As a satire of this moment in American history, the scenario is nothing short of perfection. Our fourth-grade heroes discover a leprechaun, who has come to warn of a terrorist attack in Imaginationland. This is the place where all the products of human imagination live together, from Zeus to Charlie Brown to Popeye to (brace yourselves, Christians) Jesus. Al Qaeda-style fanatics want to destroy our imagination in the name of (brace yourselves, Muslims) Allah, so they break down the wall that separates the evil parts of our imagination from the good parts. The bad stuff invades, setting Santa Claus on fire and mutilating Ronald McDonald. I can’t even bring myself to tell you what happens to a poor Care Bear.
South Park Imaginationland is about the way we let terrorism affect our hearts and minds. But it’s about so much more. It’s a devastating parody of the trigger-happy military, the self-aggrandizing politicians, the go-along media, fatuous Hollywood types, pompous hero tales like The Chronicles of Narnia — in short, everything in our culture. There’s also an overload of grotesquerie, but that just comes with the fourth-grade territory.
How much do you want to bet that South Park Imaginationland is ultimately remembered as one of the great artistic works of the 2000s?
Sunday, 10 p.m. (AMC)
Critics have gone wild over Mad Men, set in an ad agency during the early 1960s. But it’s left me cold, and the season premiere fails to raise the temperature. True, the series seems deep, with its dark palette, somber tone, slow pace and literary allusions. If the new episode quotes Frank O’Hara, it’s got to be important, right?
Self-important is more like it. Mad Men has been talked about in the same breath as The Sopranos, but the comparison merely serves to point up its flaws. The Sopranos’ characters leaped off the screen; Mad Men’s sink into the plush 1960s furniture. The Sopranos had energy, humor and momentum; Mad Men just sits there, content to fuss with its period details.
Skinny ties, beehive hairdos, pink cars and mink stoles don’t create a world. I believe that’s a job for good writers, directors and actors.
Jurassic Fight Club
Tuesday, 9 p.m. (History Channel)
It’s not easy to knock our socks off with another documentary about dinosaurs, but that doesn’t stop the History Channel. This new series takes the approach of a horror-movie trailer, with shock cuts and ominous narration.The first episode tries to spook us with a dinosaur unearthed in Madagascar, supposedly as terrifying as North America’s T-Rex. We hear of razor-sharp serrated teeth and a battering-ram horn. The narrator fairly shudders as he accuses this species of “the most gruesome acts in the animal kingdom.”
But the facts, as they slowly emerge, make it hard to sustain the terrible tone. The dino’s name is Majungatholus, which is not easy to pronounce in a scary way. The History Channel is forced to admit that this “fearsome predator” had poor vision, short legs and unusually small arms. A digital re-creation even makes the battering-ram horn look silly, like an out-of-fashion hat.
I wouldn’t be surprised if paleontologists soon discover that other reptiles snickered every time Majungatholus limped into view.