“Ike’s Wee Wee” (season 2, episode 3; originally aired 5/20/98)
Having spent the first couple weeks of their second season declaring their independence from viewer expectations and most forms of network interference, Trey Parker and Matt Stone got most of the self-indulgence out of their systems and delivered a great, surprisingly twisty and complex episode, followed one that’s simpler and spottier but very funny. Parker and Stone had actually learned a lot about making TV in a very short period of time, which is especially amazing considering that they had the distraction of their phenomenal overnight success to contend with. The show would continue to get better, but the only thing you can clearly point to here as rookie mistakes is the fact that they still hadn’t figured out that, as long as people wanted to re-visit these episodes, they were going to have to live with these titles. (The title “Chickenlover” is apparently Parker and Stone’s way of calling attention to the fact that Comedy Central, those fascist bastards, wouldn’t let them call an episode “Chickenfucker.” If there’s one thing that’s persisted about these guys, it’s that they seem downright proud of not knowing how to pick their arguments.)
“Ike’s Wee Wee” has two story lines that barely intersect. One of them is exclusively the province of the show’s head, the other touched a bit by its heart. Kyle is looking forward to celebrating his baby brother Ike’s bris, though he isn’t clear what a bris is, “but there’s gonna be lots of food and a band.” Then he runs into Chef, who, in a rare instance of his doing more harm than good with the kids, leaves the boys with the impression that Ike’s parents are going to chop the kid’s penis off. Even Cartman agrees that “chopping off wee-wees is not cool,” so Kyle heroically tries to get his brother out of harm’s way, taking him to the train station to ship him to Lincoln, Nebraska until their parents are over this bout of temporary insanity and are “back to normal.” He has to do it behind the back of the man working the ticket counter, who tells him, “I’m sorry, but we can’t just throw Caucasian babies on an outbound train.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Mackey has been “suspended” from school—or fired, to put it in the “grown-up” argot—after delivering a classroom lecture on the evils of recreational drug use that involves passing around a marijuana cigarette that does not come back. (It ends up in the hands of Mr. Garrison, who enjoys it at home while blissing out in front of the TV, watching Teletubbies.) The only consolation Principal Victoria can offer him is that “maybe this will all blow over someday and we can give you a job as a janitor, cleaning up vomit with that pink sawdust stuff.” Mr. Mackey gets loaded at a bar and wanders home, past a line of motorists slowing down their cars to jeer at him for having done something so stupid, only to discover that his landlord has changed the lock and evicted him from his apartment. “Drugs,” the landlord shouts angrily, “are an illegal narcotic!”
That’s as serious as the debate over drugs ever gets, though the line that really resonates is Cartman’s all-purpose explanation that drugs are bad because, “if you do drugs, you’re a hippie, and hippies suck.” If Parker and Stone have a real message to push here, besides the fact that Mr. Mackey’s repeated insistence that any recreational use of mind-altering chemicals, whether it’s alcohol or pot or LSD (“a drug made famous by John Lennon and Paul McCartney”) is “bad” is not helpful, it’s to be found in Chef’s line that “There’s a time and a place for everything, and it’s called college.” It’s actually repeated by the counselor who tends to Mr. Mackey after he’s been shipped off the rehab, (The counselor also tells Mr. Mackey that “the problem with drugs is that people forget to stop doing them.”) Between his firing and rehiring, Mr. Mackey enters a downward spiral, consisting of experimenting with booze and LSD and pot and finally a romantic getaway to India with a hippie chick (from which he is “rescued” by the A-Team), that looks more like a long-overdue vacation. But at the end, he’s back on the classroom lecture circuit, citing his first-hand experience with addiction as proof that drugs are “bad.”
As for Ike, Kyle and his parents retrieve him from Nebraska, after an unfortunate incident involving a fake Ike doll and a dog that is the sequence most likely to cause any viewer to laugh until he swallows his own tongue. (It leads to a funeral scene where a bearded Scotsman plays “Hava Nagila” on bagpipes.) By then, Kyle’s anger has shifted from his parents to the discovery that Ike is adopted and not “really” his brother. The reconciliation scene, with Kyle accepting that he and Ike are indeed brothers while the mohel prepares to perform the ritual in a living room decorated with a banner bearing the words “IKE’S BRISS,” with “BRISS” written where “FUNERAL” has been crossed out, is a real afternoon-special handkerchief moment, sort of. At the very least, it’s an unambiguously happy ending. The ending of the Mr. Mackey storyline? The best that can be said is that he’d like to think it’s happy.
