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South Park The Complete 19th Season (Blu-ray Review)

South Park 19 ThumbAlright everybody, listen up. The best full season of “South Park” in the 20 years of the show’s existence has arrives soon on Blu-ray and it is a must watch for fans, ex-fans, and non-fans of the series alike. Making their first foray into a serialized style, where the season has a full arc and things are carried over from one episode to another, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have crafted a work of hilarity and thoughtfulness. There is so much to like about what this season means for the series and for the four foul-mouthed little boys from that sleepy Colorado town.

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Season Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1

In an inventive departure for “South Park,” the season starts with the introduction of a new character, PC Principal, who takes over Principal duties for the school and becomes the new moral compass for the town as he excoriated them for past insensitive behavior. Simultaneously, this new character acts as a distancing mechanism for what preceded this season in the series. PC Principal brings up things that had been in the show that could be seen as culturally inappropriate and encourages the town (and therefore the show itself) to move into a new realm of acceptance and sensitivity. PC Principal has a hair trigger for perceived micro-aggressions, othering, and any of the harsh racist, sexist, ableist, etc. behavior that the show has been known for aiming at for its entire existence. His new attitude begins to affect the other residents of the town as they push to gentrify old neighborhoods and attract a Whole Foods.

As the season progresses, many issues of the new movement of PC acceptance and priviledge-checking are lampooned as well as shown to have value in that true middle-ground style that Parker and Stone have cultivated over the years. This was a necessary growing up of the town and series, since at this point, the small town seems woefully outdated as a stand-in for a modern small town; however, it still allows the creators to poke at the pains of launching from small town to gentrified, vibrant artisan burg without considering the side effects of such a jump. This season brilliantly keeps putting roadblocks in the way of the progressive direction of the town’s growth to help remind the viewer that just acting like everything is great and cleaning up speech doesn’t change how people will behave.

There is so much goodness in each of the ten 22-minute episodes of this season that it seems appropriate to give a mini-review of each one individually, so that is what I will be doing:

Episode 1 – “Stunning and Brave” – We are introduced to PC Principal, who quickly establishes that he will not accept the kind of intolerance and mistreatment of oppressed groups that he has read about going on in the town of South Park. He also grows a group of frat-style PC bros who police speech and live together in a frat house. This is a perfect jumping off point for the season as it establishes the new direction for the next episodes and gives the boys an antagonist in the form of PC Principal, whose over-the-top sensitivity to the plight of disenfranchised groups provides a foil to any plan that they concoct to dispose of him. The crux of the episode comes in the form of Kyle’s reluctance to proclaim Caitlyn Jenner as a hero and despite his well-reasoned rational, the townspeople react with incredible hostility, mirroring the sentiment at the time of real-life Jenner’s introduction as Caitlyn. Kyle’s defeated acceptance of Caitlyn Jenner as a true hero at the end of the episode gives the audience the feeling that PC is here to stay in the town and people should start to get on board or be dragged kicking and screaming into the new way of behavior.

Episode 2 – “Where My Country Gone?” – Angry at the increase in Canadian immigrants coming to South Park, Mr. Garrison decides to start speaking out about illegal immigration, drawing the ire of PC Principal, but gaining a fervent following despite his aggressive, outlandish, and vulgar solution for dealing with the problem. This sets up Mr. Garrison as a Donald Trump corollary for the season and puts his views at the exact opposite side of the spectrum to those of PC Principal. He is openly hostile toward Canadians, who it turns out have fled their own country because they elected a leader who acts and behaves like Trump, spurring a mass exodus. This is a more old-school parody style episode of the show, but it works well to contrast with the intro of PC Principal from the previous episode, since Mr. Garrison is the only one who seems to be unafraid of PC Principal’s sometimes-violent enforcement of acceptance.

Episode 3 – “The City Part of Town” – After the behavior of Mr. Garrison casts the town in a bad light nationally, the townspeople, led by Randy Marsh, attempt to change the town’s image by gentrifying an old rundown neighborhood and wooing Whole Foods to build a store in town. The most wonderful parts of this episode manifest in the form of the ads for SoDoSoPa (South Downtown South Park) that are filmed using live-action footage of people enjoying the benefits of a thriving, yet artificial arts and dining district narrated over in a soothing voice. This is that stinging-to-the audience episode, wherein we all realize that we have a SoDoSoPa of our own somewhere and we totally enjoy how it revitalized an aging or previously-low-income area of a city at the obvious expense of what had previously made it charming. That hitting close to home and reminding the viewer that we aren’t so different is what really makes this show, and this season in particular, a necessary and important social commentary. Also, there is a very touching moment with Kenny at the end of the episode that adds a nice little bit of heart to a otherwise very biting episode.

