South Park – “Butterballs” Review

After watching the last two weeks’ South Park episodes, I’d come to the conclusion that the season was slowly beginning to fall into a downward spiral of mediocrity. So, when I learned that this week’s episode was going to cover the hot-button issue of bullying, I kept thinking to myself, “How are they going to address the topic while maintaining a strong sense of comedy and activism for the cause?” That’s when I remembered that South Park has one of the funniest, most pushed-around kids in all of television: Butters Leopold Stotch. And boy, did they take advantage of him!

The episode began with the boys having lunch at school while Cartman goes on a hilarious, albeit completely true, rant about music no longer being about love, but rather women’s ”vajayjays”. The conversation shifts to Butters though when he arrives at the table with a black eye and no lunch, the boys try to tell him that he has to tell someone about his bullying problem. Of course, Butters doesn’t want to be an Anonymous Andy, or as Cartman so greatly put it, a Cliché Conflict-Resolution Kevin, so the boys tell him that he should talk to someone he trusts, like his Grandma.

Unbeknownst to them though, the bully is actually Butters’ Grandma. The idea was definitely the greatest storyline of the episode, as this unlikely bully causes a great deal of physical and emotional pain for Butters. Not only does his Grandma berate him verbally with death threats, but she also beats the crap out of him and stabs him with forks. Butters can’t seem to find the help he’s looking for and gets extremely frustrated about the issue. He decides to take matters into his own hands. Changing into his evil, alternate persona of Professor Chaos, Butters musters up the courage to face his Grandma and tell her how it is. Although, much to his surprise and chagrin, his Grandmother is also dressed as a super villain, and “gummy bears” Butters into submission.

After experiencing torture, and bearing witness to various forms of bullying that are engaged by children and adults alike, Butters comes to a great realization about his Grandma. In what was probably one of the funniest moments of the entire season, Butters politely, and eloquently, tells his Grandma that he understands why she does what she does – because of loneliness. Butters also explains that he understands she is going to die soon. He makes it pointedly clear that he is going to live a long, happy, and healthy life, and will make sure to remind her of that fact while she’s on her deathbed. It was the ultimate guilt trip, spoken in the true blunt Butters fashion. I only wish I could say that the rest of the episode was just as fantastic.

The parallel storyline of Stan’s anti-bully music video had a few great moments but it felt much too obscure in reference and flat in presentation. I actually had to look up what video they were referencing, and found its source – a high-schooler made a music video in the same vein as Stan’s. I’m quite confused as to why Matt Stone and Trey Parker decided to use this video as it doesn’t really have any widespread recognition, only about 100,000 views and a single story shown on Fox News Texas. Even knowing of the reference now though, still doesn’t make the joke all that entertaining. Save for the few short moments of Cartman dressed up as a female singer, referencing his past lunch conversation, the reference was bland and wholly unfunny.

What was great about this storyline though – which also intertwined with Butters’ – were the bathroom-stall bully scenes. The episode alluded to the fact that bullying is a prevalent practice in more than just schools, while creating a hilarious hierarchy of people bullying those in lesser positions than them. This all comes to a climax when a movie producer enters the school bathroom and, to our surprise, is bullied by the only one with more power than him: Jesus. It was a great way to end the various stints of bathroom bullying, but I can’t help but feel more could have been drawn from these conversations, especially with Jesus – a man who preaches universal peace – being at the top of the bully food chain.

The end of the episode seemed to fall flat as well, despite the fact that it was an obvious poke at Invisible Children’s Jason Russell, and his mental breakdown from a few weeks ago. The whole thing just seemed superfluous, and really didn’t have any connection to the topic of the episode, save for the connecting factor that awareness videos were made.

Overall, I really did enjoy most of the episode and found Butters’ plight to be pure comedic gold, but most of the laughs seemed to draw more from random statements than from the theme of the episode. Bullying really is a difficult topic for South Park to handle though, considering most of their analyses of current events are critical and subversive. It seems that they had to tread carefully as not to trivialize the bullying epidemic, but then again, when has South Park ever tried not to offend people?

7 out of 10

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South Park – “Jewpacabra” Review

As soon as I heard that Passover was during the same week as Easter, I just knew that South Park was going to tackle both holidays in their most recent episode. It’s obviously a great opportunity for a show that loves to make pointedly clear the creators’ notions of religion as ridiculous and contradictory, but everything about “Jewpacabra” just felt flat and unfocused.

The episode begins with Kyle waking up and discovering that his mom is sitting with Cartman and telling him the story of Passover. Of course, Cartman is up to no good as one can easily glean from his previous bouts of extreme antisemitism, and he uses this newly found information to go on a hunt for the elusive Jewpacabra. After spreading his lies around the town of South Park about this strange creature, Cartman brings the issue up to the local supermarket and urges them to give him funding so that he can capture the beast and save the annual Easter egg hunt from danger. With the backing that he receives, Cartman, along with Butters, attempts to capture footage of the Jewpacabra – an obvious rip on those idiotic Bigfoot hunter shows on Animal Planet. After catching what he believes to be footage of the beast, Cartman brings the tape to the “experts” at the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization where it is “proven” to be real. Cartman’s plan thus backfires on him, and the men from the supermarket chain him down at the park and use him an offering to the Jewbacabra.

