"The President of the United States...is a duck!?!!? A duck President, and the whole country is going to the dogs...or whatever, the President is a dog. Who cares!.......Coming June something..."
The fifteenth season of 'South Park' features one of the best episodes in show history, as the mid-season finale 'You're Getting Old' fooled a number of viewers into thinking that, due to the horribly cynical view of everything in general, that the show itself was finally wearing down, that creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker were tired of making the same show year in and year out. Finally, after fifteen years, it seemed like the dynamic of the show had changed forever, possibly one of the most noticeable alterations since Kenny stopped dying week in and week out. When the show returned from its mid-season hiatus, after teasing change, once again, normalcy reigned supreme, and the show rolled on, continuing the assault on anything and everything, in typical 'South Park' fashion.
Taken as a whole, this latest season is solid, with nary a stinker in sight, even if few episodes will go down as greats. The wide range of subjects skewered and parodied this year are on point and oft hilarious, with no sign of debacle or controversy, be it manufactured or incidental (like the 'Inception' plagiarism situation last year). Simply put, the show is still running strong, and these fourteen episodes present very little in the way of speed bumps.
Season fifteen begins with a bang in 'HumancentiPad,' which features Kyle being kidnapped by Apple after he updates his iTunes account and agrees to the new terms and conditions without reading them, unknowingly agreeing to be made a part of the company's latest product, along with two unfortunate souls who also signed their lives away. As Steve Jobs works on perfecting the prototype, its inability to read creates major concerns, while the boys try to get their friend back from his nefarious clutches. The episode is a fantastic homage to a certain film that, funnily enough, grosses out HDD's Editor-in-Chief, making it a natural mention at any opportune moment, and does a great job with its side plots, including a fantastic battle between Cartman and his (usually) doting mother.
From there, we delve into the world of stand-up comedy with the invention of a German joke telling robot in 'Funnybot,' which, in typical 'South Park' fashion, leads to catastrophic events, including the presence of Tyler Perry siphoning away all of Token's money. Kyle's adopted brother Ike gets a starring role after a lengthy absence in 'Royal Pudding,' which takes aim at the royal wedding of 2011. The Canadians and their backwards cultures are further lambasted in this mostly throwaway episode. A fairly boring episode which highlights male angst/anger based on their penis size is next, though few things come close to the comedy found in 'Crack Baby Basketball Association,' a terribly politically-incorrect skewering of those guilt-trip commercials, featuring a hilarious depiction of Electronic Arts (aka EA Sports), a company recently voted the worst in all of America by the readers of The Consumerist.
Not all of the humor this season is timely, much like the fact that their WWE and Nascar episodes have come years and years after their peak in relevance. The follow-up to 'You're Getting Old' features a very poor 'Inception' parody that doesn't quite work in the cutting edge material (or the asperger's gag) in the story it's being utilized in, while the Wikileaks themed episode seems far too late from the story's break to be worth even utilizing, even if it is a hilarious episode featuring the poor, poor class gerbil, Lemmiwinks. Even the Broadway episode, an obvious spin on the show's creators' newfound crossover fame with 'The Book of Mormon,' misses a major opportunity (though it doesn't miss the chance to take a horribly mean spirited swing at the disaster of 'Spider-Man': the musical. Another swing-and-miss is the parody of the 99 percent/1 percent hype of the Occupy movement, an episode that lacks any point, even if it doesn't reach that low, failed episode level that every season usually features a couple of.
All in all, this latest batch of 'South Park' episodes is a decent mix, with a load of different themes, and very little to no repetition in the jokes. There are misses along the way, but in rare fashion, they aren't catastrophically bad as they sometimes have been, and while the high points aren't as high, there's a level of consistency to the majority of these fourteen episodes that prove this show is far from over, unless Comedy Central or Parker and Stone say so. From some of the funniest, cruelest film trailer parodies in some time, to hamburgers nestled firmly in Cartman's ass, there's something for almost everyone this time around, and that strange little mountain town in Colorado still has stories to tell...
The Disc: Vital Stats
'South Park: The Complete Fifteenth Season' comes to Blu-ray on a two disc (1- BD50, 1- BD25) set, in the same type packaging every other season of the show has come to Blu-ray in, with a slipbox featuring a fold-out digipak. All of the extras in this set are found on the first disc.
Last season, 'South Park' shone on Blu-ray, with two BD50 discs giving the show plenty of room to shine, free from any significant artifacting. For the fifteenth season, though, Paramount cut the storage space of the discs, and call me crazy, but I can see a major difference between the first seven (BD50) and last seven (BD25) episodes. The tech specs (1080p/AVC MPEG-4) remain the same, from last season and from disc to disc.
The first set of episodes shows a minor downgrade in quality compared discs for the fourteenth season, which earned four stars last year. Colors have amazing strength, with fantastic textures shining through in almost every single frame. There are issues, but they're all very minor or infrequent adding up really fast, like a few spots of bleed off Cartman's shirt (in high contrast spots), some random mini-halos around characters at inopportune moments (particularly around Scott the Canadian giant), and some small bits of banding, mostly in floors. The aliasing on diagonals making for minor jaggies, in random objects or outlines of eyes, that's always been a concern. The CG has its moments, too, both good and bad, with Funnybot's tight lines creating some odd shimmering.
Still, the entire picture downgrades further for the second half of the show. Artifacting pops up much more frequently, far more noticeably, with a few horrible moments (like the moment Frog Prince confronts Wikileaks, or the ground in the Greeley school). Textures are less powerful or even noticeable, colors lack boldness, and reds bleed a little more. Shimmering even ups the ante in the foster home in the final episode. If this disc alone had to earn a grade, it would be either two or two and a half stars, hardly worthy of praise.
On a funny note, if you're doing play all mode on disc two, in the 'Border Wars' episode, at 24:28, an article of clothing on Craig disappears, and reappears a few frames later.
The discrepancy between disc quality on this fifteenth season of 'South Park' isn't as noticeable in the audio department, where the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks for each and every episode sound almost identical. If anything, a few of the season's audio highlights are in the latter half of the season!
While ambience can be utterly overpowered by the dialogue, prioritization isn't too frequently an issue, as music elements mix nicely with their environments. Rear use isn't frequent, but it is solid when it pops up, like the music elements, particularly the Gersploosh album and Jimmy's special ed band. Bass is not constant, either, but, again in music elements, it can seriously thump the room, even when something as innocuous as The Police or the noir-inspired music in the CBAA episode is playing, while the Broadway episode has a ton of thunder from down under. Echos work wonders, with natural bleeding to the rears that remain intelligible. While some noises or elements that should hit all angles only hit the fronts, for the most part, it isn't too noticeable this season. Call me crazy, but I found the audio on this release to be massively impressive, and it may well be the best sounding 'South Park' release to date.
This set includes a download code for an XBox Arcade game, entitled 'Tenorman's Revenge.' All of the non-commentary extras are found on disc one.
Every year, enough crazy things happen in the world to inspire another set of episodes of 'South Park.' Every year, Trey Parker and Matt Stone astonish us by further obliterating the line of what's considered acceptable, and this fifteenth season is no exception. From History Channel thrashings to agnostic foster homes, there's tons of new territory being explored. This Blu-ray set has great audio, but the video is a step down from last year's release, and even then, from disc to disc, there's a discrepancy in quality. Fans will surely want to check out the supplement package, which includes an amazing documentary on the creation of the show. I wish I could give this one a clear recommendation, but with this step down in disc quality, I can only suggest fans check it out when they get the chance.