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Reviewed by Jamey Codding
f Matt Groening pioneered the modern adult cartoon movement with "The Simpsons" in 1989, then Trey Parker and Matt Stone pushed the genre to the outermost extremes of rudeness, crudeness and flat-out hilarity eight years later with "South Park." The contemporary kings of, "Can they really do that on TV?" Trey and Matt first introduced their four foul-mouthed, flatulent kids to Comedy Central audiences in 1997 with episode 101, "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe." By the time season one concluded with episode 113, "Cartman's Mom is a Dirty Slut," the show's immense popularity was only matched by the endless controversy it generated.
The funny thing is, those who first criticized "South Park" for its offensive subject matter had no idea that these first 13 episodes would rank as some of the tamest in the ongoing saga of the animated series. Of course, the inaugural season was not, by any stretch of the imagination, bland or boring. In fact, many of the episodes found on this three-disc set also rank as some of the most popular in the show's history, and for good reason. After all, this was the first time we met Eric Cartman (the fat one, as the included promos point out), Stan Marsh (the cute one), Kyle Brofslovski (the smart one) and Kenny McCormick (the lucky one, because he dies in every episode). Plus, recurring favorites like Big Gay Al, Terrance and Phillip, Mr. Hankey, Starvin' Marvin, Satan and Jesus also make their original appearances in this compilation.
Trey and Matt open each episode with their own unique introductions, proudly announcing, each and every time, that what follows is absolutely their favorite episode. While they'll initially manage to squeeze a few genuine laughs out of you before the opening theme song even rolls, the novelty of these prologues wears off about the same time you start searching for the fast-forward button on your remote.
As for the episodes themselves, what's to say? If you're a "South Park" fan who tuned in during its premier season, like this reviewer, then you'll likely be reciting many of the lines verbatim while also rediscovering forgotten moments that first cracked you up six years ago. If you've never really watched the show but always wanted to see what all the fuss was about, then this collection is the perfect way to acquaint yourself with the series. And if you've been offended by "South Park" from day one…well, then these DVDs certainly won't change your opinion.
Critics of the show, however, fail to recognize that "South Park" actually deals with significant ethical dilemmas during its sometimes violent and oftentimes vulgar adventures. In this first season alone, the boys are confronted with issues like tolerance, assisted suicides and censorship and if you take a close look, you'll actually find some valuable life lessons here. Admittedly, it may be a chore for some to unearth these moral nuggets while getting bombarded with insults and fart jokes, but "South Park" just isn't for everybody.
From a technical standpoint, the episodes look like crap…which means the transfer is flawless. Let's face it -- most of the show's appeal stems from the characters, the storylines and, of course, the outrageous humor. But that cut-out animation look, which is ironically achieved through the use of high-end computer software, further distinguishes "South Park" from its few peers, and dramatically enhancing these episodes would've been a mistake.
Unfortunately, the bonus features are a bit disappointing. The bulk of the extras are located on disc three, with Cartman's "O Holy Night" music video and the exclusive "A South Park Thanksgiving" short from "The Tonight Show" representing the best of the bunch. In fact, the "O Holy Night" piece, which features Cartman getting zapped by a cattle prod whenever he screws up the words from the holiday song, and the Thanksgiving clip, with a guest appearance from Jay Leno, stand as two of this collection's highlights.
But the rest of the extras are pretty lame. Sure, each introduction by Trey and Matt offers more insight into the individual episodes, but it just seems Comedy Central could've crammed these DVDs with loads of excellent bonus features. Instead, we get Ned, the Vietnam vet with a voice box, signing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and the four above-mentioned original "South Park" promos, which are included on each disc along with shameless trailers for "The Daily Show," "The Man Show" and "Insomniac." Instead of slapping the exact same seven-minute Comedy Central commercial onto all three DVDs, couldn't they have provided a glimpse of the animation process or, better yet, how about adding "The Spirit of Christmas," the original short that spawned the popular series? Granted, the infamous battle between Jesus and Santa Claus (or Frosty, depending on which mêlée you prefer) can be found online and, technically, this pseudo pilot was created prior to the start of season one, but having a copy on this compilation as the origin of the show would've been a real treat.
My only other beef involves a simple logistics issue. Episode 108, "Damien," is listed as the final episode on disc two but it's actually on the third DVD, and #109, "Starvin' Marvin," is listed as the first selection on disc three but it's on the second DVD. Clearly, this isn't the end of the world but it's nonetheless a little irritating.
Still, it's hard to complain about this three-disc set. The shortage of quality bonus features may be somewhat puzzling but everything else here is top-notch. All "South Park" fans should have the complete first season in their personal collections while anybody who enjoys original, off-the-wall humor should at least borrow this DVD set from a friend. After all, watching poor Kenny die just never gets old.