as season sets, the first few Park DVD releases at least managed to come in the correct order. However, with the release of Christmas In South Park and The Chef Experience in late 2000, the DVDs went to a more fractured medium of themed sets, much to the displeasure of fans.
As I write this in June 2002, Warner Bros. has announced plans for one more themed DVD that’ll appear this fall. Allegedly they’ll go to season packages after that. I hope this is true, for I’d like to see entire seasons at once.
Not that I dislike these themed DVDs that much. I support the season sets simply because they’re the most economical, logical and complete ways to distribute TV shows on DVD. However, they also can be frustrating. I adore The Simpsons, but since Fox are taking their own sweet time with the packages, it’s going to be a long wait to get anything from, say, season seven. Some shows come out quickly – as with Paramount’s rapid release of Star Trek: The Next Generation, all seven seasons of which will appear in 2002 – but most take a slower pace. By the time the second season of The Simpsons hits the shelves, it’ll be almost a full year since the first arrived. Hopefully they’ll soon accelerate the pace, but it’s still going to be fairly slow going, and I’d sure like to see some themed sets in the interim.
Personally, I don’t think it has to be “either/or”. Studios could produce themed DVDs to satisfy the more casual – or impatient – fans while they pop out the full seasons as well. Perhaps Warner Bros. will take that approach with South Park and continue to produce these “best of” compilations while they also give us the season sets.
I don’t know whether the themed packages will continue to appear after Ghouls, Ghosts and Underpants Gnomes in the fall, but we’ve got a new one to look at now. Entitled Insults to Injuries, this one includes only episodes from the fifth season of South Park. Unlike Timmy! or Winter Wonderland, this one doesn’t provide a terribly coherent theme. Perhaps some might consider this to offer a collection of the more outrageous episodes, but since most shows of Park are pretty out there, these don’t seem to stand out particularly.
So let’s just consider Insults to be a compilation of fairly recent episodes with no other element to bind them. What do we find here? The set starts with It Hits the Fan, first aired June 20, 2001. In this program, a TV network decides to break a taboo and use the word “shit” on the air of its hit show Cop Drama. Ratings go through the roof, and the term becomes just about the most popular thing ever, as the entire populous starts to fling it about wildly.
However, people start to become violently ill and die for no apparent reason. This disease spreads more quickly with the greater use of “shit”, and the TV network escalates the profanity with each new episode of Cop Drama. Eventually the TV folk plan an evening of “Must Shit TV”, in which they’ll use the word with insane abandon.
The boys of South Park - Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny – discover that the increased use of profanity in society causes the illness that abounds. The swearing also awakes the Knights of Standards and Practices, an ancient order who try to protect the world. You see, it just so happens that curse words got that title because with excessive usage, they actually curse people. So along with the boys and Chef, the Knights need to stop the swearing and save the country.
South Park may well be the only show on TV that can successfully support and oppose heavy swearing. Of course, the program revels in the use of profanity, and its makers gleefully run a counter onscreen to keep track of each use of the word “shit”. However, they also come down on the side of responsibility; the Knights and their cause actually seem appropriate and helpful, as the show doesn’t really mock them. It’s a weird balance between the two sides, but the program somehow makes it work.
Next we get Proper Condom Use, which first appeared on August 1, 2001. In this episode, Cartman shows the boys how to “milk” male dogs. When their parents see this, they’re understandably horrified, and they convince the school system to extend sex education to cover fourth graders. As instructed by Mr. Mackey and Ms. Choksodik – neither of whom has any sexual experience whatsoever – they get totally the wrong ideas. The girls fear that they can get diseases from the boys during normal daily contact if the guys don’t wear condoms, and the males learn how to be bitter and blame females for all their woes. An all-out war between the sexes ensues, while Mackey and Choksondik form a nauseating romantic pairing.
As often happens with Park, “Condom” provides a good slap in the face for parents who wants schools to teach their kids character. However, while it has some funny moments, it seems a little too gross for my liking. The whole love scene between Mackey and Choksondik really is disgusting, and some of the other moments were just too yucky. Park always walks a fine line between good taste and bad, and much of “Condom” simply is too nasty to be amusing.
Cripple Fight, which originally aired on June 27, 2001, rebounds decently. Here we find the return of wheelchair-bound Timmy as the boys join the Scouts. The show actually takes on two controversial issues. First, the boys discover that Big Gay Al acts as scoutmaster, and some of the parents don’t like the presence of such a – hmm - flamboyant personality in charge of their kids. He gets the boot and sinks into depression, so the kids try to help change the rules.
For the other plot, when the boys start in their Scout group, they discover another disabled boy in their midst: “handicapable” Jimmy, who possesses greater linguistic and verbal skills than Timmy, and who entertains the kids with his stand-up comedy. This doesn’t sit well with Timmy, who apparently likes his status as the token handicapped kid. As Timmy’s stock drops, he gets more and more angry, which ultimately culminates in the titular battle of the cripples.
That fight sure could have been tacky, but in the hands of the Park crew… well, it’s still pretty tacky. Actually, I thought the bits with Jimmy were funny, if just because they mocked the patronizing way many people treat the handicapped, but the actual fight didn’t work; it tried too hard to make its point and it fell short of the mark. The bits with Al were somewhat more successful, and I rather liked the surprisingly open-minded and sensible conclusion to his plight.
Our last episode is called Scott Tenorman Must Die. First shown on July 11, 2001, this program finds Cartman the victim of eighth grader Tenorman. That kid convinces Cartman to buy a supply of his pubic hair with the promise this means he’s reached puberty. When the other boys tell Cartman he’s a fool, Eric goes on a campaign of revenge against Tenorman, all in the hope he’ll get back his money. Matters continue to escalate as Tenorman consistently gets the better of Cartman, at least until the shocking conclusion.
”Tenorman” lacks the attempts at social commentary found in this DVD’s other three episodes, but it’s probably the strongest of the four shows. The battle between Tenorman and Cartman is plain fun to see, and the bizarre ways that they fight against each other seem very entertaining. And when I say that the ending’s shocking, I mean it; I kept expecting to find out that parts of it were in jest, but they weren’t, which makes the whole thing all that much more amusing. It’s a great ending that helped turn “Tenorman” into a very memorable episode.
Overall, I thought Insults was a good little package of South Park episodes, but it wasn’t one of the best. All of these compilation sets have their highs and lows, but this one just left me a little colder than usual. Still, it’s generally amusing and “Tenorman” almost makes the whole thing worthwhile on its own.