Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 22, 2003)
Time for Season Three of South Park and its 17 episodes. I’ll examine each of these programs in the way presented on the DVDs, which also appears to be the order in which they were first broadcast. The synopses come straight from the DVD’s liner notes; I usually write my own, but these seem pretty good, so why reinvent the wheel?
Rainforest Shmainforest (first aired 4/7/99): “The boys travel to Costa Rica as part of the ‘Getting Gay With Kids’ choir tour. When their guide is suddenly killed, the boys and their choir director must try to find their own way out of the dense and deadly rainforest.”
This show is one of the best found on the DVD. It provides a slew of deft and witty jabs at a number of subjects, but mainly focuses on self-righteous "save the earth" do-gooder sorts. Guest star Jennifer Aniston does a great job in her role and it's a thoroughly terrific episode.
Spontaneous Combustion (first aired 4/14/99): “The citizens of South Park are exploding randomly. The Mayor enlists Stan’s dad, the town’s resident geologist, to find a solution to the ever-increasing problem. Meanwhile, the boys come up with a bizarre plan to help Mr. Broflofski’s problem in the bedroom.”
I doubt any show in the history of TV reveled in farts to the degree of South Park, though usually the series relegates those gags to Terrance and Philip episodes. Farts run rampant here and work in the context of the show as the solution to the problem. Otherwise, the program seems erratic and unspectacular. The whole erection subplot is somewhat weak, and this makes “Combustion” a fairly average show.
The Succubus (first aired 4/21/99): “It’s wedding bells for Chef! He has finally found the girl of his dreams. But the boys feel like they’ve lost their best friend. The festivities begin as Chef’s parents arrive from Scotland fresh from an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster.”
"Succubus" was a solid program, and it provided a few very memorable moments. I especially loved Chef's parents, who rambled on and on about their encounters with the Loch Ness Monster. (You'd have to watch the show to understand.) The remainder of the broadcast was fairly entertaining as well, but it was Chef's parents who made it a keeper.
Jakovasaurs (first aired 6/16/99): “The boys discover a prehistoric creature called a Jakovasaur while camping at Stark’s Pond. The government and good citizens of South Park do their best to keep this rare species alive, but soon realize how quickly these annoying creatures reproduce. The townspeople derive a plan to send them all off to France.”
Some of the Jakovasaur jokes seem a bit lame, mainly because they shoot at an easy target like Jar-Jar Binks; the South Park movie made one quick allusion to him that worked better than any of those here. Still, I have to enjoy characters as relentlessly annoying as the Jakovasaurs, and this episode includes more than a few funny moments, even it it ends on a predictable note.
Tweek Vs. Craig (first aired 6/23/99): “While in shop class, the boys instigate a fight between Tweek and Craig. After a lackluster first bout, Jimbo and Ned teach Tweek how to box and Cartman instructs Craig in the art of sumo wrestling. Meanwhile, Mr. Adler, the shop teacher, is haunted by a recurring dream of his lost love and Kenny works to stay as far away from the sander belt as possible.”
For the first time, South Park features extensive live-action footage. It doesn’t work, as it seems like a lame gimmick. The prominence of Mr. Adler, Tweek and Craig doesn’t help, as all three are dull and generally annoying characters. This offers a below-average and tedious episode.
Sexual Harassment Panda (first aired 7/7/99): “After the Sexual Harassment Panda ‘educates’ the children about how they may be compromised in their daily lives, Cartman sues Stan for sexual harassment. A flurry of lawsuits follow. In an attempt to stop the insanity, the boys look for the Sexual Harassment Panda on ‘The Island of Misfit Mascots Commune’ to try to convince him to change his cause.”
“Panda” sounds better in concept than in execution. It musters the occasional laugh but too frequently belabors the obvious. It works better than the prior show but still seems moderately below average.
Cat Orgy (first aired 7/14/99): “It’s the night of the big Meteor Shower and all the adults are gathering at Mr. Mackey’s house to watch. While babysitting Cartman, Shelly Marsh invites her boyfriend over. He in turn invites his band over to practice at the house. Meanwhile, Cartman’s cat is in heat and searches the entire town of South Park for a way to scratch her itch.”
“Orgy” includes shots of a cat’s nether regions as well as a recurring parody of Wild Wild West. I wouldn’t call those a recipe for comedic success. “Orgy” seems a little more ambitious than usual since it concentrates totally on Cartman’s house and related subjects; that makes it unusual. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean the show proves to be funny, as it feels pretty mediocre.
Two Guys Naked in a Hot Tub (first aired 7/21/99): “Stan’s parents drag him along to Mr. Mackey’s Meteor Shower Party, where he is sent down into the basement to play with Pip, Butters and Dougie. Meanwhile, the ATF is convinced that the party is actually a religious cult whose members intend to commit suicide upon the meteor shower’s arrival.”
For a different take on the same evening seen in “Orgy”, “Tub” shows us what else happened outside of the Cartman home. Unfortunately, it doesn’t prove to be any funnier. The plot line about the fathers of Stan and Kyle and their hot tub adventures seems lame, and the other party elements fall flat as well.
Jewbilee (first aired 7/28/99): “Kyle invites Kenny to join him and Ike at Jewbilee, a camp for Jewish kids. While the boys are busy making macaroni pictures and popcorn necklaces, Moses appears in the night sky. Meanwhile, Ike and the rest of the ‘Squirts’ get lost in the woods.”