The BFRO then appears and, thinking Cartman is some kind of bunny creature, shoot him with a tranquilizer gun. Cartman then has a drug-induced hallucination in which he is the first-born son of the Egyptian Pharaoh, and experiences the wrath of God’s plagues. Out of sympathy though, Kyle goes to the park, frees Cartman, and then brings him back to his bed. The next day, Cartman proclaims that he was saved by a Passover miracle and that he has converted to Judaism, but is branded a heathen by the rest of the town. He then apologizes to Kyle and understands how it feels to have one’s religion mocked. Kyle, most likely tired of Cartman’s continuous bullshit, reciprocates Cartman’s Passover greetings, and the episode ends with a Star of David branded on a shining sun.

Overall, this episode had a great deal of potential, but it didn’t really seem to go anywhere. The ideas were there, but nothing coalesced into a larger, more focused theme. Although, there were a few enjoyable moments such as Cartman becoming the victim of his own ruse and getting put in a bunny suit smeared with blood. And even though it was quite random and off-topic, Cartman’s trip to the water park offered a few chuckles. Unfortunately, nothing else was really exceptionally funny. The Jewpacabra storyline sort of fell by the wayside and never came to a climactic moment, instead transitioning to a vindictive hallucination that strangely converts Cartman to Judaism. Yet, the strangest part of the episode was the end when Kyle  and Cartman only exchange Passover greetings – the scene felt weirdly misplaced and slightly random. Unless they address Cartman’s religious conversion later in the season, it seems as if many aspects of the episode were rushed and poorly conceived. Despite these missteps, Jewpacabra is still a decent episode to watch. I expect though, that the next time South Park takes advantage of a rare opportunity to poke fun at conflicting holidays falling within the same week, they will flesh it out into something truly great.

5.5 out of 10

South Park – “Faith Hilling” Review

I have to say, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed what Matt Stone and Trey Parker have been doing with South Park recently. As Matthew Rhodes noted in his review of the previous episode, “Cash for Gold,” it really seems as if they are taking a more ruthless, no-holds-barred approach to the topics that they’ve been satirizing, and this week’s episode is no different. This time though, the creators are taking their absurdity to a topic which I’m quite surprised has never been focused on by them before: Memes. We’ve all seen them at some point or another while mindlessly perusing the internet during a period of boredom: LOLcats, Bachelor Frog, Philosoraptor, Courage Wolf, and Scumbag Steve, just to name a few. Then you have the other spectrum of memes – the more idiotic side – where people pose for the camera in ridiculous situations with equally ridiculous poses. Well, this week’s episode focused on the latter, and honestly, it could have been so much better.

The episode follows the boys as they deal with the constantly changing popularity of various internet memes. After Cartman “Faith Hills” (a play on Tebowing) the crowd at a CNN Republican debate (the use of actual sound bites from the candidates was particularly hilarious because they were completely out of context on everything), the boys learn that people have moved on to the next big meme fad: “Taylor Swifting,” which is exactly like a dog butt-scooting across a carpet. The boys though, are adamant about sticking with “Faith Hilling”, while everyone else is moving on to the other memes. Because of this craze, the school takes action and brings in a university professor of memes to talk to the kids about the dangers of them.

The class is shown an instructional video much to the tune of those car accident videos they show in driving school, which was probably the most hilarious part of the episode. In attempting to get pictures of their poses, the teens in the video keep getting killed by oncoming trains. This continues throughout the episode as well, with multiple reporters getting crushed while trying to see how many times they can say “Oh Long Johnson” before moving out of the way. Although, after getting into a fight with some of the other kids in town and hospitalizing them, the professor comes back and has a most fantastic moment with Butters. While going on an angry rant, the professor hands Butters a loaded gun and screams at him to stick the barrel in his mouth. The professor is then suddenly called away and doesn’t tell Butters to stop, so of course he’s just going to sit at his desk for the rest of the episode with a loaded gun in his mouth.

Now, this brings us to the major letdown of the episode. The professor is called away to examine cat memes that have been popping up online. He concludes that the cats are evolving to a level of human intelligence, and gives examples of meme evolution that dates back to ancient Egypt (The Egyptian paintings purportedly portrayed them “Donkey Dicking”). In an attempt to communicate with the cat leader, who is just a video meme from YouTube, the ambassador of people has a conversion that leads him to the ridiculous conclusion that the cats cannot live with humans, and that “the streets will run red with the blood of their children.” They could have turned this joke into a fantastic high point of comedy for the episode, but instead it just turns into a stale joke that really doesn’t lead anywhere. The cat leader becomes a member of the Republican debate and spouts the same out-of-context nonsense that the presidential candidates where doing, but then it just returns to the focus of the boy’s issues with quickly changing memes. I was hoping to see a cat takeover of some kind, or some other absolutely absurd moment, such as the Sir John Harrington appearance from the end of this season’s first episode, but that unfortunately didn’t happen.

