“South Park” is probably my favorite show on television. And it’s been way too long since I’ve reviewed it.
I say that for two reasons. One, because when someone is starting a new review series on a new site, I think it’s important to set up a bit of context. (You can find my past South Park reviews here). Two, because I think it is important to stress the pedestal that I place SP on. It can be the best show on television…and then it can fall flat and not land as well as it could have.
But, enough house cleaning and dust settling. Let’s get cracking.
I knew this was going to be, at the very least, an interesting episode. Transgender equality is a very hot button topic, but it’s also something SP has tackled over the years albeit if not head on: Mr. Garrison has gone from being a man to being a gay man, then a woman trapped inside a man’s body, then a physically reconfigured woman interested in men, then a lesbian, and then back to a man again over the years. So in some ways, it’s an issue the show has had in its mind for years.
The more interesting thing this season is not as much what the show says, but how it is saying it. Ever since “You’re Getting Old,” where Matt and Trey actually flirted with mixing things up, there’s been a certain air of disappointment that the show hasn’t decided to break from tradition a bit and mix things up. It appears that SP is trying to stick to some level of continuity and actually (Gasp, dare I say it?) turn into a serial this season. Butters returns from his suspension from last week in the opening bathroom scene, where Cartman places a bow on his head and identifies as “transginger” in order to use the girls bathroom, setting the larger scene up for the week.
The A plot here focused – again, with continuity – on Randy’s dressing up as Lorde. The gag got some fire from Spin, which I found mostly unwarranted – I didn’t think the show was actually trying to say Randy was Lorde, and I can’t help but wonder if that was the plan last week before the article ran.
Actually bringing Spin into the joke was a great moment – and something SP can pull off with its timetable. I can’t remember the last time SP pulled off such direct commentary on the show’s commentary (The Family Guy trilogy, maybe?), but it’s the kind of smart – and timely – fire that only SP can play with.
The problem then lies on if SP can bring the same enjoyment and laughs from a joke stretched out over a few weeks instead of just one. More and more recently of late the show isn’t quite sure when to let a joke within one 20-some-odd minute plot (or even stretching jokes thin like in the Black Friday trilogy last year) go, so seeing so much time spent to Randy’s Lorde gag with only one real laughable joke (Randy showing Stan how the musical magical transformation process worked) is somewhat disappointing.
But, not making jokes was kind of part of the joke here. There was some heart when Randy was rejected by the other woman at work. Sharon’s speech at the end was a bit telling, and seems to be some quite honest and heartfelt commentary from a show that normally butters its bread on scathing satire. It’s not wrapped in a joke (but still a pop culture reference, through Lorde), but Sharon telling Randy that people who make fun of Lorde (and by extension, make fun of those who identify as transgendered) have “lost touch with being human” and that self expression is the ultimate truth here. This may come off as a whisper from a show known to shout, but that should speak even more volume to what is really being said here. This shouldn’t be an issue. There’s no joke here. Use whatever bathroom you want. A guy dressing up as a girl isn’t news, Spin. Move along.
The way the plots converge though also show something else new: a little foresight. Either there was a plan to have this episode follow last week’s in place and have Randy’s plot converge, or everything lined up really really luckily (I’m guessing its the former). Along with continuity it’s unusual for SP to do this, but it’s exciting that even in its 18th season it still have punches and surprises to pull. (Is being a serial really a surprise or change? For most shows maybe not, but I’d argue for SP it is).
I’m expecting mixed reactions this week (from people thinking SP didn’t go far enough on either side of the issue), and sure, the show is shaking off the new season dust and is still a little muddier in focus than usual. But the joke here seems almost that SP actually showed restraint and didn’t pull a joke: It subverted Spin’s expectations that they were poking fun at Lorde and instead used her to flick off people who are actually bothered at the thought of sharing a bathroom. “The Cissy” might not be quite as crude or funny as SP can be, but it’s trying on a tone it normally doesn’t wear, and just like Randy’s fishnet stockings, the show may take some time to get used to them.
Notes and quotes:
-Normally in any given week for SP once the credits roll, the set up and joke pay off balance has been taken care off. I’m just not so sure if that’s the case here yet. It’s not often I get to say this for South Park: Let’s wait to see where this all is going.
-“It’s more like a royal flush.”
-“He’s not a woman, he’s not a man, he’s something you’ll never understand. But he’d die for me.”
-Frozen poster in the background of Shelly’s room
-so with those whole continuity thing…weren’t Stan and Wendy broken up last week? Is Stan really going through a gender identity crisis? The b plot was pretty undeveloped this week.
-Who was the assistant Cartman had helping him design his bathroom?
-OK, Randy’s gluten free call back got a chuckle out of me.
-Still not sure why everybody was ganging up on Stan, or why Butters still was at the end.
-Similarly to last week, the end here just felt rushed.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Or the review? Be sure to let me know in the comments right here. Go ahead. You won’t hurt my feelings.
Revised 10/9 at 6:37 to fix clarity in the fifth paragraph.