“How come every time I think of something clever, the Simpsons already did it?” says a character during an episode from the sixth season of South Park. Matt Groening’s influence is evident throughout any given episode of South Park, which is more or less the point—more so than The Simpsons, South Park is a sharp yet frightening acknowledgement of the pervasiveness of pop culture. I prefer the gracefulness and innumerable subtleties of The Simpsons to the gross indecencies of South Park but Parker and Stone must get credit where it’s due. Twenty years from now, South Park may be little more than a pop-cultural footnote but as a work of activism the show is louder, gayer, grosser and more immediate than The Simpsons. Indeed, if Groening is the Errol Morris of animators then Parker and Stone are not unlike “angry white man” Michael Moore. A Columbine High School graduate, Stone figures prominently in Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, where he openly reveals his sadness for the culture that turned him to satire—the one that just as easily turned Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on to murder. Is it any surprise then that guns figure so prominently throughout South Park? Parker and Stone are bleeding heart liberals but what makes their show both brave and unique is its willingness to blame both the left and right for what Moore calls our “culture of fear.” Every episode on this South Park: The Complete First Season DVD is worth a look. Interestingly, the weakest entries are the ones that are closest to The Simpsons, and as such “Weight Gain 4000” bears an obnoxious and distracting resemblance to “King Size Homer.” The undervalued “Volcano” offers biting commentary on media whoring while “Mr. Hankey: The Christmas Poo” is a stirring condemnation of political correctness. So what if the details are derivative of Groening’s animated series? There are some things Parker and Stone do better than the writers over at The Simpsons: Kenny dies every bit as memorably if not more so than Hans Moleman; the celebrity appearances are actually funny; and every single musical number has the powerful socio-political context that only a handful of Simpsons anthems (like “The Spring In Springfield” from “Bart After Dark”) have ever commanded. Episodes included on this three-disc set include: “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe,” “Volcano,” “Weight Gain 4000,” “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride,” “An Elephant Makes Love to a Pig,” “Death,” “Pinkeye,” “Damien,” “Starvin’ Marvin,” “Mr. Hankey The Christmas Poo,” “Tom’s Rhinoplasty,” “Mecha-Streisand,” and “Cartman’s Mom is a Dirty Slut.”
Trey and Parker drew the first episode of South Park on their own before the show became a smash on Comedy Central. Curiously, the quality of later episodes varies little from that of earlier ones. All 13 episodes are presented here in their original 4:3 full screen aspect ratio and while colors are solid for the most part, it seems that little care went into cleaning up the noise present in the original video master or produced during the digital transfer. (Notice the fuzzy mark left behind by the movement of Mayor's arm on "Weight Gain 4000" when the character introduces Chef on the South Park stage.) The Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix is simple yet surprisingly clear though most of the credit here must go to the talented voices behind the show for playing everything as loud and crass as they can.
If you didn't already know, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are maniacs. The only notable extras on this three-disc South Park: Season One box set are the video introductions by Parker and Stone. The introductions on the first disc are especially notable. Parker and Stone sit before a fireplace giving each other loving glances and calling every episode "their favorite." (Note: pay attention to the dog sitting in front of them.) Also included here are two music videos ("O Holy Night" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem"), two shorts ("A South Park Thanksgiving" and a clip from the 1997 Cable ACE Awards) and a shameless collection of promos for other Comedy Central shows. Sadly, no commentary tracks are available here. Supposedly the makers of this DVD set were so taken aback by Parker and Stone's commentary that the tracks were nixed. Fret not: you can buy these tracks separately via the Comedy Central website here.
Sure, this DVD offers nothing notable in the extras department but this is an invaluable collection for fans of Parker and Stone's biting television series.