Archive for the ‘South Park’ Category

Review: ‘Donna Reed Show’ DVD is reassuring TV ‘comfort food’

October 29, 2008

So, how do I reconcile being a fan of current shows as subversive or edgy as South Park, The Simpsons and Boston Legal as well as sweet family sitcoms from olden times such as Leave It to Beaver and The Donna Reed Show, whose first season is new on DVD? Simple: I’m eclectic, I’m a  Boomer and just as my favorite flicks include The Exorcist and The Sound of Music, there’s room enough for both.

Sure, I love today’s shows which get into the viewer’s face on social and political issues. But in today’s uncertain world, I also find solace in reassurances of the past.

Donna Reed was, and still is, as reassuring as a bowl of pudding — or, for us Texans, hot chili. (Comfort food can be anything, as long as it comforts.) The squeaky clean Stone clan was the ideal 1958-66 American family, and certainly reflected my own of the time. I was a bit younger than  Paul Petersen’s Jeff, but like him, I was a little brother to an older sister, my dad was a white collar family man and sole bread winner, and my mom, like Donna, was a cheerful housewife and, in her case, a Junior Leaguer. They, and we, were calm, comforting — and dull, perhaps, in many people’s minds. But again, reassuring. And certainly these Ike-era families hung together in love. Anything wrong with that?

For The Donna Reed Show’s 50th anniversary, its DVD debut from Arts Alliance America collects all 37 first-season episodes on four discs, the last of which adds a photo gallery, original TV spot, press release and production notes. It’s a handsomely packaged set which, unlike the likes of Father Knows Best, appears to have preserved the original black-and-white episodes in their entirety, meaning they each run about 26 minutes.

Much like Fred MacMurray before My Three Sons or Brian Keith before Family Affair, Reed was a successful film star who was essentially lured into the budding medium of TV. Heck, she’d won an Oscar for From Here to Eternity (playing a prostitute!) and also had starred in the classic It’s a Wonderful Life. But she also found a home on the small screen, lasting for eight seasons as the perfect mom and housewife in a gentle sitcom which rarely pushed limits and stayed warmly and safely in middle-class America’s comfort zone.

Carl Betz, as her husband, was a pediatrician with an at-home office, while that older sister/daughter was played by Shelley Fabares, who went on to big-screen stardom in three Elvis Presley flicks as well as renewed TV prominence in TV movie Brian’s Song and the series Coach. Fabares and Petersen got to be marginal pop stars via their Donna Reed fame, with Fabares scoring a hit with Johnny Angel. Her ex-husband, BTW, is Lou Adler, who produced, among others, the Mamas and the Papas and Carole King, notably her landmark Tapestry album.

The Stones’ family fun on Donna Reed was as easily digestible as a cracker — and often as thin — but still had that comforting, curl-up-on-a-sofa quality that’s largely missing in popular entertainment today. Call them bland and overly wholesome if you must, but watching the Stones grapple with everyday crises like canceled camping trips and community theater rivalries still does my heart good. I didn’t grow up in a fractured family as in Gidget, My Three Sons or Family Affair. I grew up in a stick-together family like the Stones. If that makes me bland, too, in some people’s minds, then that’s a blandness I’ll take.

Now when does the next new South Park episode air? See? You can’t say I don’t strive for balance.

And, oh yes: While some vintage shows are victims of watchus interruptus (take Hazel, which has had one season released, and that’s it), not Donna Reed. Arts Alliance America already promises to issue the second season of The Donna Reed Show “in time for Mother’s Day 2009.” Hey, I’m feeling even more warm and more fuzzy already. Cookies and milk, anyone?

‘Cult of Cartman’ DVD is for true believers

October 8, 2008

I confess: I am a member of the Cult of Cartman.

I know — he’s a monster. Yet I love him. And why? Because he’s strong, confident and honest about his utter self-absorption and wanton hedonism — not to mention his many prejudices.

Sure, he’s wrong, wrong, WRONG about so many things. But hey — he’s a fourth-grade kid! Give him time. Surely little Eric Cartman will grow up to be a touchy-feely tree-hugging do-gooder who  escorts little old ladies across the street. This is just a high-spirited phase he’s going through.

But what a phase — and what a collection it gets in The Cult of Cartman, a two-disc set new on DVD from Paramount. Housed in a box designed to look like a Bible, it includes 12 of the best Cartman episodes of South Park, along with a billfold-sized membership card and a decal. Cartman also appears in new footage to introduce the episodes, three of which (from the latest season) are new to DVD.

I’m not sure why no Cartman episodes from Seasons 1-4 are featured, especially since those include some of the best, starting with Season 1’s “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe.” But with so much masterful mayhem from which to choose, some great shows will be left out from any season, such as the utterly twisted “Fat Butt and Pancake Head” from Season 7.

At any rate, it’s good to see our hero — antihero? — get his due. And he’ll get even more tonight, I understand, with the new South Park episode “The China Problem.”

Problem? Our delightful little Cartman? Lighten up! How can you not like a tyke? And besides, it’s all just a phase he’s going through — you know, like reading comics or collecting trading cards. He’ll grow up one day, surely.

Or will he?

‘South Park’ Eleventh Season DVD disgorges another “smug alert”

August 9, 2008

Time again to pay homage, respect, props and general huzzahs to the most cutting and subversive humorists on television today, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. As South Park’s Eleventh Season DVD (new  from Paramount) attests, the boys are back in town and they’re not backing down. No, they’re thumbing their nose at the world, pushing the pedal to the mirthful metal and otherwise firing away on all cynical-to-silly cylinders with 14 more bizarre and bent yet somehow topical, timely or otherwise pertinent adventures of growth-arrested but world-wary grade schoolers in a small Colorado town.

