South Park has certainly seen its ups and downs this season, featuring both moments of brilliance and mediocrity. Fortunately, “Obama Wins!” brought out the big guns and delivered strong, mostly thanks to the serendipitous timing of two very important events: the 2012 General Election… and the Disney buyout of Lucasfilm. Of course, when you really think about it, Matt Stone and Trey Parker would have been idiots not to combine these two topics for their season finale.
Having said that, expectations were high following the announcement that Season 16 would conclude with another election episode. After 2008′s “About Last Night…” — an episode that showed Barack Obama winning the presidency one night after the election had actually occurred — one couldn’t help but wonder if they could possibly top themselves, especially on such a tight deadline. Thankfully, they did, and that decision paid off in spades. Indeed, Cartman’s ballot heist was almost clever enough to work on its own (as do most episodes painting his character as an evil mastermind). But in addition to this, Matt and Trey had their ace in the hole, and that was Star Wars.
Truthfully, this episode did feel like it was structured to work regardless of which candidate won the election, and that was a smart move on the creators’ part. Fortunately, most of the plot points were centered around Cartman’s hidden ballots and his under-the-table negotiations with Disney and the Chinese. However, there were just enough references to the election to make this episode feel up-to-the-minute; details like including the hair flag lady, for instance, were a nice touch. Likewise, depicting Governor Romney as the s***-quacking duck from last season’s “You’re Getting Old” was not only a stroke of genius, but probably a joke that would have been cut had the election panned out otherwise.
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The best kind of South Park episodes tend to not be measured on how consistently funny it is through formula but through how the quickest jokes splice together well within a clever story. This season’s penultimate story returned the show to its soapbox ways and that is said in the best of light because “A Scause for Applause” had a lot to say and it did so very well.
As we’ve witnessed in the news, Lance Armstrong has been on the receiving end of a seeming with hunt, to destroy his impeccable reputation. Let’s not get into those details. The message here is how we deify these icons, their cause, and what happens when the icon is tainted. Do we abandon the cause? Well, usually, because another rubber bracelet is already being made for the next cause.
Then came the delightful surprise that the bracelets didn’t read “Live Strong” but “What Would Jesus Do” instead. Jesus works very well as a metaphor for Lance Armstrong, as they are oddly worshiped in similar ways. When Stan refuses to get rid of his bracelet, the world embraces his courage and starts wearing “Stan Ground” bracelets. Cartman of course is wearing bracelets for just about every cause out there. This is what South Park does best, have fun with relevant issues.
There are some funny gags throughout, especially when SOUTH PARK uses Dr. Seuss and his unique storytelling to hit home the episode’s theme. However, “A Scause for Applause” tackles familiar comedic targets that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have mined with much better results in so many episodes. It’s all just lukewarm and not very clever.
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It’s been some time since SOUTH PARK has done a Halloween episode, but it was worth the wait as Trey Parker and Matt Stone come up with a new classic with “A Nightmare on Facetime.” Sending up THE SHINING, Blockbuster Video’s financial woes, The Avengers and our obsession with Apple products, there’s enough good will here to provide ample laughs and a great story to boot.
This arc was also boosted by an strong B story featuring Stan and the boys as Avengers, in addition to a rather ingenious FaceTime plot device. For Randy and the store, there were some excellent sight gags hearkening back to The Shining. The “bartender” scene in particular struck me as one of the stronger moments of the episode. I also enjoyed Randy’s “Jack Torrence” daze as he blankly stared at a clip from Ted — and kudos to the animators for nailing Jack Nicholson’s classic facial expression.
There’s plenty that can be said about the quantum leap in accessible technology that transformed a multi-billion dollar industry into something that Randy can own for $10,000. But South Park chooses to demonstrate that gap through the persistent sight gag of Stan Marsh having to trick-of-treat via FaceTime. Randy isn’t left behind because he stubbornly holds onto preexisting values that he’s had to maintain in the face of encroaching technology.
Randy begins to lose his shit as ghosts and madness drive him into a SHINING mental breakdown. Meanwhile, Stan is virtually kidnapped, then virtually attempted murdered, and virtually illegally dumped in a landfill by Redbox bandits, but then virtually saved with but a scratch. Though, in the real world SHINING Randy takes over virtual Frankenstein Facetime Stan and goes on a virtual actual rampage. Then Blockbuster burns down. Chicken nuggets.
