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South Park: The Complete Twentieth Season (Blu-ray Review)

19 Jun, 2017 By: John Latchem

Paramount/Comedy Central
Animated Comedy
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Voices of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mona Marshall, April Stewart, Elon Musk.

“South Park” has evolved quite a bit over 20 seasons. From its origins as a crude comedy crudely animated with construction paper, the show has brilliantly played up that image to become one of the most biting satires on television, if only because it’s not afraid to take on any side of any issue from its creators’ unique perspectives.

Take its handling of the 2016 election, for example. The show lambasted the idea of a Trump presidency in season 19, using the character of Mr. Garrison as an analog for the candidate and his controversial appeal to populist sentiments. But as season 20 came into focus with Trump having secured the nomination, the show also had to deal with Hillary Clinton as well, and didn’t let her campaign off the hook either (which earned the show some harsh rebukes from critics whose own leanings were rather obvious).

How Trump’s electoral win disrupted the show was one of the more highly publicized aspects of the season, as they had to change much of their planned episode just a few hours before it aired. But the idea of having Garrison as president within the universe of the show opens up new possibilities that a direct spoof might not yield (and which the writers said might be pointless, anyway, given the absurdities of real life).

Such last-minute changes are nothing new for a show for which a short turnaround time in delivering episodes to Comedy Central has become a defining trait (see the 6 Days to Air documentary included with the season 15 Blu-ray). That creative process further highlights how much the show has evolved, to the point where the writing team led by creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker now openly admit that the short deadlines give them a sense of focus that works much better for them than having too much time to plan everything out.

That’s an especially notable observation given the trend of the past couple of seasons has been to focus on season-long story arcs, where before the show had provided only two- or three-parters here or there (not to mention a theatrical musical). From a production standpoint, it all adds up to seasons that are much shorter than they used to be (10 episodes, as opposed to 14 or 17 as in earlier years).

It’s an interesting experiment in playing with the show’s formula, even if it puts a lot of pressure on them to create a coherent storyline from week to week with nothing planned out (and, as already noted, real-life current events getting in the way). For the most part it’s worked, as season 20 is very easy to binge-watch over about four hours. But even Matt and Trey admit in a commentary provided on the Blu-ray that it’s a hard process to keep up with, which is especially evident given that the last episode of the season is called “The End of Serialization as We Know It.” They say they’re looking forward to doing more standalone classics like before, focusing on one-off misadventures of the Cartman, Stan, Kyle, Kenny, Butters and the other citizens of South Park, Colo.

Still, season 20 has its share of plot elements that stand out as memorably as anything from the show’s classic episodes — primarily, the Member Berries. The sentient fruit pops up all throughout the season to remind people of their love of classic movies and TV shows("Remember 'Star Wars'?”) and to yearn for a return to values of the past to guide their decisions. This is one of those comedy creations that takes on a life of its own, to the point where a little detail like the berries listening to Toto’s “Africa” on the radio eventually blossoms into a full-blown concert of a Member Berry house-band playing their own rendition of the song to a Member Berry audience that has taken over the White House.

There’s another plot thread involving Internet trolls, which is packed with wry observations about social media culture and living through surrogates.

Somehow Matt and Trey are able to steer the storyline to Space X, allowing for a cameo by Elon Musk voicing himself on the show.

Another side effect to having to craft the show around a President Garrison means it retroactively ties this season into season 19 in a larger story arc that might not have been as prevalent before, in depicting a character’s downfall, reinvention and then rise in the ultimate quest for revenge against the PC culture that both spurned and created him.

The storylines lose a bit of steam toward the end, and not all the plot threads are tied as neatly as they could be (which may offer some fodder for season 21). Still, season 20 proves that “South Park” is still one of the most relevant shows still on TV.

Where previous seasons have presented Matt and Trey’s commentary in three- to five-minute segments at the start of each episode (with them insisting they have no reason to talk about an episode longer than that), this season follows the switch that happened with the season 19 discs and presents the commentary as a single 20-minute piece covering the entire season as clips from each episode play in the background.

Each episode is then graced with #SocialCommentary, which is essentially a text-based trivia track of information tweeted about each episode as it plays.

The Blu-ray also includes a 11 minutes of deleted scenes, a “By the Numbers” featurette of statistics, a 20th anniversary “We’ve Been There” tribute of the show being an ‘R’-rated cartoon influencing little kids over the years, and an hour-long video of the “South Park” panel at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con International featuring Chris Hardwick interviewing Matt and Trey on stage.

Finally, the disc includes the trailer for the upcoming South Park: The Fractured But Whole video game, which spoofs superhero movies.

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