Episode 4 – “You’re Not Yelping” – As the new thriving district has attracted plenty of new restaurants, so too has it increased the number of people in town who aspire to be food critics via Yelp. This creates a divide between restauranteurs and the majority of the people in town, who all individually believe they are doing an invaluable service to the town by reviewing the restaurants. This is most likely the best episode of the season. Or, to some, this is the worst episode of the season. There appears to be a sentiment among those who have worked in food service in some capacity that this episode is amazing and really shines a light on the self-importance of those who aspire to critique food experiences. Yet, there are some that see this as being too harsh to a subset of people who just simply want to contribute their own voices their local community of food-eaters. I love this episode. It progresses the idea that all the things that the town has been pushing for may not be as ideal as it seemed and begins to show the cracks in the difference between being a thriving small town with a quaint arts and foods district versus cramming such a district into the middle of a town that didn’t have the time to adjust. Everyone’s immediate self-importance and then eventual comeuppance (with one of the catchiest and most disgusting songs that has ever appeared on the show) is the perfect reflection of what can happen to people who mean well but don’t understand the repercussions of their actions.

Episode 5 – “Safe Space” – When Cartman receives negative online comments to a photo he posted, PC Principal enlists Butters to sort through all of Cartman’s online interactions and only give him the positive comments, creating a safe space where he is only able to feel loved and supported with no criticism. This gets out of hand very quickly when a number of celebrities and a donation-shamed Randy also want to live in a safe space. This is another brilliant episode that progresses the base narrative of the season as a critique of PC culture and the lengths that might have to be gone to in order to make everyone feel good all the time. This even culminates in the town having to kill Reality itself in order to protect their sensitivity to any form of dealing with the world.

Episode 6 – “Tweek X Craig” – Yaoi art depicting a gay relationship between students Tweek and Craig begins to become the hot thing around town even though the two young boys are not in a relationship. With their newfound acceptance of everything PC, the town is over-excited to encourage the young non-couple’s relationship and see it as a sign that their progressive movements and attainment of a Whole Foods have had a positive effect on the town overall. Likely serving as an introduction to yaoi art for many viewers, this episode uses the uniquely Asian art form to show more of the town’s growing hypocrisy. While they are quick to accept changes and what they see as growth, the townspeople never consider the cost of their progress on the psyche of the young people involved. PC Principal even goes as far as to elude that the point of PC isn’t whether they boys are gay, but that it is important for the perception that they are gay to be handled as PC as possible. This is a nice little peek into what will come later on in the season as the over-reliance in PC culture begins to appear, to the viewer at least, as just a window-dressing on a rundown house.

Episode 7 – “Naughty Ninjas” – When the boys start playing ninjas in the now abandoned SoDoSoPa, the people of South Park mistake them for members of ISIS and, predictably, freak out. Additionally, Officer Barbrady accidentally shoots a child, causing the town to turn against their police force while homeless people, displaced by the ninja kids start to occupy the space outside of the Whole Foods. There are a lot of things going on in this episode. There is an examination of police shootings with public sentiment turning against police, Cartman’s normal aggressive jerkish behavior, Randy’s ever-increasing belief that PC culture and gentrification have led their town to a new era of enlightenment, and the widening of the crack in the new direction of the town. Even with all of that to cover, there is a distinct deftness that the team behind the show brings to the table that allow none of it to feel too rushed, all of it to still progress the story of the season, and for humor and satire to rest easily throughout all of it.

Episode 8 – “Sponsored Content” – Jimmy gets in trouble with PC Principal for using othering language in the school newspaper, leading to PC Principal wanting to censor the news. Jimmy’s incorruptible nature finds him denying both PC Principal and an advertiser who sees Jimmy’s defiance as the last holdout for ad-filled news. This episode serves as the pivot point in the season from jokingly pointing at PC culture to showing the audience what the whole season has really been about, fighting against advertisements. This and the two episodes that follow create a little mini arc that ties all of the gentrifying and PC-ification of the town to a plot from sentient ads who want to rid the world of humans. PC Principal being put in the situation of explaining to Jimmy why he shouldn’t use the “R” word is one of the best moments in the season. Showing the mental gymnastics he has to do to justify standing up for oppressed groups from a position of privilege is nothing short of genius.

Episode 9 – “Truth and Advertising” – Randy and others begin to worry that they are being priced out of their own town thanks to his own efforts to gentrify the area. Jimmy continues his effort to fight against the ads and PC Principal has disappeared, leading Mr. Mackey to wonder if some of the students are in danger. This is the middle episode of a good three-part end-of-season arc. It doesn’t have a lot of the same biting criticisms that the previous episodes have had, but it does a good job of continuing the story and leading the viewer to a very strong final episode that brings it all home. The real meat in this episode is in Randy starting to question whether he has created a paradise or a hell of his own design. There is also a very pleasant homage to Ex Machina that made me smile.

Episode 10 – “PC Principal Final Justice” – PC Principal learns the truth about the ads’ plan to use PC against unsuspecting towns, the townspeople go gun crazy in response to their anxieties, and Mr. Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner (his presidential running mate) return to the town to try to join in the fight for the people of South Park. This is a very good culmination of the season, wrapping most things up tidily and still leaving some lingering elements for season 20. This episode uses PC Principal’s aggressiveness effectively and doesn’t rely too heavily on the critique of gun-culture or completely reset the town to its pre-season status. Stuff with Mr. Garrison remains funny. Additionally, the episode highlights the distrust between Kyle and Stan really well, showing that even the two best friends can be torn apart by the real enemy of the season.