This season’s shows already have had a DVD preview, via an earlier release of the Imaginationland Trilogy on a separate DVD. That saga is reward enough, but it leaves 11 other shows, including such stinging standouts as “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson” (a sendup of racism and oversensitivity toward it); Lice Capades (a twisted worlds-within-worlds fantasy about a society of head lice); and “Le Petit Tourette” (Cartman ingeniously uses a claim of Tourettes Syndrome to get a free pass for swearing).

But my personal favorite (beyond “Imaginationland”) is “More Crap,” in which Randy Marsh vies with Mr. Big Shot World-Saver himself, U2’s Bono, to produce the world’s biggest crap. And in case you missed the pointed, pee-yew-smelling analogies, think “pompous, vain, egotistical show-biz types’ unsought global leadership  = crap” and voila! You’ve got it.

In a sense, “More Crap” is much in the vein of South Park’s “Smug Alert” show from its Tenth Season, in which George Clooney was the overbearing, self-righteous entertainer getting skewered for taking himself and his industry too seriously. As a longtime entertainment journalist who’s long endured too much of such  pretentiousness and phony philanthropy, I suppose I appreciate these rants more than most. We all have our peccadillos.

As usual, forget about extras, though Trey and Matt do offer mini-commentary tracks. But if you can get past the sticker price, the shows themselves are reward enough, as well as a heartening reminder that in today’s sliding entertainment world of too many lies, too many Britney/Lindsays and too much mediocrity, Trey, Matt and South Park, at least, still have a good thing going.

Thanks, guys. Keep the fires burning.

‘South Park’ DVD is meaty, but ‘Imaginationland’ commentary is thin

March 10, 2008

Watching South Park’s Imaginationland trilogy with commentary by creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, I learned very little about the Imaginationland trilogy, new on DVD Tuesday from Paramount.

Instead, I listened as they droned on and on about their pet peeves in story structure and how TV writing is better than movie writing and which directors they really, really like and which ones they don’t and the fact that they both were fooled by the ending of The Sixth Sense and on and on and on with maddening irrelevancies. Meanwhile, one of the wildest, most eventful  and most character-dense South Park stories ever unfolds on screen — and they almost completely ignore it.

Trey and Matt might as well have spent the time singing their own amusingly inane ode to imagination, “The Imagination Song.” You know how it goes: “Imaginaaaaaaaaation. Imaginaaaation. Imaaaaaaaaagination. Imaginaaaaaaatioooon.”

Hey, I love these guys, and I love their show. It’s funny as hell, it bravely hits Hollywood on the nose (for two guys who “will never work in this town again,” Trey and Matt keep doing so) and it tries valiantly to be timely and pertinent, not to mention cheeky and subversive. But their first stab at feature-length commentary showed that Trey and Matt are as clueless as some of the directors they disdain.

I’m sure many fans will agree with me that the BEST commentaries are scene-specific, while the WORST commentaries are self-indulgent ramblings which ignore what’s unfolding on screen. Why bother even playing the episodes if you’re going to talk instead about Mel Gibson movies? This is no true commentary on Imaginationland. It’s “Tangent Talk.” In fact, about as close as it comes to assessing the trilogy is giving tedious details about what was considered for it — and discarded. Who cares, if it wasn’t good enough to make the cut? Tell us about what you DID do, not what you didn’t do.

Now, Trey and Matt may ask, what should we have discussed instead? Well, how about the ways in which various good and bad imaginary characters were chosen for scenes in Imaginationland, where several South Park kids wind up during an elaborate plot involving the U.S. military, terrorists, a clash between good and evil and — oh yes — Cartman pushing Kyle to pay up on a bet to suck his balls? From Tron to Yellow Submarine, that’s a lot of ground to cover. Which movies, TV series, comic books, etc. were most represented, and which were left out, and why?

Speaking of which, how about explanations of how they can get away with showing copyrighted characters such as Mickey Mouse getting bloodily blown away — not to mention Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz?

Or how about details on which shots and lines of dialogue had to be trimmed for telecast on Comedy Central but made it into the DVD? Did you really think some of this would fly, or was some of it done just for the DVD?

Or how about why the DVD, by contrast, has a tamer title (Imaginationland) than the telecast (Kyle Sucks Carman’s Balls)? That seems inconsistent. Why?

While these and other questions beg for answers, we do get a little bit of insight from Trey and Matt, including their explanation that, in South Park’s limited animation, expressions are all about eyebrows and mouths. They’ll tell the artists a character needs “worried eyebrows” and “a number 4 mouth” and, magically, that gets it.

Parker also owns up to the fact that this trilogy was trying. “I don’t want to do another trilogy,” he says. “This is probably it.”

He probably doesn’t want to do another feature-length commentary, either. For boxed sets of season series, the boys have commented for just the first four or five minutes of an episode, and that’s it. Here, they actually make it to the start of the trilogy’s third part when, at 47 minutes into a 68-minute presentation, they quit. “That’s the longest commentary we’ve ever done,” they say triumphantly — but they quit. They have nothing more. Meanwhile, all hell breaks loose on screen, with many characters doing crazy things, and many fans raising many questions, but from Trey and Matt, it’s “No comment.”

Oh well. Perhaps we should just appreciate the trilogy in itself, which is one of South Park’s finest hours. Heck, I even love that inane little “Imaginaaaaation” song, especially as it plays over a menu featuring lovable little Butters in Imaginationland. And adding bonus episodes on Manbearpig and the Woodland Critters (can they please get their own show?) is totally fitting, since they all appear in the trilogy, too.

So check it and out and enjoy a triple dose of South Park. For on-screen entertainment, this is a terrific disc. But to make it through the commentary without nodding off, you’ll need a little bit of imagination yourself.