South Park “#HappyHolograms” Review
Season 18, Episode 10
I thought it was going to be good. I wanted it to be good. The preview gave me hope. But, “South Park’s” first Christmas episode in 9 years, like most of this season, was a messy affair that struggled to get out of its own way and actually find something worth saying.
Plot wise, everything was a giant mess. I’m not really sure why the boys were trying to stop the holiday special, beside the fact that all of a sudden the people doing it were bad. Or why the people behind the special were trying to get it trending, like that was some Tinkerbell bullshit that fueled…something? It was a sloppy bringing-together of plots from across this season with people switching sides back and forth and ultimately who was trying to start (or stop) what, and why, was unclear.
The resulting holiday special, in which the holograms sang songs while Cartman commentated and people live tweeted, took aim at live special events like last week’s “Peter Pan Live!,” but it just felt too meta-meta and up its own ass. If it was trying to show how lame and transparent trying to appeal to a cooler and younger demographic the show did just that falling into the same trap it was trying to mock. By the end of the episode, that’s exactly what the show had resorted to as well.
It also felt like the first time the show realized it could get hash tags trending (not new to most TV shows, or even South Park, if you ever on Twitter during a first airing), which also skirted the line between the show making fun of something and resorting to actually doing the thing it is trying to mock. Needless to say, I’m glad that Kyle spoke out as to how confused he was. The whole affair was confusing.
Bringing everything back to Cartman’s transgender plot just felt like a needless callback (in an episode already full of meaningless call backs), with the show self-referencing just for the sake of being self-referential. The season-long attempt at serialization came off ass backwards – I highly doubt they originally had the idea of this holiday special at the start of the season – and there needs to be some planning in a season wide arc instead of just shoehorning references and callbacks to previous plots and calling it a day. It just never felt organic, even here.
The show did managed to get a lot more play out of the cop scenes (“We know we can’t choke them, we’re trying!”) then I would have expected, but even the whole “the cops think this actual event is a set up for a joke” joke got run into the ground.
For an episode so focused on discussing modern media and commentary, SP still really doesn’t have anything to commentate on. The parade of celebrities (I did laugh at Iggy’s snowman singing and Cobain’s song) felt like an empty attempt at being newsworthy (Cosby and Swift especially). I can’t help but think that the idea of a hologram holiday special (without Cartman’s commentary and the whole other arc) could have been a solid South Park Christmas episode if they had just focused on that (and perhaps making good holiday songs, which we all know Matt and Trey can do).
Somewhere inside that mess there was a genuine heart of the story: generations growing apart and Kyle not being able to connect with Ike, inspired by Trey’s step-son’s admiration for PewDiePie. That makes it hold a little more weight, but handing the show over (almost conceding the show) to PewDiePie at the end was just weird. Weird. Weird, weird, weird. For a show that built its legacy on tearing down celebrities and big personalities, the condolence and passing-of-the-torch moment at the end just doesn’t fit in with the show’s history. It’s as if, by the end, the show had confused its own writers, who then, just as the characters did, threw their hands up and decided it wasn’t worth figuring out. Scene. Fade to PewDiePie. The kids like PewDiePie. Give the kids what they want.
(I do wonder, though, if the scene in the music executive’s meeting room was a subtle nod to the writers’ room thinking Trey was giving PewDiePie too much precedence. That thought comforts me a bit, actually. This season the show HAS been doing quite a lot of younger, and gaming, skewed topics, and at least on some level seems aware of its own hypocrisy in attempting to not become a Grandpa in its own right.)
That being said, I could let some of the pickier details slide for a funny episode, but this one really wasn’t. And the loose ends kept just piling and piling up. Where was the Lorde hologram this whole time? What happens to Randy as Lorde now? Why was Michael Jackson’s hologram trying to stop the holiday special? Why was Butters grounded at the start of the season? Wasn’t the holiday special just trying to bring the generations together like Kyle wanted? So why was he against it just because the people behind it were trying to appeal to their kids? Wasn’t everybody really on the same page here? I don’t know, and I’m not sure the show did either.
Normally SP doesn’t have to worry about these threads, given its stories never spread out more than a few episodes. But, having nearly a whole season lead to this last episode just felt like an empty idea stretched across too many episodes that was low on fumes to begin with. This backwards-serialization didn’t pay off, and if SP is going to continue with it in the future, it needs to find a way to balance planning the serialization with the spur-of-the-moment and quick turn-around bites of comedy it has perfected over the years.
In a season full of misses, this wasn’t the worst episode, but it was still far, far away from “South Park” anywhere near its best. And, in an odd way, it may have been a perfect capstone to a season that itself continually struggled with what it wanted to say. I really do want to give the show credit for at least trying something new – attempting to string together arcs through the season is something the show has never done before. And even though it didn’t work, at least it was a new change of pace for the show. After 18 seasons, change can be hard, and this time the end result just wasn’t worth the shallow and vapid serialization attempts. But that’s not to say that it couldn’t work for future seasons, and at least Matt and Trey are still up for trying new things after nearly 20 years in this quiet little mountain town.
Notes and quotes:
-“Right, the thing I jacked off to was you.”
-“Did you choke him? Did you shoot him?”
-“I’m pretty sure the Washington Red Skins Go Fuck Yourself Holiday Special isn’t a good name.”
-I *think* this is the first time South Park has used blumpkin before. I think. Pretty sure. (Also not sure if you can ‘catch’ a blumpkin, but I digress).
– I get the whole idea behind having Cartman commenting on the show thing – but it’s still weird and still doesn’t really make sense. How can he comment on live events? Sigh.
– See ya’ll in nine months for Season 19!