With every passing year, and another 'South Park' season under their belt, I'm amazed that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone not only have the drive to keep their series going, but the means to keep the now fifteen year old show (which has been renewed for a sixteenth slate of episodes!) original, fresh, and relevant. Or irreverent. Even more amazingly, they're capable of keeping the boundary pushing dynamic that is one of the staples of the animated show intact, despite repeatedly obliterating it. It's really quite the feat, considering the history of the show and its broadcast channel.
With the fourteenth season come and gone, it's somewhat easy to see that the fourteen episodes were more notorious due to a major censorship controversy than due to the constant push to offend and entertain with cable network firsts, usually concerning vulgarities. With each season coming in two halves, with a large gap in the middle of a "season," the timing couldn't have been any worse for season fourteen. The headline making two episode arc that took place starting at the show's 200th episode (200th!), titled, aptly, '200' and '201,' threatened the very dynamic of the show, with Comedy Central censoring the episodes, which prompted Parker and Stone to not allow their 'South Park' Studios website to show the final product, which was not to their liking. But, in this new era, where shows like 'Family Guy' repeatedly make fun of its parent company and its canceled programs (and even its flagship, 'The Simpsons'), the public spat wasn't enough to cost fans the continued enjoyment of the show.
The entire fourteen episode season, including the two episodes that are still not available to stream, is available on this two disc box set, which may be the most important selling point. If you missed out on the "banned" episodes when they aired, the Blu-ray and DVD box sets are the only legitimate way to go to support Parker and Stone's continued endeavors, with their cast of unruly children in the uber-dysfunctional Colorado town of South Park.
This season, like all before it, is quite the eclectic set of episodes, with little in the way of a common thread. Not only do the young South Park Elementary School students have to deal with KFC bans, social networking, and the invasion of New Jersey, they also have their hands full with their own superhero team, created just in time to fight the universe's greatest evil: H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu, a truly ancient embodiment of evil. The world may not be ready for Eric Cartman and his own Vagisil branded NASCAR vehicle, or the world's most disgusting book ever written, but considering everything the fine folks of the small Colorado mountain town have seen over the years, this is just another day in the life.
There is no way anyone can say this show is out of ideas. 'South Park: The Complete Fourteenth Season' starts with one hell of a bang, making fun of the (then relevant) Tiger Woods sex fiasco...by way of video game, the annual EA Sports golf simulator, with new features concerning domestic violence, as well as sexual addiction, and why rich men are continually drawn to extramarital affairs. The answer makes so much sense, though, as personal responsibility is by no way an alternative. Then there's 'Crippled Summer,' this season's only real focus on any Timmy or Jimmy storyline, featuring a number of memorable cartoon characters realized as a group of young gifted campers, as well as the return of Towelie, everyone's least favorite wash cloth-turned-drug addict. The real memorable addition to the show has to be Captain Obvious, though, a one note character that proved too damn good to only use in a single episode.
The three part Cthulhu story is a laugh riot, through and through, as Cartman's alter ego "The Coon" tries to maintain order of his neighborhood friends and their newfound interest in being heroes, with some of the most despicable, self centered actions ever performed by any masked vigilante. As all the other boys try to undo the world-threatening one-two punch of a giant oil spill and an ageless destroyer, one of the boys realizes he can finally make his dreams come true if he is capable of getting on the dark one's good side. This CG creation is oddly hilarious, a neat use of a nearly 100 year old horror novel creature.
The best moment this time around is easily 'The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs,' the novel the boys make after being disappointed in how lame and tame they found The Catcher in the Rye to be, as the entire episode features characters who fall nauseous and can't finish a single paragraph without vomiting due to the graphic accounts that we never quite hear due to their weak stomachs. As the boys pin off authorship of the book to the impressionable Butters to avoid possible punishment, they come to realize that the kid they constantly bully won't back down, insisting on creating his own novel due to the success of the one blamed on him.
As always, with every season of 'South Park,' there are misfires, as well. The Facebook/'Tron' episode was more cruel than it was humorous, in an uncomfortable way, while the controversial, censored episodes really had nothing going for them, no real point, nothing edgy or risky at all, certainly not enough for it to be censored as thoroughly as it is. Additionally, the parody of 'Inception' was a major debacle, as the creators went about making the episode without even seeing the film, inadvertently plagiarizing the work of a comedy sketch online. This mistake was one that should never have been made, as it showed the duo behind 'South Park' were winging it blindly, not using the limitless comedic potential of the film had they seen it themselves.
