Tuesday, April 23, 2024

South Park Ends Season with Stranger Things Parody

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South Park Season 21 Episode 10 Review

Well folks, it’s time to close the book on Season 21 of South Park. At the end of Episode 10, “Splatty Tomato”, I wasn’t sure exactly what to think. South Park seems really unhinged and experimental at the moment. At times they are tone-deaf and insensitive, other times they are cutting and profound. This episode was silly and outrageous when it came to gags and a few good one-liners, but with so many plots to resolve and some important character arcs to complete, “Splatty Tomato” had a tough road to travel. Let’s hop on our bikes and groove out to some sweet 80’s tunes while we tackle the season finale. There’s a lot to unpack.

‘Tis the Season. Finale.

We open at the house of Bob White, who embodies the perfect avatar of an upper-middle-class family man trying to paint himself as the ignored and downtrodden. The paranoia of white conservative suburbia will always turn “liberals”, in the most vague sense of the word, into the boogieman in order to avoid dealing with real threats. The Whites blame the education system, more specifically PC Principal and Strong Woman who are in the throes of a forbidden love affair, for continuing to push a different brand of paranoia onto their kids other than their own.

The real threat is, of course, the President. After nuking Canada last episode, Mr. Garrison has retreated to the woods of South Park, haunting the kids a la Pennywise. He lurks around at all hours of the night. He wants to know how is approval rating is. He just won’t leave the kids alone.

“Since the President has been given a splatty tomato he’s become very desperate and very dangerous”

In an effort to be rid of the President, the town of South Park (sans the Whites, who still support him) decide to lock up their garbage and stop feeding him so he might go away. Meanwhile, Ike has taken matters into his own hands to seek vengeance on the President and is presumed missing. The gang knows the truth though. They’ve seen It, and they’ve seen Stranger Things too, so they know what has to be done.

On their journey to find Garrison, the gang reminds us that the 80’s wasn’t just David Bowie, The Clash and feeling the rains down in Africa…much of it was also hokey ballads and strange, electronic nonsense. This is a great bit, and I’m glad they refrained from choosing obvious parody tunes for our heroes to suffer through. The music choices were hysterical.

Heiiiiiidi Ho!

Before they set off, Heidi, the now caricatured selfish girlfriend, tries to prevent Cartman from leaving, causing an altercation with Kyle.

Heidi: What’s the Matter Kyle? Don’t want me around because you had the hots for me and I shut you down?

Kyle: I would never have the hots for the person you are now.

This interaction causes Heidi to self-reflect. On their journey she is reminded of the person she once was before she became what she’s always been opposed to. When they pass the spot on the bridge where she ended her Twitter life. She begins to confront her misery and realize that Cartman is the root of her problems. She is finally able to come to grips with it when they return to the place in the woods where Cartman left her to be eaten by a witch.

“You piece of sh*t! This is all your fault. You controlled me, and manipulated me, and turned me into this!”

If Loving You is Wrong, I Don’t Want to be Right

The hunt for the President continues. Ike is in full Canadian Mounty gear riding on the back of a shaggy dog out for blood. The parents stumble upon a tent in the woods. It’s PC Principal and Strong Woman expressing their work romance in a physical manner…the horror! The parents are sickened by what they’ve seen, and in true South Park reaction, play their game of vomit-telephone.

It’s Ike who, satisfyingly, brings the captured President back to the town. The capture is overshadowed though, with what I consider to be the most important arc of the season: Heidi, with a gun pointed at Cartman, finally dumps him.

“If you always make yourself the victim, you can justify being awful. Eric, I’m sorry, I’m breaking up with you.”

At last, upon realizing that she too had taken the easy way out by feeling sorry for herself (though if anyone had a tough challenge to overcome, it was her), Heidi is free from the clutches of Cartman, and can hopefully begin to rediscover her old self.

The episode ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger in Stranger Things fashion, with the President escaping the clutches of the town. The reason I said I didn’t know what to think was, well, with so many plots and arcs to wrap up in 22 short minutes, the episode overwhelmed me. I still enjoyed many of the laughs and references, but can’t help feel that there was much to be desired. Kyle has caused all this recent calamity, but the episode’s focus is elsewhere. It’s not that I’m desperately depending on South Park to pander to my moral alignment, it’s just that they’ve sacrificed themes and story points continuously this season in order to switch focus on current events. This episode felt like the first part of a two-parter that, if this season is any indication, probably won’t continue into season 22 because in a years time, it will be stale.

There are plenty of laughs during this episode, and I enjoyed the dig at the end: “It’s up to the Whites…” obviously in reference to the President’s staunch supporters who would rather keep feeding into him than face the reality that, as Stone and Parker put it, is “not out to save Christmas, he’s just here to sh*t in the woods and scare your kids.”

Season Overview

I personally don’t like to rate episodes with some definitive numerical representation; I think you can basically come to your own conclusions on whether or not you enjoyed something, while also taking my criticisms and observations into account. There’s also a subjective element. My favorite episode, episode 9, probably won’t be held in high regards as the “best episode” of South Park in this season, but art and entertainment connect with people in such a way that we aren’t afraid to hold one thing above the other based on nothing more than “cuz I like it.” It’s why I’m not afraid to tell people that I enjoyed A Feast for Crows over any other Song of Ice and Fire novel I’ve read, or that Abbey Road is superior to St. Pepper. Art is beautifully imperfect and subjective.

With that being said, fuck it, let’s put a number up on the “TomatoMeter” for this season. Knowing that there were ten episodes in the season, I’d say it’s pretty logical to set the scale from 1-10 wouldn’t you? I give it an 8.1 out of 10. “Put it Down”, “Holiday Special”, and “Doubling Down” were some of the best works, I think, Matt Stone and Trey Parker have done with the South Park series, as well as some of the best cultural criticism we’ve seen in our current…ummm…epoch. Some episodes, though I enjoyed them, just fell flat when they either shied away from controversy or, like this episode introduced a narrative purely for the sake of a long gag.

Overall, their messages were clear, and they put their characters through a ton of modern-day issues that I think we can all learn from. Their greater message of the season was echoed by Heidi at the end of this episode: “If you always make yourself the victim, you can justify being awful.” In the majority of the instances they have shown us, the sentiment rings true. This is not to say that their aren’t real societal victims of oppression, violence, poverty, bigotry et al, but it is truly to empower us to look inward rather than blame others for our faults, mistakes, and short-comings, particularly when we’re in positions of privilege.

With last week’s self-aware commentary, it seems South Park may find themselves in the wake of an identity crisis. They’ve acknowledged through characters that being the “one getting farted on” isn’t a fun experience, but it’s the reactionary impulses in all of us to come to anyone and everyone’s defenses that lead to slippery slopes. This doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to concrete, very real threats in today’s society, however. They seem to want to continue being ridiculous and vulgar, but they’ve matured as far as where they direct their punchlines, or at least looked for more profound reasons to punch. While they might not be able to get their wish—like Kyle says to “all get along”—at least they can remind us that following our extreme, irrational impulses will end in disaster.

Going forward, I hope to see South Park continue to add their crass, iconoclastic points of view to our important cultural discussions.  If this season is an indication for where the show sees itself going, I’m more than happy to continue watching.

Images courtesy of Comedy Central

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