|South Park - The Hits: Volume One (2006)
Starring: voices of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Isaac Hayes, Mary Kay Bergman, Eliza Schneider, Mona Marshall
Director: Trey Parker
On the short list of television series that merit a Greatest Hits collection, “South Park” ranks near the top. Sure, true blue fans of the show likely already have most of these episodes on their various season DVD sets, which would seem to suggest that this two-disc compilation is better suited for the casual “South Park” viewer. Not so. While owning some of the show’s greatest episodes all in one set is certainly appealing, it’s the inclusion of “The Spirit of Christmas,” the five-minute short that started it all, that makes “The Hits: Volume 1” a must-have for diehards and casual fans alike.
Let’s hit the episodes first. There are 14 in all: 10, as chosen by creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and four fan-favorite bonus episodes. While there are one or two questionable selections in the featured 10, it’s hard to argue with the lineup as a whole. “The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers” follows the boys on their quest to return what they believe is “The Lord of the Rings” to the Two Towers video store (get the title?). Along the way, they must avoid an evil pack of sixth graders, who know the video in question is actually “Backdoor Sluts 9,” the vilest porno on the market, and Butters, who mistakenly saw the film and now plots to regain possession of his “preciousss.” It’s an episode, as Parker describes in the liner notes, that serves as “a perfect example…of how much fun the show can be when it’s just kids being kids.” “Good Times with Weapons,” a brilliant anime-themed episode I raved about in the season-eight review, fits that description as well. “AWESOM-O,” also highlighted in the season-eight review, “Casa Bonita,” “Towelie” and “Red Hot Catholic Love” are all solid choices, while “Scott Tenorman Must Die” was the moment, as Trey describes, that Cartman went from “a little shithead to probably the most evil kid in the world.” Agreed.
The one misstep is “Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset,” a Paris Hilton slamfest that has its moments but nonetheless pales in comparison to so many other classics that missed the cut. In fact, it’s odd that, aside from one of the fan favorites (“Timmy 2000”), there’s nothing here from the show’s first four seasons, and while some will argue that “South Park” didn’t really hit its stride until season five or six, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some worthy earlier selections. How about “Chickenlover” or “Red Badge of Gayness”? Fortunately, Parker and Stone somewhat amend for the “Playset” inclusion by giving us “Trapped in the Closet,” perhaps the most notorious episode in the show’s catalogue and the one that ended Isaac Hayes’ run as the voice of Chef. You can read more about this episode here, but considering it first aired less than a year ago and that parent company Viacom pulled a rerun of the episode hours before it was set to air last March, it’s a bit of an upset that “Trapped in the Closet” actually made the cut, as Parker and Stone discuss in the audio commentary.
Still, “The Spirit of Christmas” stands as the highlight of this set, especially for fans who first viewed the video online before the show debuted on Comedy Central in 1997. In fact, it was this five-minute bit featuring four extremely foul-mouthed kids and a battle royale between Jesus and Santa that prompted the network to greenlight the show in the first place. It would’ve been nice to hear some commentary from Parker and Stone on this one (the short commentaries are limited to the 10 featured episodes), but most of us are just grateful to finally have this little bit of history on disc.
Fans of a band will often pass on a greatest hits collection because it’s loaded with songs that they’ve heard a few thousand times on the radio. This is different. It’s not like these 14 episodes are in heavy rerun rotation on Comedy Central. Instead, “The Hits: Volume 1” is a collection of some of the most talked-about episodes in the history of one of TV’s most talked-about shows. They’re the reason we’ve kept watching after all these years. The next time someone who’s never seen “South Park” asks you what makes it so special, hand them this set and tell them to take their pick. As long as it’s not “Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset.”