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Often times South Park tries so hard to be topical and “parody” things all the time, that you begin to expect parodies even when there is none. And sometimes, when they are sending something up – it can get quite obscure and then you feel like a complete idiot for not even getting the point of the episode.
Would they basically structure a whole unrelated plot around maybe a few snide references to him and the movie Argo, then at the end have a joke at his expense be the solution to the protagonist’s problems? South Park would, and that’s what “Going Native” accomplished.
The big problem with this Hawaii plot wasn’t so much the setting, but the fact that it solely relied on one in-joke. While I’m sure there are plenty of obnoxious Hawaiian “natives” like the ones depicted in this week’s episode, the premise just wasn’t broad enough to sell to an entire audience. Admittedly, yes, the sight of obvious tourists posing as indigenous Hawaiians is definitely funny, but only for the first few minutes. Following Butters’ destruction of the cruise ship — which was easily the highlight of the episode — it was pretty much downhill from there, as the natives continued harping on the same Mahalo Rewards card bit.
His parents then tell him that to get rid of his anger he must travel to his homeland of Hawaii and undergo a coming of age ceremony. Naturally, the natives on Hawaii are tourists who have racked up so many reward points that they just live there. It is a funny little joke that is probably pretty true.
Mr. Stotch isn’t surprised though. It turns out the problem “has to do with biology.” Butters has to return to his birth place, Hawaii. Butters’ anger issues can’t be righted by anything but this mystical journey. “It’s a cultural thing,” explains Butters’ dad.
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This is an episode of South Park where the pop culture reference(s) take a back seat and the small town mindset of being cut off from the world runs rampant. The plot is self-contained, focusing on the characters and their reactions to occurences within the town itself, rather than QVC, The Royal Family or a Presidential election (although I hope they tackle this topic again). These things happen way outside of South Park. But like in the episode “T.M.I.” (where men’s penis sizes are called into question), the residents of South Park react to “something small” and escalate the issue to an insane level. That’s what happens here when Kyle is concerned his mother is having sex with the UPS man.
Things kick off when Ike sees a UPS man having sex with his mom (what he doesn’t know is his dad playing dress up). When Stan ‘s dad overhears Kyle talking about this, he hooks up with other dads who are convinced the UPS man is having sex with their wives too. So they dress up as Bane from THE DARK KNIGHT RISES are start to harass and beat the UPS man up.
The connection is confirmed when Randy and the guys speak with an old man at the bar who compares their predicament to his own confrontation with the Milk Man, who made life easy by bringing milk straight to everyone’s doorstep and then slept with their wives. The connection to Batman is drawn simply in the way the old man emphasizes each syllable in the words “the milk man,” mirroring perfectly the way Nolan’s characters say the words “he bat man.”
The guys’ interaction with the sage-like Pet Cemetery character was another highlight from this story. His warnings against the hedonism of delivery men and their torrid love affairs with housewives were among some of the best moments this week. I particularly enjoyed his UPS guy/milk man comparison. (“Would you like that milk pasteurized?”) This, followed by the progressively more intense and Bane-like assaults on the UPS man, made for a really fun arc.
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On this week’s South Park, Kyle agonizes over how our standards have gotten so low, Token becomes a maniacal reality television show producer, Honey Boo Boo has her heart replaced with a pig’s, Michelle Obama beats up Cartman, and James Cameron literally raises the bar (thanks to his trusty Deepsea Challenger). The concept was fun enough, and yet “Raising the Bar” ended up falling somewhat flat despite some great jokes and a little bit of navel gazing, mainly due to repetitiveness and the fact that Kyle didn’t actually seem to care.
This is an enormous episode, containing references to mobility scooters, obesity, Honey Boo Boo, Michelle Obama and her campaign against childhood obesity, James Cameron and Randy Newman. It also includes a subplot wherein Token finances a documentary about Cartman’s obesity and secretly turns it into Fatty Doo Doo, the new reality TV hit. I began to think, was there a filmmaker out there who saw Honey Boo Boo’s family and thought, “this is the perfect example of how America is eating itself to death. This will be a searing documentary and I will be heralded as the new Ken Burns!” Then some asshole at TLC (The Learning Channel for some strange reason) decided, we can exploit them! (TLC is really good at exploiting the worst parts of society).
