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South Park Season 21 (Blu-ray Review)

It is still somewhat difficult to imagine that a cartoon series that was ostensibly about vulgar young boys making fart jokes made it to 21 seasons. However, people familiar with the series will know that it hates to rest on its laurels. The sheer nature of the 6-day episode creation schedule of South Park has made for all-time great episodes with a finger directly on the pulse of whatever was going on that week. This pinpoint satire has aided in South Park becoming the phenomenon that gets to go 21 seasons and more. This season, the 21st, unfortunately, either started with a plan that frankly didn’t quite work out, or flipped back and forth too frequently between serialized season and episode-of-the-week formats. It is still funny and often biting, but it was missing an element of what makes South Park the thing to talk about with your friends.

Season 

Season 21 continues a few storylines from the previous two seasons. Mr. Garrison is still President of the United States, Cartman is still in a relationship with Heidi, and the town is still easily riled up over silly nonsense. The first of these pieces of continuity, the Mr. Garrison part, is creators Parker and Stone’s stand in for the real United States President and when they want to throw barbs or lampoon the goings on in the white house, they have him do or say something that mimics the President. It is used in a surprisingly sparing manner, considering their normally relentless political satire, but this serves the show much better as it doesn’t get dragged into focusing on one strange or dangerous thing after another that they could make fun of from real life.

The parts with Cartman and Heidi are the real meat of the season-long arc, with Cartman’s long-known narcissism showing its face quite openly as he attempts to manipulate her relationship with him as well as the perception she gets from those around them. It is a stunningly open view of an abusive relationship, played out by children, and some of the interplay with their story becomes the best parts of the season. To see moments when Heidi questions why should would be with somebody who treats her the way Cartman does and then fall into self-loathing and doubt when confronted with the alternative reality of not being in a relationship is some beautiful, complex storytelling. And while that all may not be a very funny topic for this cartoon comedy to take on, it feels like an important thing for the creators of the show to highlight and they give it the time and depth to really explore what a relationship like that could be like.

The majority of the episodes of the season involve the town freaking out about something or the kids getting into some kind of adventure. These are the classic Season 13 type episodes where there is just a weird thing going on, some jokes and satire are thrown around, and then perhaps a slight lesson is learned at the end. These are successful and a return to form for the people behind the show. But, with having had a taste of the serialization in the past two seasons and a niblet of it in this season, it almost feels like the show has now taken something away from the viewer instead of triumphantly returning to a tried and true formula due to a bout of mixed success. There is a somewhat ongoing background theme in this season, which harkens back to Season 21, about the danger of putting too much stock in nostalgia. Perhaps there is a meta-lesson to be learned in that theme as well.

Many of the jokes are still funny and much of the gross-out humor has a tendency to catch one unaware. The show is still good and after 21 years, that is a feat all its own. This is definitely a season to watch as a fan, but if this were somebody’s first season or first season in a while, there wouldn’t really be too much hanging out in there to persuade a viewer to really stick with it going forward. A caveat to that point is that the season ends on a kind of cliffhanger, so there would be a reason to check out how that gets resolved. At the end of the day, I like South Park and I have seen every episode. And I will continue to watch. So this season was good, but not worth writing a mini-review of every episode to break down how it all works.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail: Very clear and detailed. The show really has a pop to it in 1080p

Depth: It is mostly 2D animation, so there isn’t intended to be depth. But what is there works well.

Black Levels: Blacks look great and deep.

Color Reproduction: Great, vibrant color

Flesh Tones: In a more cartoony sense than a realistic sense, but yes flesh is presented accurately for what they are going for.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean and artifact free.

Audio 

Audio Format: Dolby True HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Songs, dialogue, and a few sound effects throughout the season hardly really put the dynamics to the test, but everything sounds great and is mixed well

Low Frequency Extension: Not much LFE usage, but when it is present it is appropriately functional

Surround Sound Presentation: Few surround audio effects take place in this show, but there are occasional reminders that the ability to have surround is there

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is clear and crisp throughout all ten episodes. Very important for a show with mostly talking.

Extras 

#SocialCommentary on all episodes – The same as the previous two seasons released on blu-ray, this lazy semi-pop-up-video style twitter commentary just isn’t as cool as someone at Comedy Central thinks it is. There is little content and if anything it just distracts from the episodes.

Season Commentary by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (24 Minutes) – Trey and Matt talk about the concept of the season, moving away from serialization to some degree and the goals of some of the episodes. There are some good nuggets in here, but a full commentary on each episode would really be a treat.

Summary

This is another season of a show that has been on the air for 21 years. If a person doesn’t already know what the show is or whether they might enjoy it by now, this season is unlikely to change anything for them. There are some good jokes, satire, and gags, but the show lingers in a space of wanting to return to silly one-off episodes and continuing a serialized aspect. It works okay, but maybe they will really nail it next season. The blu-ray is nothing special. It is nice to have all the episodes in one place and they look great and are fully uncensored, but the lack of any substantive special features on any of the seasons of the show really holds these releases back from having a must-own quality.

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I like to be challenged to think about things, so I studied Philosophy in college. Now I am paying for it.

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