|South Park: The Complete Seventh Season (2003)
Starring: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Isaac Hayes, Eliza Schneider, Mona Marshall
Director: Trey Parker
It had to happen eventually: “South Park” went too far. This is not to say that they did something so outrageously tacky that they crossed the line of good taste…okay, maybe that’s exactly what they did, in one instance. But the real problem with “South Park: The Complete Seventh Season” is not a lack of quality but a lack of focus. Simply put, they forgot who the stars were. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, for the first time, put themselves ahead of the four main characters.
But first, let’s discuss the positives. “Casa Bonita” might be the funniest “South Park” episode in the show’s history. When Kyle gets to invite three friends to Casa Bonita (“the Disneyland of Mexican restaurants,” and based on an actual restaurant in Denver), Cartman is furious when Kyle chooses to take Butters – whose real name is Leopold, we discover – instead of him. Cartman then conspires to keep Butters out of sight long enough for Kyle to agree to take Cartman instead, ultimately hiding Butters in Jimbo’s bomb shelter, which creates a citywide search for Butters. Not only do we see the depths of Cartman’s soullessness, we also get a hilarious clip sequence of all the times Cartman has called Kyle a Jew. “Fat Butt and Pancake Head” is another standout, where Cartman’s hand puppet Jennifer Lopez actually succeeds in supplanting the real Lopez as a pop star, and wins the affection of her then-boyfriend Ben Affleck (nicknames for each serving as the episode’s title). Hard as it may be to believe, they actually get away with a child giving a grown man a handjob.
The season occasionally loses its way, though, when it seeks out easy targets. Episodes regarding reality TV (Earth is a reality show, and scheduled to be “cancelled”), metrosexuality, and anti-smoking zealots are amusing enough, but they also seem beneath Parker and Stone’s abilities. More importantly, these shows are more about us than they are about the kids in the South Park universe, and that should never be the case. The episode where Christopher Reeve grows super-strong thanks to sucking stem cells from fetuses, for example, goes beyond all levels of good taste, and even the kids on the show know it. Parker and Stone claim in their commentary that they can get away with such hubris if you include at least one character who says, “Dude, not cool.” Sorry, guys, bad taste is still bad taste.
The show is as its funniest when the kids are just being kids. Take “Raisins,” where Wendy breaks up with Stan, and the boys take him to the theme restaurant Raisins (yep, it’s Hooters for kids) to cheer him up. It doesn’t work, and Stan starts hanging out with the Goth kids (a spot-on send-up if ever there was one). Butters, meanwhile, takes the insincere affection of one of the Raisins girls to heart, and gets his heart splattered, too…but still has too much self-respect to hang out with the Goth kids. And then there’s “All About Mormons,” which eviscerates the concept of John Smith as a prophet, but still conveys Mormons themselves as all things good on the earth. Parker reveals in his commentary that the people who loved this episode the most are, yep, Mormons.
These episodes work far better than “Lil’ Crime Stoppers” where the boys become junior detectives, and before they know it are busting a meth lab. They got away with this genre parody with last season’s “Asspen” (‘80s teen movies), but this time it feels lazy. None of the episodes are bad, per se; you just can’t escape the sense that you’ve seen them already.
It’s interesting that Parker and Stone admit, during one of their (brief) commentaries, that they were just starting to figure things out during this season, and that the next season is the one they consider to be their best. “South Park: The Complete Seventh Season” certainly has more than its share of highlights, but it’s encouraging to know that things are about to get even better.