Monday, August 13, 2007

South Park: The Complete First Season

3-disc set; 13 episodes (~294 minutes)

I don’t know what ultimately drew me to South Park, but I’m glad I was drawn. I remember the deluge of commercials for it on Comedy Central, and must’ve tuned in because I was young and impressionable. And I was a big fan of The Simpsons and a bigger fan of Beavis & Butt-head then. At the time, there wasn’t exactly a huge number of made-for-adults cartoons, and given the track record for them up to that point, I figured this one would be good too. So here we are, with America’s first look at the show: the complete first season.

Almost immediately as the show got popular, Rhino had VHS tapes of the episodes out, which included some funny introductions before each episode from Matt & Trey. They’re included here and on future sets until they stopped doing the tapes. They take many forms, like a “fireside chat” or a Wild West throwback. In each, they always claim the next episode is their favorite episode.

The set also had full commentary originally, but Warner wanted to edit them for content and Trey & Matt disapproved. So it was taken off. However, it was released independently from the DVDs. At the time, Comedy Central ran ads about sending in shipping & handling with your proof of purchase to get a five-CD set of commentary. I didn’t do it at the time, but have since acquired the discs.

I have no problem listening to them talk for this long, because I love the show, and they get to flesh out more of their side stories and point out things as they happen. The commentaries were recorded in 2002, so there’s this cool perspective on how South Park has evolved since, as well as stories about its creation. But you also sort of see the blessing in disguise that was “commentary mini” from seasons 3 and on, because you get all the information and fun of listening to them talk about the episode in a fraction of the time. For this set it’s great because it’s the first and all. But after getting most of their behind the scenes stuff out with these commentaries, all that’s left later is the episode specific tidbits which take five minutes to go through.

Here are the 13 episodes from season one in production order:

Cartman Gets an Anal Probe (air: 8/13/97) – Certainly if you know what South Park is you’ve at least heard of this one. Cartman thinks he’s been having nightmares about aliens only to find out he was really abducted and has a large satellite up his ass. The visitors take Kyle’s brother Ike, and Stan would help if it weren’t for Wendy Testaburger meeting him at Stark’s Pond. Thumbs up.

Weight Gain 4000 (air: 8/27/97) – To congratulate the winner of the Save Our Fragile Planet essay contest – which is Cartman, but something’s fishy – Kathie Lee Gifford is coming to South Park. Everybody’s excited except Garrison, because she cost him a talent show back in elementary school. And to get ready for his big day in the spotlight, Cartman takes Weight Gain 4000 to become a beefcake. BEEFCAKE! Thumbs up.

Volcano (air: 8/20/97) – As you can see, this aired second, but was produced third. Stan’s Uncle Jimbo and his war buddy Ned take the boys on a camping trip just up the road. Stan finds out he doesn’t want to hurt animals, but Kenny does, gaining Kenny favor in Jimbo’s eyes. The mountain they’re staying on is threatening to erupt, putting the town in a panic. You just knew watching this what a force “it’s comin’ right for us!” was going to be. Thumbs up. This is also the sort-of unofficial first appearance of Randy Marsh, Stan’s dad, as the town geologist.

Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride (air: 9/3/97) – Stan discovers his dog Sparky is gay. The South Park Cows need him as quarterback to beat the spread against Middle Park just as Sparky runs away to Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Animal Sanctuary, where Stan learns to tolerate his pet. We still do homages to the Richard Stamos “Loving You” bit in this one. Thumbs up. This episode formally introduced the South Park version of Jesus, host of a public access call-in show. Plus it closes with the classic “Now You’re a Man” by DVDA, Trey & Matt’s band. Watching these get better week-to-week was exciting back in the day, and you just couldn’t wait to see what the joke you’d be quoting until the next episode was.

An Elephant Makes Love to a Pig (air: 9/10/97) – Talk about genetic engineering, along with Kyle not being able to keep his pet elephant in the house, makes the boys want to splice the genes of an elephant and a pig. Mmhm. Also, Stan keeps getting beat up by his sister Shelley. Naturally, we get our first introduction to Mephesto and his Genetic Engineering Ranch this episode. Funny here and there, but just too disjointed. Thumbs in the middle.

Death (air: 9/17/97) – Stan’s grandpa wants Stan to help him commit suicide. At the same time, Kyle’s mom discovers the boys watch “Terrence & Phillip” and marches to New York with the parents of South Park to protest the show. While they’re gone, the kids do whatever they want, but grandpa keeps butting in with new suicide attempts. They mentioned in an earlier commentary this was created in response to people saying South Park was “nothing but fart jokes” when it really had maybe one per episode, if that. Apparently they got a better at creating stuff on the fly later on. Thumbs in the middle. Still, I had a great laugh when the network executive came out to meet the parents.

