I know what you are thinking: Has it really been 13 years since the world first witnessed Eric Cartman getting an anal probe? Yes, it's true. Under the guidance of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the absurd and obscene adventures of Cartman, Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, and the frequently ill-fated Kenny McCormick, all fourth-graders since season four, have been a staple on Comedy Central for well over a decade now.
One of the show's strengths comes from the fact that in contrast to hand-drawn animated television shows, an episode of 'South Park' is created in about a week, which allows the series to be extremely topical. The thirteenth season presents 14 episodes from 2009 and serves as a pop-culture time capsule for that year, with Parker and Stone commenting on events amidst ridiculous and disgusting scenarios. This season once again finds 'South Park' offering thoughtful satire, a good number of laughs, and the occasional misfires as they overdo the shocks-for-shock's-sake gags.
"The Ring" is an insightful examination of the purity rings craze and the mixed signals media companies, particularly Disney in this case, send out as they market to children. "Margaritaville" won an Emmy and does a very good job explaining the state of the U.S. economy through Stan's attempts to return a drink-maker. "Fishsticks" finds an all-too-serious Kanye West having a meltdown because he can’t accept the fact that he doesn't understand a joke. This episode seems especially prescient, as it aired five months before Kayne's infamous real-life blow-up at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. The creators of South Park can do silly just as well as satire. "Eat, Pray, Queef" is outrageously funny as males discover females can be just as gross and silly when feminine counterparts replace Canadian TV actors Terrance and Phillip. Cartman leads a band of kids to fulfill their pirate dreams, but skips the Caribbean and instead heads to Somalia in "Fatbeard." "Pinewood Derby" is a weak episode in comparison, as the South Park citizenry makes contact with aliens. They claim it is their "first encounter with extraterrestrial life" but fans know that isn't the case. This episode received notoriety because it was not aired in Mexico, allegedly due to its depiction of President Felipe Calderón and a joke about what he spent money on, which was so silly it's hard to believe anyone took offense to it.
After the crew took the summer off, the remainder of the season is on Disc Two, starting with "Dead Celebrities" where Ike sees the ghosts of celebrities. Although the episodes are uncensored, there are still bleeps when Ike swears, so it's likely they are covering the fact the child actor didn't. Parker and Stone don't think much of the reality show 'Ghost Hunters' from their portrayal here. And the same goes for the crew of 'Whale Wars' who get severely ridiculed in "Whale Whores". While the images of Japanese men attacking whales and dolphins are funny, the episode's conclusion felt like they just ran out of time and stuck something in. Still, the episode features one of the more brilliant ideas of the season as Cartman sings Lady Gaga's "Poker Face".
There were quite a few episodes during the second half that just fell flat. "Butters' Bottom Bitch" is extremely disgusting as a cop doesn't know how undercover prostitution works. "W.T.F" is a forgettable episode as the boys start a wrestling group. "The F Word" sees the South Park kids move the epithet "fag" from homosexuals to Harley riders. The episode deals with the fluidity of language and the empowerment others give words. While having noble intentions, the idea doesn’t completely work because why should it be okay to insult anyone?
The season closed out with two good episodes. "Dances With Smurfs" finds Cartman taking over the morning announcements, becoming Glenn Beck to student-body president Wendy, and has a nice zinger towards James Cameron's 'Avatar.' The entire "Pee" episode spoofs '2012' as a waterpark reaches too high a pee level in their system. The Archie Bunker aspect of Cartman's character comes to the forefront as he deals with the notion of whites eventually losing majority status.
'South Park: The Complete Thirteenth Season' has some very strong episodes, but the number of inconsequential ones makes me wonder if they need to shorten their commitment. When on top of their game, few are funnier.
No surprise, this being the first season the series was broadcast in high definition, that it looks very good. The 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer is presented with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Colors are well saturated and extremely vibrant, the blacks are inky, and there's very good contrast. All the images are sharp and defined, but there's obviously no depth since the computer graphics are intended to look like colored-paper cutouts laid on top of each other. Some of the "pieces" are given a textured look that resembles thicker material simulating construction paper and tinfoil for Professor Chaos' outfit. The only major artifact I noticed was during "Eat, Pray, Queef" when counselor Mr. Mackey was talking at an assembly. The thin single lines of his hair began to strobe as he moved his head around.
The audio is offered in Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital, and I found the Dolby Digital the more dynamic of the two due to the True HD being too soft. With that being said, the audio doesn't make full use of the high definition format as the video does. Dialogue is clear and distinct, which may in part explain why Kenny is easier to understand. The show offers minimal support in the surrounds from music and occasional ambiance, mainly in large crowd scenes of which there is quite a number from girls at a Jonas Brothers concert, to fans at a wrestling show and large gatherings of the South Park citizenry. The most use the subwoofer gets is from the Harleys during "The F Word."
After thirteen seasons, most viewers have surely formed an opinion of 'South Park' by now. I am curious how well the topical humor will hold up over time, but for right now, this season had enough quality episodes that fans of the show who aren't burnt out should enjoy the thought-provoking silliness. For those scoring at home, Kenny was killed three times. This Blu-ray set presents all this and more in a very nice little package. Recommended.