Sunday, January 11, 2009

South Park: Imaginationland

I gave up on South Park almost three years ago, and I haven't really given the show much thought since then. There have been occasional moments when a certain episode enters the mainstream conversation, and my curiosity is mildly piqued; I read online about the World of Warcraft episode, and actually bothered checking out clips of the Steven-Spielberg-and-George-Lucas-sodomize-Indiana-Jones bit. The Indy segments only confirmed all my worst criticisms of the show, that it just makes labored topical jokes over and over again, beating viewers over the head with creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's opinions on various current events.

One other South Park moment that seemed to get a good deal of attention was the "Imaginationland" trilogy of episodes, which at one time was conceived by Parker and Stone as a potential new feature film. It's been released on DVD sort of masquerading as a new movie (although all three episodes together only amount to about 66 minutes), and when I got the DVD in the mail I figured it would be a good opportunity to give the show another shot. Then, of course, the DVD sat next to my TV for a good nine months, but I finally did get around to watching it, and my response is a pretty resounding shrug. It's certainly not as labored or heavy-handed as many of the show's other latter-day episodes, but it's also lacking in the creative spark that made the early years (or the first feature film) so exciting.

Partly the trilogy gets by on the amusing juxtaposition of beloved childhood characters getting violently dismembered, but even that wears off quickly. Parker and Stone have terrorists show up as catalysts for the main storyline (they attack the world of human imagination), but that angle is left largely unexplored. For such a plot-driven set of episodes, it's full of narrative holes. There is a bit of mild social commentary at the end, but mostly "Imaginationland" is just about jokes, and in that area it inspires only a few chuckles. I feel like the subplot about Cartman trying to get Kyle to suck his balls gets trotted out in approximately every third episode.

Also on the DVD were two bonus episodes with content related to "Imaginationland." The first, "Woodland Critter Christmas," is one I saw back when I was watching the show regularly, and I remember it being a weird, twisted detour, one interested primarily in sick humor with very little topical relevance. The other, "Manbearpig," is a perfect example of the show's worst tendencies; it repeats its attacks on Al Gore until they lose all effectiveness, then fills time with some warmed-over bits of vulgar humor. "Imaginationland" as a whole is a sign that there's still some cleverness and creativity left in this old show, but it's not enough to get me back on board every week.

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