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South Park: The Complete Second Season

After turning television comedy on its ass with a brilliant and controversial debut season on Comedy Central, Trey Parker's and Matt Stone's animated cable series about four foul-mouthed Colorado grade-schoolers struggled to maintain its inspired form. While most successful series must survive awkward beginnings and usually hit stride in their sophomore year, South Park's 12-episode trial run from August 1997 through February 1998 was so brazen, aggressive, and ingeniously subversive that their follow-up season faced several challenges. Firstly, how does a show so reliant on shock humor top an inaugural season featuring anal probes, gay pets, interspecies mating, euthanasia jokes, and talking poo, as well as deadly confrontations with the antichrist, Kathy Lee Gifford, and a mutant Barbra Streisand? Secondly, how could Parker and Stone maintain their focus on the series while also preparing a feature film based on the same? And thirdly, how can a show that so proudly teeters on the dangerous edge of going too far maintain its appeal while already hugely successful and securely promoted by a committed TV network? The answer is that South Park's second season is nowhere near the revelation of its predecessor, but it is still consistently funny and full of surprises, even if it takes a full 12 episodes before it reaches the hilarious heights of Season One. Even though the first two-thirds of Season Two are amongst the show's least-impressive, they still follow third-graders Stan Marsh and Eric Cartman (voiced by Parker) and Kyle Broslofski and Kenny McCormick (voiced by Stone) through a dizzying gauntlet of disturbing adventures, each of which mixes common rites of pre-tween passage with vicious reinventions of familiar Hollywood clichés and punctured icons of the politically correct, and filtered through prodigiously diseased, and possibly paranoid, imaginations. These early episodes contain many unforgettable bits, including Cartman's power-trip as a junior policeman ("You will respect my authoritah!"), the school nurse whose conjoined twin hangs from the side of her head as a shriveled fetus, a flashback episode in which past episodes are reinvented, and a particularly funny and tasteless revenge scenario involving chicken pox and an unsanitary whore. The last six shows of the season, however, really unleash the crazy for an almost non-stop barrage of gruesome comedy, including many classic plotlines and gags with absurd abandon. One suspects that Parker and Stone work best under pressure when the safe ideas have run dry and they are forced to unleash their rich creativity in desperation, as many of their best comic ideas (cow suicide, underwear gnomes?) are too bizarre to make it through any brainstorm unfettered by writer's block. The good news for South Park fans is that the early sluggishness (if you can call it that) of Season Two has so far been an anomaly, and the show has, in fact, gotten better, bolder, and more outlandish into its Seventh Season. This Warner DVD set includes all 18 episodes of Season Two, in 1.33:1 full-frame and Dolby 2.0 Surround, split into three discs of six episodes each. The first two discs include live-action episode introductions by Stone and Parker, which range from mildly amusing to quite funny, but the introductions on the second disc (which feature a bacon-eating pig) suffer from wildly inconsistent audio levels. There are no introductions for the final six episodes, but the third disc instead includes a four-minute music video for Chef's/Isaac Hayes' culinary tune "Chocolate Salty Balls," a fun 50-minute documentary featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the South Park operation, often insincere interviews with Parker and Stone, and a valuable look at the great vocal artist Mary Kay Bergman in action, who gave voice to most of South Park's female characters before her death in 1999. Also on board is a promo for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." Three-DVD digipak with paperboard sleeve.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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