- Abject drunkeness reveals Mr. Mackey to be a Pat Benatar fan. (“We are young, m’kay? Heartache to heartache…”)
- One might think that the news that Ike is adopted, and from Canada, was cooked up just to explain why he’s two years old and still uncircumcised. In fact, it derives from the fact that Ike’s flip-top-head look had by this time become associated with Terrance and Phillip and other denizens of the Great White North. Apparently, when Parker and Stone did the pilot, they decided that this was how babies looked, only to decide a few episodes later that it’s actually how Canadians look.
“Chickenlover” (season 2, episode 4; originally aired 5/27/98)
This episode is the closest the show has ever come of making a real character out of Office Barbrady; elsewhere, he’s basically just a silly voice saying really stupid things, attached to a character design that has always reminded me of the fat Cenobite from the Hellraiser movies. It turns out that Office Barbrady isn’t just an idiot; he’s illiterate, which he has managed to keep secret about despite giving everyone some pretty heavy clues, such as pulling up alongside the drive-through window of a bank and ordering a couple of cheeseburgers. His cover is finally blown when his illiteracy gets in the way of his pursuit of a serial chicken rapist who has been terrifying the barnyards of South Park and leaving notes behind.
The funniest character here is the guy who drives “the book-tacular bookmobile” bus driver, a Doug Henning-esque tool who wears rainbow-colored clothes and slips on a Nixon mask when he’s out to do some chicken raping. “Reading,” he gases on to the children, “opens up all new worlds for you. You can take a canoe down the Amazon, or go back in time to Camelot, or become a race car driver, just by opening a book.” Seldom has anyone better illustrated how someone can take something that can actually be fun, like reading, and make it seem like an activity reserved for nerds in the ninth circle of Hell, by giving it the wrong kind of hard sell. (“If we read,” asks one of the boys, “are we gonna become like that guy?”) In the end, chicken-raping spree is revealed to have been part of an elaborate plan by the bookmobile driver to get Officer Barbrady to learn to read. After repaying the fellow by beating him into a lumpy pudding, Officer Barbrady is driven down Main Street by Jesus, riding a float in a parade given in his honor, and shares his wisdom with the crowd: He can read, and so can now say with complete authority that "reading totally sucks ass!" The boys all cheer.
But for historical purposes, “Chickenlover” is the episode that introduces Cartman’s pet word, “authoritah.” When Barbrady is occupied with learning to read, he appoints Cartman his temporary surrogate, and the little fella really gets into it, running around town whupping on people while demanding to know what it’ll take to get them to “respect my authoritah!” (He even goes undercover, dressing up in drag and hanging out on a street corner until someone pulls up alongside him and asks, “Is $20 okay?” “Step out of the vehicle,” Cartman replies.) Originally, Parker and Stone wanted him to shoot people, but they had to settle for having him bludgeon them after Comedy Central vetoed the idea of letting a little boy use a gun. (This was permissible in the earlier episode, “Volcano,” because there, the boys were out in the woods, hunting—a distinction that would be appreciated by Albert “If I say, ‘I’m going to fuck you over the desk’, it’s an R, but if I say ‘I’m going to fuck you over with this desk,’ it’s a PG-13” Brooks.”) Not to side with the forces of oppression, but I kind of agree with Comedy Central on this one, just because I think the sight of Cartman pounding the shit out of people is just funnier than the sight of him mowing them down would have been. As W. C. Fields used to say, if you bend it, it’s funny, but if you break it, it isn’t.
- As crowning evidence that reading sucks ass, Office Barbrady holds up a copy of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and says, “I read every last word of this garbage, and because of this piece of [bleep!], I’m never reading again.” I don’t remember whether the line that Parker and Stone are doctrinaire conservative-libertarians was up and running this early in the show’s run, so I don’t know whether this was meant as a comment on it. But either way, I don’t know how it survived this moment. The put-down of the book isn’t even as startling as the near-blasphemous mispronunciation of Rand’s self-invented first name (which, all too perfectly, she rhymed with “mine”); Barbrady refers to her as “Ann” Rand, a mistake no one who’d dabbled for a second with libertarianism could make. (Not that it isn’t baffling that anyone could make it—it's true the names are spelled the same except for one letter, but so are (say) "Tom" and "Tim".) But maybe the theory is that Parker and Stone meant to pay Rand a compliment by showing that an idiot like Barbrady could not appreciate either her wisdom or her fine writing style.