Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park, the most consistent comedy series of the last decade, continues to engage and indulge in big ideas (politically, socially, and otherwise) with resolutely absurdist, self-effacing, and gloriously crude humor. This is on strong display throughout the first half of the show’s 15th season, from the readymade classic “Crack Baby Athletic Association,” a fearless, crass, and exacting indictment of the rules that govern college basketball players and their endorsements, to “Funnybot,” an inspired snap at the hand that feeds them (Comedy Central), Germany, and Tyler Perry. “T.M.I.” takes it to the Tea Party’s solar plexus while providing an exemplary excavation of dick-size humor. Even their belated parody of The Human Centipede, “HumancentiPad,” offers more than its fair share of big guffaws and a few flecks of intelligent satire.
But then, seemingly out of nowhere, comes “You’re Getting Old,” an oddly moving and bracingly perceptive 21-minute comedic opus concerned with the pitfalls and realities of maturity, cynicism, age, and change. As Stan, Parker’s proxy, becomes increasingly incapable of enjoying music, movies, sunny days, and hamburgers, his parents’ marriage disintegrates and his friends gradually begin to abandon him, cresting with an uproarious sendup of trailers put through Stan’s perspective of seeing everything, literally, as shit. Parker and Stone are clear-sighted about both the inherent lameness and exhausting predictability of cynicism, but don’t shy away from the desperation and embarrassment that comes with attempting to remain hip well into your 40s, as witnessed by Stan’s father’s attempts to get into the musical genre known as “tween wave.”
The unfettered excellence of “You’re Getting Old,” however, makes the overstuffed lunacy of its follow-up, “Ass Burgers,” all the more benign, and though it’s never less than clever, engaging, and funny, the second half of the season is inarguably a letdown. “Bass to Mouth” takes a scattershot, toothless look at the WikiLeaks fiasco, while the conflict of “The Poor Kid” lacks focus and leans heavy on at least one thread that’s more cute than funny, involving radical agnosticism. And I can only imagine the amount of hallucinogens I’d have to be on to find “A History Channel Thanksgiving” of any interest after its initial, painfully accurate diagnosis of the titular channel as little more than The National Inquirer with a thin glaze of prestige.
Still, “Broadway Bro Down” and “1%” prove to be solid episodes in the season’s second half, the latter being an essential equivocation of Cartman to the eponymous group while the former qualifies as one of the show’s liveliest acts of self-effacement to date. Indeed, Parker and Stone’s unwavering loyalty to not taking themselves or their art seriously makes even the most derailed episodes of South Park forgivable, and it makes the series very simply the most consistent animated series to ever see broadcast. For where Family Guy and even The Simpsons have eventually, obnoxiously let their politics bleed into and ultimately overtake their delirious and unpredictable hilarity, South Park has routinely seen only the absurdity of beliefs and movements, never taking the self-righteous path and very rarely taking a popular side of any debate.
Make no mistake: There’s a palpable anger still rollicking below the cardboard veneer of Stone and Parker’s creation, though it has astonishingly never accumulated the rust of bitterness and blame that plagues so many comedies and comedians. Rather, their anger remains pointedly focused on anyone who thinks they have it all figured out, those who are easily satisfied, and those who refuse to shed the yolk of self-seriousness. And if it takes a duck spewing diarrhea or two malnourished infants fighting over a crack rock to get the point across, so be it.
There are some minor banding issues to be found in Paramount's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer of South Park's 15th season, but otherwise there's very little to complain about here. Detail and color are exemplary: the shades of brown in the piles of shit Stan sees; the greens, blues, and reds of the kids' clothing; the yellows and dull pastels of the various home interiors; the glorious whites, cold blues, and greys of arctic Canada in "Royal Pudding." Textures are clear and varied, as is fine detail in the various active backgrounds (school, Best Buy, auditoriums, etc.). The audio is equally excellent, with the punchy, ferocious, and deeply funny dialogue out front. Music, both diagetic and non-diagetic, blends nicely with sound effects in the back, and the transfer does a great job of capturing the fine detail of the voice actors thoroughly in each episode. Considered with the extras, this might represent the penultimate South Park release overall.
The big get here is "6 Days to Air," a 42-minute documentary on the process of writing and creating an episode of South Park for broadcast. It's an essential document of television production, unlike anything I've ever seen in even the top tier of making-of featurettes, including the excellent work done on all the Seinfeld DVD sets. Trey Parker and Matt Stone offer their routine mini commentaries for each episode, which are more or less disposable, and there's a handful of deleted scenes that are pleasant enough but far from essential. Of course, for "6 Days to Air" alone, the set offers a great deal more than any other South Park set to date.
Fifteen seasons in, South Park can now comfortably sit next to The Simpsons as possibly the greatest of all animated series, and its gloriously crude positives shine on Paramount's transfer.