by Marty Demerest & r & & r & South Park: The Complete Eighth Season & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & outh Park used to be funny -- more than just funny in the crude-kids-swearing style. South Park used to tackle real issues, with surprising wit. Jews being dumped on (in every way). Black people and gay people facing down mobs of angry buffet-buffed Midwesterners. Dead kids. Neglected kids. Improperly probed kids.





Now South Park has gone the way of The Simpsons, The Cosby Show, or All in the Family. You half expect the plump Cartman to start singing "Those Were the Daaaaays!" The show's wholesale adoption of the sitcom formula takes away everything except for the "what swear word will they say next" type of edge that can be found anywhere.





In the (so easy they should be laughed at for doing it) Michael Jackson episode, the South Park kids stop to deliver a lecture on responsible parenting. This lesson from the team that single-handedly raised the prime time F-word count. Then, when mocking Paris Hilton (yet another obvious target), they tell little girls it's not OK to be stupid slutty spoiled whores. Aside from the juvenile humor contained in the words "stupid," "slutty," "spoiled," and "whore," this episode could be an After School Special in which the snarky popular girl learns her lesson from the ugly girl.





The crude animation seems to be a de facto "we don't take ourselves seriously" statement, but the series' sanctimonious eighth season is full of preaching. Even South Park's creators (Matt Stone and Trey Parker) have an insufferable middlebrow smugness as they briefly drop into each DVD version of the show's episodes for a commentary and some mutual back-patting.





Certainly South Park deserves some credit for breaking down barriers. They regularly feature cutouts of gay and black people in starring roles. In the eighth season, these characters often arrive as the lesson-bearing magical sitcom fairy, waving a magic wand of handy-dandy moral tidiness over the whole raucous proceeding.





Or at least the proceedings that used to be raucous. Even the cartoon's once jarring cutout animation is looking slicker and more expensive than ever. But the nonstop presence of FLASH animation online and on TV has made South Park's animation look workaday, not cheap or edgy. It makes me miss the early, mean and crude episodes. Those were the daaaaays!

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