Saturday, May 18, 2024

South Park Experiments with Character Regression

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Review of South Park Season 21 Episode 8: “Moss Piglets”

After last week’s delightfully profound and fulfilling South Park, I had been riding the high of ingesting their message, arguing for and against some of their points with friends, and speculating where they might take the season next. Where do you go with such a major shift in character and tone? Well, for Stone & Parker at least, why fix a trusted formula that ain’t broke? Shakespeare knew it, Seinfeld knew it, Stone & Parker know it too. Season 21 episode 8: “Moss Piglets” finds a return to the form we all know and love while giving us fun new character development.


This episode finds us in the Special Ed. shed preparing the students for the November science fair. Nathan and Mimsy, our favorite troublemaking duo are gearing up to to take first prize with the ever classic paper-mache volcano. Nathan’s main goal in winning the science fair is a shallow one: to get girls. Not a sweet, romantic ideal of impressing a particular crush, but to acquire the status that would enable him to be “up to his ears in pussy.” I think we can all draw our own conclusions to why this won’t bring Nathan any kind of fulfillment in his—ummm—science project.

“Uhhhh gee I don’t know if we should use our position of power to exploit women.”

Jimmy and Timmy though, have made an exciting scientific breakthrough for their project on Waterbears. Waterbears are (real, apparently) water-dwelling, eight-legged micro animals, and Timmy and Jimmy have figured out a way to get the Waterbears to respond to Taylor Swift’s new overproduced single. I guess I need to watch Octonauts. Anyway, watching micro animals gyrate in a circle to bumping base and Swift’s nonsensically vague chorus was a laugh-out-loud moment.

Nathan of course, out of jealousy, must foil Jimmy and Timmy’s plans as he always does. He’s going to be king of the Science Fair if it kills him. That’s where all the glory is. And all the ladies.

“Did you see the way those girls bit thier bottom lip when I said ‘Science Fair’? We’re about to be drowning in muff.”

You’re the One for Me, Fatty

Wendy, Bebe, and the rest of the gals (new characters Ila and Teresa) are very concerned about their friend Heidi. She’s changed and not for the better. Though South Park has always had a successful episodic formula the true experiment of the episode is the regression of Heidi.

As a viewer, I didn’t expect such a drastic shift in her character so soon, such a regression, but I have to say that I love this idea for the time being. The smartest comedies understand that characters ought to get much, much worse before they get better. Her adapting to Cartman by way of morphing into a more potent version of him speaks to all our impulses to want to adapt to our environment when we feel lost and alone. It’s less of a “Trump parallel” this time around (though it’s been hard to view media without the lens of of political discourse) and more of a way for us all to see what happens when you give in to someone in your life who may be bullying you or convincing you that the world is one way so you should just give up and blame everyone else for your problems.

“How can they force me to be the science fair judge? Now I know how it feels to be a slave.”

This is obviously a complete 180 from what we saw last week. The girls had a hand in creating the environment for Heidi to feel so isolated that she rushed back into the arms of Cartman. This made it so easy for Heidi to hit the self destruct button, and now there are TWO CARTMANS.

Waterbears are the Key to Our Future

After Nathan fails in his attempting to kill the resilient waterbears, this results in a new breakthrough in their behavior. Word quickly spreads about the discovery and the South Park Special Ed department receives aid from an unknown government entity. This has Heidi and her newfound sense of perpetual victimhood up in arms, and deeply resentful of the Special Needs program. So much so that she will suit the school and administration for discrimination if they don’t…what? Stop funding school programs that are making a difference in kid’s lives? Yeah. Heidi is a new kind of evil that even Cartman can’t comprehend.

Mr. Mackey: She’s kind of like Cartman, but with the ability follow through…

PC Principal: Oh dude…bro…

The noble agency giving funding to the science project is of course revealed to not be nothing but a greedy corporation experiencing a downtrend: The NFL. Between the protests, the counter protests, and the (seemingly forgotten in today’s tornado of information) many cases of brain damage and concussions leading to fatally violent behavior, the NFL will do anything to keep prophets up. Have they been experimenting with the micro animals to solve a deep seated issue within the core of the sport? No, remember, this is South Park! They want to raise a legion of waterbears to bring up their attendance. Brilliant.

You Are…Acting…Like a…Bad Girlfriend…

Only South Park could concoct a narrative where a self-destructive girl disrupts a Special Needs science fair in order to feel better about herself, causing the NFL to lose out on a new focus group that would save their plummeting business model. When Heidi selfishly swallows the waterbears in order to put an end to the unjust Science Fair. Not even Cartman, hilariously gasping for air can prevent it. She’s been infected with a noxious gas: a resentful impulse to deconstruct anything that isn’t to her direct benefit. A selfish impulse to paint herself as a victim without acknowledging her own failings, her own repugnant refusal to better herself.

From a narrative perspective, obviously South Park has taken liberties with serial character arcs as they always have in order to serve the bigger purpose. Cartman is painted as fairly sympathetic in order to highlight Heidi’s immediate transformation into Cartman 2.0. This may be a bit out of left field on the surface, but on a deeper level, if we can connect it to last week’s tone and message, we can see how quickly someone can turn into a desperate orge when they feel society has given up on them or stopped paying attention. They’d rather destroy something someone else created in order to feel better about themselves.

So let people watch football if it’s something they care about, and let people protest and speak their mind and beg for progress in the sport too. People and societies change and (hopefully) progress. Sometimes corporations need to take neccessary steps to reevaluate things that need changing, while at the same time not losing site of the spirit of what made them who they are. They need to recognize the mistakes of the past, and ackowledge that they can always make improvements. Sometimes people need to do the same thing before they end up as spiteful couch potatoes that blame their failings on the rest of the world being against them. Heidi has officailly hit rock bottom, and I’ll be excited to see how the last couple of episodes play out!

Images Courtesy of Comedy Central

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