Luckily, the episode was able to hold up a certain level of hilarity, despite its jumbled story. The recurring meme of the train killing people was just fantastic, and served as a pointed reminder of just how stupid many of the internet’s constantly changing memes are. And honestly I can’t see how anyone didn’t lose it when, after Cartman and Kyle begin to get tired of “Faith Hilling” outside of the Planned Parenthood, those d-bag  kids drive by and yell, “Go back to the 90s, f*ggots!”. Of course, the moments of Butters with the gun in his mouth were great as well, especially when he begins to fall asleep on it. Overall, this was a good episode, but when you’re dealing with memes on one of the greatest satirical comedies ever made, you’re going to set the bar of expectations really high.

7 out of 10

South Park – “Cash for Gold” Review

What is going on in the minds of Matt Stone and Trey Parker? The two creators fell into a major slump the past few seasons that became fully realized in the mid-season finale of Season 15. Remember the episode? “You’re Getting Old”? It seemed like one uninspired metaphor for the disappointed and frustrated thoughts and feelings of the two fathers of South Park. Something has changed though. Actually, a lot has changed. They seem… a bit more ruthless… a bit more no holds barred. Only two episodes into the new season, I am thoroughly enjoying whatever it is that’s going on inside their heads.

The new episode, “Cash for Gold,” is a hilarious look into the gold exchange that has plagued our society, and others, for many years now. And when I say “plagued,” I mean plagued. As the creators put it, it’s an “unethical cycle with no true source.” You know, though, without knowing much about the entire situation, they present their interpretation in a rather believable way. In their mind, old people are tricked into buying outrageously priced pieces of faux jewelry on shopping channels that they then gift to their children or grandchildren. In turn, their family members try to pawn off the gems and gold at Cash for Gold stores. The pawned jewelry then gets smelted down, sent to India and “finely” re-crafted. It all then gets sent back to the infomercials and the vicious cycle begins again.

Stan is the victim in this episode. When his grandfather gives him a “fuckin’ gay as fuck” bolo tie, he tries to pawn it, but soon comes to find out that it’s not worth nearly as much as his grandpa spent on it. Wanting justice, the group (minus Cartman, and yes, Kenny is back!) travel around the world to uncover the conspiracy.

In what is one of the most memorable episodes of the past few years, Cartman declares the gold exchange as a “new era of science only the smartest can comprehend.” Taco Bell trades gold for tacos and consumers tell infomercial hosts to kill themselves. The episode does slump slightly toward the end when the kids go to India to find the root of all evil, but quickly redeems itself in the last few seconds. What ensues is something that cannot be spoiled. You all must watch it. It’s fucking hilarious.

And guess what? There was no moral ending. Justice did prevail, but by no means was it moral.

Enjoy.

8.5 out of 10

South Park’s Season 16 Premiere: “Reverse Cowgirl”

Although two days late, there is never a better time to review a season premier of South Park than now.

Past seasons have been ruined by a plague I like to call the “moral ending.” Usually by the end of many of the episodes, the boys – Cartman, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny (when he’s alive) – have learned something amidst all of the chaos and perverted happenings. Cue sentimental piano and cheesy one-liner. Earlier episodes in the series, specifically seasons one through four, rarely had moral endings. Sure, they did exist, but not nearly as much as they have in the past few seasons. Wednesday night’s episode, however, was different. It was special. A moral ending was no where to be found.

What was found in “Reverse Cowgirl,” on the other hand, was an almost lame attempt at making fun of the security system and its policies in America. You know those warnings on toys, the ones about small pieces? How about the warnings on bags about suffocating? Or the warnings on diaper changing stations about protecting your child from falling? We’ve all seen them; they’re everywhere. In this episode, we find a caution warning on the toilet. Yes, the toilet: the “last bastion of American freedom.”

In the episode, Clyde’s mom is brutally killed when she gets suctioned into the toilet due to Clyde leaving the toilet seat up. Due to this freak accident (for which Clyde was constantly reminded by his mother to not leave the seat up), a law is put into effect to make sure every citizen use a safety belt when using the toilet. There are also séances which poke fun at society’s habit of suing over every miniscule issue in life, as the gang looks to cheer Clyde up by blaming the inventor of the toilet for the tragedy. A few TSA-styled asshole inspections later, the town returns to relative normality, except now for the direction everyone sits on the toilet. Cue the punch line and episode title: “Reverse Cowgirl.”

Overall, the episode was not gut-bustingly funny. There were a handful of quick moments that got a positive reaction, but nothing reminiscent of the show’s glory days. This fact, however, is a common occurrence over the past few seasons. Sure, there have been quite a few memorable moments in almost every single episode, but this one had the most memorable moment of the most recent seasons: no “moral ending.” And thank God there wasn’t a strategically placed one either because I would have lost what little faith I had remaining in South Park.

It’s the lack of a “moral ending” that truly surprised me and left me convinced that South Park’s Season 16 is a damn good start. Oh, and now we all finally know that the tank behind the toilet is actually a shelf!

7.5 out of 10