Token offers to pay for a documentary revealing Cartman’s entitled ways if Kyle agrees to film Cartman. However, when Kyle presents the documentary, he discovers Token had created a documentary reality show designed to compete with TLC’s “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” The boys watch bits of South Park’s take on the child star’s show, in which the mother cooks the infamous meal of spaghetti with butter and ketchup. Later, Honey Boo Boo suffers a heart attack and picks out a pig heart which her mother worries will hurt her chances in pageants.
The real highlight of this episode, though, was James Cameron’s underwater expedition with the intent of literally “raising the bar.” Apart from his awesome theme song (“No budget too steep, no water too deep. Who’s that? It’s him! James Cam-er-on!”), I think it was Cameron’s interplay with the skeptical crewmen that really sold this bit. However, to call it a “lampooning” wouldn’t exactly be fair considering Cameron’s ultimate success — and he didn’t even take any credit! (“James Cameron does what James Cameron does because James Cameron is… James Cameron.”) Even still, his pompous ego and notorious self-entitlement definitely came across, and really, what more could you ask for in a South Park caricature?
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The Poor Kid
With today’s announcement that South Park will continue through at least 2016, it’s tough to watch this season finale without looking toward the future. What does “The Poor Kid” mean for the seasons to come? The episode proves to me that South Park hasn’t lost its grip on its basic fundamentals. “The Poor Kid” is a character piece, highlighting various aspects of Kenny through the (often distorted) lens of Eric Cartman?. It’s a nice reminder that, in the end, despite all the Thanksgiving aliens and Great Old Ones and robot Broadway stars, this is a show about four kids and their weird little lives. And, yes, it’s still pretty hilarious, even after all these years. Let’s get right to it for your final South Park recap of the season. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s go inside the mind of a Kenny McCormick.
So as we kick things off, things are not good at Kenny’s residence. That’s because Kenny’s parents are up to their usual meth-fueled antics. This time, however, they’re more public than usual: A COPS-ish TV show called White Trash in Trouble is on the scene to make arrests and force the trademark line from the criminals: “I’m white trash, and I’m in trouble.” The police drag Kenny’s folks in; Cartman’s on the scene to film with his iPhone and crack wise.
On the one hand, you could see this as yet another ‘Cartman hatches a devious scheme which goes badly wrong’ episode, seeing as how, having seen Kenny and his siblings taken away by social services, he comes up with a plan to be taken into foster care himself when he realises that his friend’s absence means he is now the poorest boy in school. That was really the second plot, though, as ‘The Poor Kid’ was really all about Kenny and how a previously one-note character has slowly transformed into the series’ most understated hero. It was also about fitting as many Penn State and ‘Yo Momma’ jokes as possible into a twenty-minute running time. My circuitous point is that though ‘The Poor Kid’ could easily be taken as a formula episode, with Cartman doing his evil schtick (getting his own mother arrested) and myriad controversial jokes, it did a lot of work beneath the surface to function as the perfect capper for a season which has frequently looked at how the series has both evolved and stayed the same throughout its run.
An unexpected turn this episode ended up making was Kenny bringing back his alter-ego Mysterion to protect the foster kids. While random, I actually enjoyed all of these moments as light spoofs of The Dark Knight. It ended up being a solid way to wrap up the storyline too.
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A History Channel Thanksgiving
We’ve seen a lot of South Park conspiracy episodes, and though “A History Channel Thanksgiving” doesn’t stray too much from the formula, it still feels fresh and enjoyable thanks to a few key elements — the escalation of the conspiracy, the random pop culture references, and Kyle’s reasonableness. The throwback special effects, elaborate Pilgrim-speak, and intricate landscapes of the planets Plymouth and INDI didn’t hurt either.
It’s Thanksgiving season, and the school has arranged for a lecture from a real Native American, who’s… sort of Cherokee. His name’s David Running Horse… Zewinski, and he pitches Thanksgiving-as-genocide. He’s so outraged about what happened to his ancestors that he assigns the class a report on Thanksgiving. Cartman, Kyle, Stan, and Kenny team up to tackle the assignment–but even with all four collaborating, it’s hard work. That’s why Cartman suggests that the gang watch the History Channel instead of reading books in order to learn the necessary facts. Kyle’s suspicious, but everybody else agrees, even when the History Channel’s programming gets a little creative with the past.
So where did the episode go from here? Thor. A pilgrim, who had more than a little resemblance to Chris Hemsworth, ended up being exiled to Earth and hit by a truck driven by Natalie Portman. All the parodies of one of last summer’s biggest comic book movies were hysterical. I also loved the quick jab at Green Lantern.
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