By the time this set of episodes is over, as entertaining as they may be as a whole, there remains that nagging feeling that there could have been a more even, uniformly interesting season, rather than one that's all high peaks and low valleys, with little chance of being something in between. The great definitely outweighs the bad, though, and the success rate of jokes and entire episodes is quite high this time around, more so than the last few years. This isn't a return to form as much as it is a step in the right direction. The imagination, the cruelty and borderline perversion is still there, and longtime fans will surely find plenty of replay value in some of these episodes, but this season got blown out of proportion in terms of merit due to its non-stop controversy. It worked in keeping the show relevant in a fickle market, but shock without intelligence is worthless.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'South Park: The Complete Fourteenth Season' arrives on Blu-ray from Paramount and Comedy Central across two BD50 discs, each housing seven episodes and some extras. There are no annoying pre-menu trailers, and the menu itself features a very funny audio loop that has two different sets of clips, with a faux gap between, with hilarious editing to make it look more cinematic, with full video and audio loops that work perfectly.
The second full season presented entirely in high def, 'South Park: The Complete Fourteenth Season,' the third full season on Blu-ray looks as good, if not better, than any other presentation of 'South Park,' period. It still leaves room for improvement, but it's hard to complain much about what we get with this 1080p transfer using the AVC MPEG-4 encoding tool.
Detail is absolutely superb, with constant sharp, amazingly defined blocks of varying construction crafting the characters and settings, with varying textures that have various coarseness, every block distinct and different. Color clarity is absolutely phenomenal, and banding is only a minor issue, save for the 'Tron' sequence, which was a bit heavy on the issue. CG effects integrate seamlessly into the picture, with the lord of darkness Cthulhu showing amazing amounts of sharp detail without showing up the rest of the episodes he's featured in. The comic panels in the latter episodes for the Cthulhu arc are absolutely gorgeous, with not a single bit of shimmer, despite the pans and thin lines.
I wish I could score this release higher, since it is the best 'South Park' presentation I've seen so far, but it has its minor issues that add up fast. Characters are smooth on the outside, but can be very jaggy on the inside at random, and there are some odd edge outlines that are akin to ghosting, a seeming byproduct of the newer animation used in the show. Random jagged edges are a concern in plenty of shots, although they are mostly present in thinner lines that may not be as noticeable to everyone. Pans and zooms can create tiny pulsing effects, first visible on the Presidential seal, while there's even a hint of noise, like in Butter's hair at the end of the second episode. Distance shots of Mecha-Streisand are lacking in sharpness, probably again due to the computer animation, while a moment in 'Poor and Stupid' concerned me, where the couch behind Kenny in his rathole home has splotches that move along with the character, like some sort of free floating stain.
Since I normally see the show in standard def before the annual season release, I can say there is an absolutely huge upgrade in quality featured here over most other presentations of the show. It's not perfect, but it's as good as it has ever been!
This latest home video release of 'South Park' features a very strong Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that definitely impressed me. The soundtrack featured great separation and superb range. Localization effects are solid, like the echoes at the end of the first episode, or the puke splatters in the second. These light effects are constant throughout the entire season, and keep you immersed in the show. There's heavy bass in the opening and closing songs, though not so much in the actual episodes, save for the montage in the Scrotie McBoogerballs episode. Range is untapped, and clarity is superb, so much that you can almost perfectly clearly discern Kenny's muffled voice. It's somewhat limited by what it is, how the show isn't exactly designed to be a major game changer, but for what it is, 'South Park' sounds fantastic on Blu-ray!
'South Park: The Complete Fourteenth Season' has its ups and downs, but all in all, it's a pretty darned good set of episodes. It's unfortunate that two episodes may never be presented uncut and unbleeped, but it's at least nice to finally have a way to see them at a moment's notice. A strong Blu-ray set makes this a pretty good value for its cost, but there's definitely more firepower and wit on display than the episodes in the season immediately to follow. Check this set out, for sure, and get ready for a number of episodes with super high replay value, but be prepared for a couple blatantly bad ideas. Just another day in South Park, Colorado.