Overall, this is a great season that has a ton of fun poking at lots of modern topics as well as turning the spotlight back around on itself and giving a critical look at its own inability to keep up with the times, while of course still showing that trying to catch up to the trends without understanding the whys of those trends is just as foolish as falling behind. There is a running joke about Kyle’s preachy lessons that the show has relied on forever as the reasonable voice in a town full of crazy characters being no longer tolerable anymore that really illustrates some of the ways that the creators have taken a step back to look at the things that they have done with the series that has kept it from progress. This is still a season of South Park at the end of the day. It is full of swearing, crude humor, and violence. While this might mark a bit of a step forward for the series in terms of their style of telling a longer story and remaining with a smaller number of themes, it has not suddenly become a different show. And, while that is great for someone who has seen and likely found something to enjoy about every episode for the last 20 years, there may still be something about the format and content that turns off people who might normally appreciate the message that that show is trying to present.

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Video Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail: Very clear and detailed. There are a lot of small textures and things to appreciate in this transfer that don’t really pop as clearly when watching the show on TV.

Depth: Well, the show is meant to look like it is barely more than 2D, so while depth isn’t really something for which this Blu-ray is aiming, what is there in some of the 3D animated moments or more detailed backgrounds, is presented well.

Black Levels: Blacks look great and deep.

Color Reproduction: The color is very important for a show that needs to be vibrant and cartoony while it takes stabs at social issues and this Blu-ray succeeds swimmingly on this front.

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: Very clean and artifact free. There is actually a distinct crispness about the whole thing that seems way more professional than the sometimes truly immature humor of the series.

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Audio Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1

Audio Format: Dolby True HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Surprisingly dynamic for what this show is. There are songs and sound effects and changes in volume that need the delicate touch of a good sound mix and it has been done with exceptional excellence.

Low Frequency Extension: The sub is used somewhat sparingly throughout the season, but when it is put through the motions, it sounds great.

Surround Sound Presentation: A good deal of the surround effects are just establishing music or background sounds. There aren’t a lot of things going on off-camera, as the show is really about what is happening on screen. However, these little additions did add a bit to the feeling of immersion and that is really what surround is supposed to do, so it has done its job here.

Dialogue Reproduction: Getting the dialogue wrong on this release would have been a travesty, since the show relies so greatly on its wit and social commentary to be spoken by various characters. Luckily everything sounds great with no problems to be found across all 220 minutes of the season.

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Extras Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dexter-0Dexter-0

#SocialCommentary on all episodes – Some twitter comments from the creators and others appear at the bottom of the screen periodically through all the episodes of the show. This is not really a good special feature, even if the concept has an interesting “pop-up video” feel about it, it would have been much better to have done a full audio commentary on all the episodes. This feels cheap and particularly because it is Twitter-branded, it feels like it somewhat undercuts the point that this season of the series tries to make. This reeks of Comedy Central wanting to be cool.

South Park “The Fractured But Whole” Trailer – A trailer for the upcoming South Park video game.

Season Commentary by Trey Parker and Matt Stone (24 Minutes) – Trey and Matt talk about the concept of the season, the challenges of doing the whole thing serialized, and some of their favorite moments while muted clips of the season play on the screen. This is a good little feature. These two still really love making South Park and they get to talk about how the show needed to evolve and how that was an influence for the town within the show evolving. They both sound excited for the creative process and it is nice to hear them outline the challenges of doing something different with the show when their minds have always been set toward “okay now how do we get everything back to normal for the next episode?”

Deleted Scenes (HD, 6 Minutes) – A handful of deleted scenes from the season. These are okay, but like most deleted scenes, it is apparent that they were cut out to make the show flow better, so as standalone scenes they don’t really add anything to the overall release. They aren’t a waste of time to watch, though.

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Summary Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dex-1Dexter-_5

This is a tremendous season of “South Park.” It skewers a lot of the most sacred topics in popular culture today with a simultaneously delightful wit and often disgusting childishness. Parker and Stone set out to do something different with this season and everything about its design works to help revitalize a 20 year old show into something that can keep with the times while retaining what set is apart to begin with. It is disappointing that there isn’t more content on this Blu-ray release that highlights some of the creative decisions or something, but perhaps that lack of extras is the issue with a show that goes from concept to finished product in 6 days per episode. They need to run lean to make everything fit into that timeline and taking time to highlight the process would detract from the job. Doesn’t matter too much; this is the best season in a very long time and should help bring back people who may have lost interest or bring interest to those who saw the concept of episodes with no real progression as somewhat lacking. Now, I shall retreat to my safe space and watch the season over again!

Purchase South Park: Season 19 [Blu-ray]South Park 19 Cover

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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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