The night of the meteor shower continues here. It seems more entertaining than the prior two, though not significantly funnier. It musters a snicker or two but nothing more than that, even with a clever Tron reference.
Korn’s Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery (first aired 10/27/99): “The fifth graders are plaguing Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman and South Park is overrun by Pirate Ghosts in this haunting Halloween episode. Father Maxi declares Halloween an abomination and warns the people of South Park about letting a band like Korn perform at KOZY FM’s Halloween Haunt at the docks. Meanwhile, the boys come up with a way to get the fifth graders back that involves digging up Kyle’s deceased grandma. Korn jumps in to help the boys solve the spooky mystery of the Pirate Ghosts and save the show.”
“Mystery” helps see things rebound after the meteor shower trilogy, though it doesn’t provide a great show. The Korn elements offer some funny bits, mostly because the band do surprisingly good voice work. Cartman’s premature glee over the coming of Christmas also gets some giggles as well. The Scooby Doo spoof feels a little stale, though, and in general, “Mystery” is a decent but unexceptional program.
Chinpoko Mon (first aired 11/3/99): “Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny are caught up in the latest fad from Japan: Chinpoko Mon! In their effort to collect everything Chinpoko Mon, all the children in South Park have become fanatics. Meanwhile, the Japanese toy manufacturers have hidden anti-American messages in all their products, thereby enlisting children throughout the US to aid in completing their Primary Main Objective: bombing Pearl Harbor... again.”
"Chinpoko Mon" offers an obvious parody of the whole Pokemon craze that scores some laughs. The show provides a fun spoof of the toy business, peer pressure and Japanese culture in general and it's a fairly strong episode.
Hooked On Monkey Phonics (first aired 11/10/99): “The boys are up against a couple of home-school kids in South Park’s annual spelling bee. To help Eric, win, Mrs. Cartman gives him the Hooked on Monkey Phonics system. Kyle is attracted to the little home-schooled girl and tries to teach her about love in a public school.”
“Hooked” opens with its best bit: the Phonics Monkey. God help me, but if a drum-playing educational monkey ain’t funny, I don’t know what is. “Hooked” only sporadically amuses after that, though, as it belabors some obvious points. It still seems decent, but it doesn’t qualify as anything above average.
Starvin’ Marvin in Space (first aired 11/17/99): “Starvin’ Marvin absconds with an alien spaceship and enlists Cartman, Stan, Kyle and Kenny’s help to seek out a new home for his starving people. While Marvin and the boys travel around the world on their mission, they are pursued by various government agencies and the Christian Broadcasting Network.”
The original “Starvin’ Marvin” episode from Season One was the show that originally sold me on South Park. “In Space” doesn’t seem quite as good, but it definitely comes across as better than average. It hits on some easy targets like Pat Robertson and Sally Struthers, but it still features a lot of solid laughs and some clever barbs.
The Red Badge of Gayness (first aired 11/24/99): “The entire town of South Park turns out for the annual reenactment of a Civil War battle. Cartman has visions of glory as he suits up for the Confederacy and leads the drunken rebels to defeat the Northerners just so he can win a bet with Kyle and Stan that will make them slaves for one month.”
No one will mistake “Badge” for a great program, but it seems pretty good. The sight of Cartman as a Confederate general makes it memorable. A few other elements help turn the show into a decent episode.
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.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Jesus (first aired 12/29/99): “People from all over the world start to gather outside Jesus’ house waiting for a millennium miracle. Not wanting to disappoint, Jesus puts on a New Year’s Eve show enlisting the help of a veteran rock ‘n’ roll star. Meanwhile, Cartman misinterprets the effects of a stomach virus as the beginning of puberty. Not wanting Cartman to beat him at anything, Stan resorts to taking hormones to jump-start the changes in his own body. Unfortunately, the results aren’t exactly what he had in mind.”
“God” suffered a little from the series’ biggest bugaboo: excessively gross content. Sometimes the program could be too disgusting for its own good, and “God” flirted with that. Ironically, the only thing that kept it from becoming nasty just for the sake of nastiness came from something unusual for South Park: a somewhat helpful message. The show usually worked overtime to avoid any form of useful points, and while “God” didn’t overtly attempt a message, it seemed to provide the concept that kids shouldn’t always believe the common scuttlebutt on the playground, for those sources may be seriously misinformed.
Not that this means “God” was a message-oriented show; it just seemed a little more proactive in that regard than usual. Otherwise, it was a reasonably amusing entry, but nothing special. The only elements that really appeared funny were those with an elderly Rod Stewart. Yes, the concept of the aging rocker as a wheelchair-bound fogy got tiresome years ago, but Rod - who’s most definitely not voiced by the real singer, who probably didn’t find this spoof to be terribly funny - got some perversely witty lines that made his segments hilarious.
World Wide Recorder Concert (first aired 1/12/00): “The children of South Park are invited to Arkansas for the ‘4-Million-Child Blow 2000!’ the first world-wide recorder concert. While chaperoning the trip, Mr. Garrison slips away to visit his parents and confront the demons of his childhood. Meanwhile, Cartman is obsessed with finding ‘the brown noise’, a note on his recorder that causes people to lose control of their bowels.”
Mr. Garrison never provided a very good character, so a show with him at the focus causes some problems. “Recorder”’s take on sexual abuse seems tacky and crass. Granted, some of the series’ best moments are tacky and crass, but this one feels too obvious and lacks real cleverness. The kids’ interactions with the mean New York kids works better, as does Cartman’s quest, but this remains a fairly average episode.