South Park The Complete Twelfth Season (Blu-ray) Studio: Paramount Home Video Rated: Unrated, but with the following warning: Parental Advisory: Explicit content, this program is recommended for mature audiences only. It contains adult language and situations. Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 HD Encoding: 1080i HD Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Audio:Dolby TrueHD: English 5.1; Dolby Digital: English 5.1; English stereo Subtitles: None Time: 330 minutes. Disc Format: 3 SS/ DL BD’s Case Style: Fold out digipak Original Air Dates: 2008 Blu-Ray Release Date: March 10, 2009 I don’t watch Matt Parker and Trey Stone’s South Park on a regular basis. It’s not that I have anything against the show or its humor, it’s just that I always forget when there are new episodes. So when I got this season set for review and popped it in the player, I was immediately transfixed by something in each of the episodes that never came across to me so blatantly in the past: South Park has become TV’s best satire. Through the course of the fourteen episodes spread out over the three discs, nothing is held back as sacred or impolite to tear into. The four foul mouthed lads who are the messengers spreading the good word about the insanity that is our world and pop culture in general, and the rest of the dullard citizenry of South Park, now eclipse closest competition The Simpsons or Family Guyas The Show To Watch Sacred Cows Being Tipped. One of the best examples of this comes in the very first episode of the season, “Tonsil Trouble”, in which Cartman goes in for a routine tonsillectomy and he winds up contracting HIV. If this doesn’t sound bad enough, Cartman, in turn, infects Kyle when he makes fun of him. As the episode was being set up, I kept asking myself how the hell this was going to be funny. Eighteen minutes later I was fully schooled on how funny serious illness can be in the hands of Parker and Stone. All the while they are making jokes out of such a deadly disease, you can feel the undercurrents of sympathy and empathy for those who are afflicted. These subtleties manifest themselves, usually, in one townsperson (who is the only sane and logical one around) who shouts out what we as the audience are thinking, “How the hell can you make fun of that?” In the next few seconds, one of the characters puts the crier (and us) right back in our place, reminding us it’s all just tongue, firmly planted in cheek. After such as strong start, only a couple of the episodes go off the rails. Parker and Stone make mention of this in their mini-commentaries knowing full well their audience won’t fully indulge them. Yet even in these self-professed missteps, if you’re on the train with them you won’t be sorry. Their mockery of Britney Spears and her very public meltdowns perfectly exposes what we, as jackal-istic media and star voyeurs, want to see: just how low can someone fall. I was even surprised the show didn’t go so far as to compare us to patrons at a Roman gladiator battle, thirsting for a massacre in the ring to satisfy our own blood lust. A second episode, dealing with a disconnect from the Internet, pokes every one of us in the ribs showing just how ridiculous we are in our elevation of the web to near god-like status in our lives. It’s at that point South Park seems to come full circle as the initial “pilot”, if you will, was one of the first viral, grass route campaigns in the new media before we even knew what any of that meant. Parker and Stone owe a lot to the Internet, but they caution us to beware our idolatry and reliance on such a thing. At the same time the subtly tell us to beware them and their creations as they really aren’t much better than what they’re commenting on, but they’re just doing it first. When I ascribe South Park the tag of “THE best satire on TV”, it earns that respect in its immediacy, where the show can comment on the national reaction to the Spears meltdown, or the election of Obama ONE DAY AFTER THE ELECTION, blasting us for the silly ways in which we act before we even know what we’re doing. Bart Simpson can’t do it that quick, nor can he do it as well. Thankfully Parker and Stone want to be our cherry-busters to the stories of and in the new media. Just don’t forget to laugh with them or you may be next. Production numbers and airdate sequencing seem to have aligned on this set, so there were no episodes shown out of order. The season was broken into two parts, the first seven episodes airing between 03/12/08 and 04/23/08, and the second part airing between 10/08/08 and 11/19/08. The fourteen episodes are as follows: Disc 1 Episodes (Episodes 1201-1205): Tonsil Trouble, Britney’s New Look, Major Boobage, Canada on Strike, Eek, a Penis! Disc 2 Episodes (Episodes 1206-1209): Over Logging, Super Fun Time, The China Probrem, Breast Cancer Show Ever. Disc 3 Episodes (Episodes 1210-1214): Pandemic, Pandemic 2: The Startling, About Last Night…, Elementary School Musical, The Ungroundable. Video: Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Sony Playstation 3 Blu-Ray player while a Denon 3808CI does the switching and pass through of the video signal. I am utilizing the HDMI capabilities of each piece of equipment. This is, so far, the oddest thing I’ve reviewed or seen on blu-ray. Odd not because of the content, but the quality that BD provides is almost wasted on such a thing as South Park as it’s no Wall-E in the visual arena. The episodes are presented in widescreen at 1.78:1, and they are encoded in the MPEG-4 AVC codec at 1080i (yes “i”). The blu-ray presentation gives us crystal clear and solid state transfers introducing not a blemish or speck of dirt anywhere in the transfer. Colors, few that there are, are bold, bright and accurate, resembling the “construction paper” aesthetic of the animation. Black levels are good. There is some noticeable edge enhancement as well as some minor aliasing. As a note: the SD version of this set has them framed at 1.33:1. Comedy Central (and I’m assuming Paramount) want to embrace our widescreen age with these episodes being in widescreen on the blu-rays. Audio: The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack was attained by the HDMI connection of the PS3 to the Denon 3808CI. Again, overkill comes into play as all of the episodes are encoded in the Dolby True-HD format. The audio is very clear and the voices are accurate. Since the audio is all recorded in the studio, I noticed a small amount of echo, but it is not distracting to the overall presentation. The improvement of the TrueHD encoding allows for a richer, fuller presentation over its lossy counterpart. Surrounds are used minimally and for mostly environmental effect. LFE’s engage infrequently and usually to enhance musical cues or explosions. Bonus Features: “Mini Commentaries” from Parker and Stone on all episodes. These mini-commentaries run for about five minutes at the beginning of each episode. The boys note their thoughts on the episodes and they point out any highlights of the production. Parker and Stone are very funny in each of these, and I recommend you take a listen to them. I do wish they would do full commentaries, but Parker and Stone compress a lot of information in five minutes. Beware: there are spoilers in the commentaries, so I recommend you watch the commentaries after you view the episodes. Disc One contains segments called “Kenny’s Trip”, (13:17), an SD piece that shows the storyboards and other things that went into making it and split up into several parts. The animators and art directors comment on the challenges they faced doing the more involved segment of animation. Disc Two has a piece called ”Six Days to South Park” (82:26, in SD) which shows what goes into the six day production of a show. The producers, various directors and animators talk about the process of making the show, from rough script elements and storyboards, to finished animation while the art is shown on screen. It still amazes me how quick the show is produced as they begin working on it about a week before air. This is a good and interesting doc that allows the participants to explain the stressors the show can put upon them. Disc Three gives us another Behind the Scenes (22:01, in HD) piece, this time covering the last production day of the episode “About Last Night…”. This winds up becoming a great “commentary” if you will, having some of the participants from the “Six Days to South Park” piece on Disc Two talking about how they made a bunch of last minute changes to accommodate this post-election episode. There is also a coupon in the set for a Digital Copy of the season on Windows based systems. Conclusions: The migration of South Park to the HD format comes at us proclaiming its overkill, and we get a great three disc set that looks and sounds perfect with a decent set of extras.