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South Park: The Complete Third Season

The third season of the Comedy Central television series South Park continued the uneven distribution of hilarity characteristic of the show's sophomore year. Both seasons suffered slightly from distraction as creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker concurrently labored on the feature film South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. The 17 episodes in this DVD set are perhaps a little more consistently amusing than the previous 30, but at the expense of the gratuitously explosive (and often shocking) creativity that made the show a hit during its first season, salvaged the weaker second, and cemented the film version as perhaps the best movie-comedy of the '90s. Nonetheless, South Park at 50% is still funnier and more interesting than any other long-running comedy series on the tube, and Stone and Parker devise plenty of provocative, disturbing, and memorable comic scenarios through which to churn their quartet of third-grade antiheroes — Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman. Typically anti-establishment in attitude, Stone and Parker take direct aim in the early third season episodes at PC sacred cows like the rain forest ("Rainforest Shmainforest"), endangered species ("Jakovasaurus"), and sexual harassment ("Sexual Harassment Panda"), as well as expertly filtering contemporary culture's fascination with, and rote toleration of, sexual proclivities through the bewildered transom of juvenile prepubescents ("Spontaneous Combustion," "Two Naked Guys in a Hot Tub"). As with the previous year's run, Season Three picks up steam during its latter half, saving its most daring and innovative ideas for the final stretch. "Jewbilee" pits Moses against Hamen in a holy feud for the souls of young Jewish campers, "Korn's Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery" scores a dead-on satire of the "Scooby Doo" style and plot-formula, and "Chinpoko Mon" turns the kids of South Park into stooges of ass-grade Japanese anime propaganda. Disc Three of this set features the best this season has to offer, with the return of precocious Ethiopian Starvin' Marvin in a sharp and wicked episode ("Starvin' Marvin in Space"), followed by one of the season's most clever and consistently hilarious turns as Cartman subverts a Civil War reenactment, rallying the South to an unexpected revisionist winning streak ("The Red Badge of Gayness"). Almost priceless is the holiday episode "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics," which creates videos for many of the songs on a previously released South Park CD, including the perversely hilarious "Christmas Time in Hell" and Mr. Garrison's "Merry F---ing Christmas." The final two episodes revive the previous seasons' proclivity for outrageous shock humor, with plot-lines about young male menstruation ("Are You There God, It's Me Jesus") and Mr. Garrison's childhood trauma at never having been molested by his father ("World Wide Recorder Concert"). As Parker and Stone explain on the mini-commentary tracks accompanying each episode, Season Three of South Park was an important developmental season for the show — their experience finishing the feature film helped strengthen their skills at character and narrative development. As a result, some of the series' hallmark absurdity and edginess is missing from most of this season, but it remains an enjoyable six hours of bright and funny television as a holdover until the classic, breakthrough fourth season transported the series to a new level of energetic comic invention. Comedy Central and Paramount deliver a fine package with South Park: The Complete Third Season, although the three-disk, 17-episode set is missing the very funny live-action episode introductions from the earlier season sets. Instead, Stone and Parker offer "mini-commentaries," which consist of around three minutes of perspective at the beginning of each individual episode. The only other extra feature is a brief preview of Season Four's "Fingerbang" episode and almost 10 minutes of material from Comedy Central's "Chappelle Show." Foldout digipak in paperboard sleeve.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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