Earlier this year, my roommates and I, fueled by pop culture consciousness and enthusiasm over a new Netflix subscription, decided that we must discover during which season South Park euthanized the shark and broke the skis. For those who aren’t sure what this means, consider that if we call it “jumping the shark” when a show veers off into the throes of absurdity and awful writing, it must be appropriate to refer to the opposite phenomenon as, “euthanizing the shark and breaking the skis”.
With a cunning strategy by which we could get a new DVD every day as long as the old one was in the mail box by 5PM, we spent unforgivable amounts of time pouring over Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s satirical masterpiece. With schoolwork abandoned, personal hygiene dismissed, girlfriends lost, we watched every last episode in reverse order. Finally we came to a shocking and ire-inspiringly anti-climactic conclusion.
The shark was never euthanized because there was never any shark to begin with; water-skiing never was even an option. To break my obstinate conceit, South Park, as it turns out was always clever and culturally relevant, peppered with low-brow humor but never suffocated under its weight.
Why, then, had we grown up with the distinct impression that South Park equaled a cavalcade of scatalogical humor combined with assorted one-liners about genitals? We sat confused for a few hours distinctly dumber, less clean, and lonelier than when we had begun.
That was until Comedy Central aired a commercial for the upcoming World of Warcraft spoof, an episode dearly loved by most devotees. However, something was wrong with this commercial. It mainly featured a clip of Cartman defecating all over his mother who was holding a bed-pan for her gamer-recluse son. This was not the episode we loved but only a small, completely unrepresentative fragment.
Then it dawned on us, this was the answer to our shark dilemma: while the actual show is quite high-brow and most of their groundling comedy is self-reflexive, South Park has to advertise itself as a crass spectacle. Then, when viewers tune in, drawn by the adolescent elan vital in us all, they can turn and say to each other, “Wow! I always thought South Park was just fart jokes. How intelligent it actually is.” South Park’s entire marketing model is an elaborate bait-and-switch employed with absolute genius.
Season Eleven makes such an observation abundantly clear and is, without question, the best season that Parker and Stone have ever put together. Season Eleven collects their most lucid messages on organized religion in The Fantastic Easter Special and Cartman Sucks and, to everyone’s surprise, they are completely lacking in knee-jerk religion bashing or insensitivity. “But I thought South Park liked killing Jesus because Christians are stupid!?” Well, they do like killing Jesus, but it’s in the service of a profound message of religious tolerance and even-handed treatment.
This is only the most salient out of many examples of how South Park uses transgressive means to further enlightened themes, the offensive means to be later isolated and paraded in publicity and spin. Parker and Stone offer a masterclass on racial consciousness, but all that gets through the media net is, “That South Park used the n-word several dozen times.” Rinse and repeat, this is the South Park model.
It cannot be overlooked that in addition to the fantastic rank-and-file offerings of Season Eleven, on these discs is contained the most ambitious South Park project: The Imaginationland Trilogy. Flexing its capacity for longevity and an adroit writing sensibility in which many plotlines can be juggled, South Park effortlessly stretches a story about terrorists attacking our imaginations into the longest continued plot of the series to date.
Mashing-up countless shot-for-shot film parodies, an overwhelming pastiche of pop and literary culture, and a handful of keen insight into the value of fantasy, Imaginationland not only thrills but justifies the entire series in its social effect. CareBears are executed, Kurt Russell gets raped, a giant tube of Crest wards off Cavity Creeps from the heights of appropriated Lord of the Rings architecture. The whole affair is awe-inspiring and lets the animators show off a bit of artistry, a welcome switch for a show in which the animation is usually only there to serve the comedy.
Bundled with all this splendor are short, one-off commentary tracks that usually only last for the first five minutes of each episode. Although they rarely add more than a laugh or two, the format is quite enjoyable as one can watch the entire series with the commentary on and miss very little of the dialogue. As it would seem, there are really no missteps at all on this disc. Even the box art is attractive although nothing different than the last ten equally attractive seasons. I would love to iterate more how worthwhile of a purchase this collection is, but I’ve trumpeted enough. Just don’t let the cat out of the bag that the whole potty-dynamic is just a red herring.