Pink Eye (air: 10/29/97) – Kenny dies as usual, but some Worcestershire Sauce slips into the embalming fluid and turns him into a zombie with pinkeye. Meanwhile, at school, it’s the annual Halloween costume contest, and Stan’s left as one half of Raggedy Ann & Andy thanks to a last minute change by Wendy. The boys try to go trick or treating that night, but Kenny keeps eating everybody’s brains. Still funny today. Thumbs up.

Damien (air: 2/4/98) – There’s a new kid in town – Damien, son of the devil. His wreaking of havoc alienates him from the boys just as Cartman is throwing his big birthday party. Damien eventually confronts Jesus with the news that the dark lord is coming to fight him. Their big boxing match happens to be on the same Saturday Eric’s having his party. Thumbs up.

Starvin’ Marvin (air: 11/19/97) – The boys see a commercial for a Feed the Children sort-of charity and the promise of a free sports watch for adopting gets them on the phone right away. A mix-up sees the Ethiopian child arrive at their door instead of the watch. At the same time, Mephesto’s attempt at genetically engineering turkeys has led to an overrun of wild turkeys in South Park. There are some pretty funny things here, but I wasn’t feeling it overall. Thumbs in the middle. Close, but no cigar.

Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo (air: 12/17/97) – Mrs. Broflovski shows up to protest the school Christmas play, and eventually gets the entire town in an uproar over the offensiveness of Christmas. Kyle suggests the non-denominational Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo to replace all the traditional symbols, but gets ridiculed and summarily committed for it. One for the ages, with Cartman’s “Kyle’s Mom is a Bitch” song, some other great running gags, plus memorable jokes like the appearance by Phillip Glass and the live-action Mr. Hankey commercial. Thumbs up.

Tom’s Rhinoplasty (air: 2/11/98) – Mr. Garrison is out of class getting a nose job, so the boys get a new substitute teacher in the form of Ms. Ellen, played by Natasha Henstridge. They all go crazy for her – most notably Stan, which reaches the ire of Wendy. This was one of my early favorites. Garrison’s first walk on the town with a nose job is hilarious. Thumbs up.

Mecha-Streisand (air: 2/18/98) – A chance discovery by Cartman on an archaeology field trip reveals the Triangle of Zinthar, one half of a diamond Barbra Streisand needs to become Mecha-Streisand. Once it’s discovered, Leonard Maltin comes to South Park to try to locate the boys and/or Barbra Streisand. When she proves too powerful, Leonard enlists the help of Sidney Poitier and Robert Smith of The Cure. How can you be this absurd and not be funny? Thumbs up. And in the spirit of mentioning my favorite jokes, the Godzilla-esque singer in the final battle is awesome.

Cartman’s Mom is a Dirty Slut (air: 2/25/98) – Cartman’s depressed because all of his friends have a dad and he doesn’t. When he asks his mom who his father is, he gets led on a trail of men throughout town who were with Mrs. Cartman at the Drunken Barn Dance. Meanwhile, Stan & Kyle taped Eric having a stuffed animal tea party, and try to win $10,000 on America’s Stupidest Home Videos. By the end of the show, the DNA results are in, but you’re left ‘til next season to figure out who the father is. A good episode, with one of the funnier Chef songs. Thumbs up.

The count (up-middle-down):

They sure ended the season with a bang. It’s a little odd watching these and seeing a base fart joke (even if they're all pretty funny), because the show’s so far removed from that now. But on the flip side, the show’s already established most of the core bits and characters within a few episodes. Like “King of the Hill,” which is another favorite of mine, “South Park” already had a voice right out of the gate, save for minor things like a Chef song every episode that got excised later on.


Extras with the physical DVD set include the aforementioned promos leading up to the big premiere, a 3-minute short with Jay Leno that aired on “The Tonight Show,” Christmastime music videos, and footage of the boys presenting at that year’s Cable Ace awards. You can argue they were lazy in not having similar extras in later sets, but these cutesy promos and appearances didn’t last beyond the first few seasons.

I was worried a lot of these episodes wouldn’t age well and that the show was too slow back then, but it really wasn’t. The second half of the season is a little quicker paced and closer to the show as it is now. But as you can see, this group of episodes is pretty darn good overall.

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