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THE CAST OF SOUTH PARK

Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics
Rating: 6
Squirm factor: 4
   Before we got married, I never had much of the holly jolly-style Christmas spirit (yes, I'm glad Jesus was born, but I was always a bit of a rebel; in fact, the only light display I put up was one that formed the words, "Bah humbug.") So, for the last few years when we've been decorating and wrapping presents, we've had to do it to the accompaniment of the Christmas records Jessica had as a girl, including the Muppets and the soundtrack from How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the good version, in which the makers didn't undermine the moral of the story by peddling every sort of toy imaginable with the Grinch's image on it). This year, Jessica vowed, it was going to be different; we were going to have some real Christmas music. So off we set for the record store, seeking out some good old-fashioned carols. Alas, no one raised on a diet of Muppet Christmases can hold out against the novelty disc for long; no sooner had we arrived in the Christmas section than we blew our budget on the South Park Christmas album! (Not to fear, we did get the Westminster Chorale singing traditional favorites, but Mr. Hankey has been playing a lot more often.)
   Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the brains behind the TV show, are also responsible for most of the music here (each is a multi-instrumentalist); collaborator Marc Shaiman rounds out the band. The tracks are well-produced, with terrific grooves on the funky tunes, and the right amount of bounce in the peppier numbers. And I must say that I'm impressed, as I am with the Muppets, that they can sing on key in funny voices. But really, you've got to judge this kind of record on its comedy value.
   At least a third of the songs entirely derive their humor from being sung in a squeaky voice or an accent. Which is not actually funny at all. Particularly since one of them is my accent. (Yes, I admit it: I say "mkay" for OK. For the record, let me go on to state that I say "idint", "dunt" and "wudint" for isn't, doesn't and wasn't, "beg-ul" for bagel, "kwy-urr" for choir, "dub-uh-yuh" for W, "plun-tee" for plenty, "gree-see" for greasy, consider Coke and Pepsi to be brands of "pop", and buy beer at a "party store"; all of which people have told me I'm saying wrong, but I say, it's not wrong, it's my accent. People in Michigan aren't supposed to speak like people from New York or California.)
   Other songs, however, feature the pop culture skewering that is the highlight of South Park generally. "Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo" takes the ridiculous inventions in our modern Christmas songs (did you know that the stories of Rudolph and Frosty both originated in the minds of songwriters?) to its logical extreme, and throws in a wicked satire of self-esteem boosting children's entertainment ("He loves me and I love you/Therefore vicariously he loves you"), although there's an excruciatingly unhumorous moment when the crude details of a bowel movement gone awry are explicated. "Christmas Time in Hell" is a delight, finding the most unexpected (and irritatingly revered) showbiz personalities in torment along with Hitler and Mao: Michael Landon, JFK Jr., etc. "The Lonely Jew on Christmas" actually develops a poignant theme - how Christmas leaves out some - before deflating the fake cheeriness of so much Christmas entertainment with a Neil Diamond-style litany on the joys of skipping out on the less pleasant obligations of the season. (An ironic fact that is probably not lost to Parker and Stone is that Diamond himself once recorded a Christmas album).
   The best moments, however, are when traditional carols are placed in the mouths of South Park characters: Cartman's "O Holy Night" is a perfect summation of the eight-year-old's view of Christmas ("Jesus was born/and so I get some presents"); particularly funny is when the choir has to remind him of the lyrics. "Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel" is a feat of some musical skill - it becomes a quodlibet for six voices, each singing a unique melody, but all fitting the harmonic base. It's also terribly amusing, as Cartman sticks in some choice insults to the Jewish race, while Kyle's mother chimes in with "our people always win" and Mr. Broflofsky praises, apropos of nothing, the merits of Courtney Cox (apropos of that, I'd like to mention here that I'm getting a little irritated with Friends this season. Rachel and Joey? It seems like the producers have decided their mission is to have every character hook up with every other character before the show ends.) Chef's protestations against paternity motivate "What the Hell Child is This?", which is a funny idea that's not executed very well - it degenerates too quickly into a seduction song, the highlight of which is "I'm going to fa la la your la".
   This was a nice break from hearing Miss Piggy sing "Christmas is Coming" again, but it required skipping a lot of tracks to maximize the entertainment.

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