It’s been an uneven season for South Park but the last two weeks prove there’s still plenty of life left in the show. As it continues to execute an homage/parody of Game of Thrones, it manages to weave in the social critique that gives the show its depth, the biting satire that helps give support to the dick and fart jokes the show makes its trade in. And while past episodes have tried to cram too much into a short amount of time, the multiple episode format of this arc gives these threads a chance to develop and actually support the overall story. Even by episode’s end tonight, with more still to come, the undertaking and its execution (so far) are impressive.
Ryan already did an outstanding job of outlining the overlapping nature of the Console Wars-Game of Thrones parody angle and narratives therein so there’s no need to rehash them. With Kenny now entrenched as the leader of the PlayStation 4 crew, the episode’s open sets the mood even as it offers up some great throwaway gags. Cartman is upset over Kenny’s defection and is struggling to keep his troops focused, even as buzz is turning against the Xbox One.
The cast of characters continues to grow throughout the episode, much like the Game of Thrones series, nearly to the point of distraction. Perhaps the best introduction of any character in these first two episodes of the multi-episode arc belongs to Bill Gates. After letting Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stand in as the typical South Park “voice of reason”—“It’s just a video game machine”—the evil turn from Gates is fantastic, not only in juxtaposition to Gates’ real-world philanthropy, but the perfect pitch given to Evil Gates with the taunting, the glass of wine, and the dismissive nature of his “clean this shit up line” upon his exit. It’s a great concept delivered perfectly.
The recurring joke of Cartman in the “garden of betrayal” and the old man’s yells perfectly captures how even as the betrayals in Game of Thrones shock viewers, there’s a dependable repetition in their cycle. All we have to do is look back at previous events to see the then-obvious pattern that foretold the double-cross. When Cartman tells his partner the real issue is just getting them through the doors, the partner is interchangeable and all that matters in the end is Cartman’s best interest. It’s the Littlefinger comparison that Ryan pointed out last week. Which makes it even funnier when Gates turns the tables on Cartman.
That same parody/repetition delivers another solid gag when the TV station field reporter interrupts the acrobatic love-making session of the two main news anchors, Tom and Tammy Thompson (who, though not ringers for the Lannisters, at least fulfill the incest requirement). Having him do so in his in-the-field voice—complete with jacket, scarf, and mic—gives the whole scene a nice absurd edge that helps keep the gag fresh even as it’s a repeat of the Sony CEO from last week.
But one other element evolves from that scene to underscore one of the bigger over-arching themes at work: the role the media plays in perpetuating the cycle of Black Friday news stories. Even while Bill Gates' enlistment of the TV station plays into the tangled web of allegiances, it also hammers home—perhaps just a little too obviously—the media’s bloodlust for the annual stories of literal bloodshed at Black Friday events. “Having a bloodbath on Black Friday is good for the news.”
This is one of those threads that's allowed to develop at its own pace and, therefore, hold more resonance than just squeezing it in there. Trey and Matt have always loved sending up the media and its panicky frenzy, and this just gives them another platform with which to do it, albeit in a more clever, creative way.
Among all of these bigger thematic elements are, of course, great jokes and gags: Cartman’s “wizard and a king” exchange with the Microsoft operator; the boys having to tilt Cartman to get him through the McCormick’s doorway; George R.R. Martin torturing poor Butters but not letting the wiener thing go and promising the pizzas (or dragons) are on their way and will be amazing. And, of course, the great anime-aping segment.
The bigger picture is pointless if the episode isn’t funny enough to hold it up, and, as was the case last week, the jokes are solid and come at a fast rate, the most consistent work so far this season. Here’s hoping the push-back gag at the end was just that, a gag on George R.R. Martin’s infamously slow writing habits, and doesn’t lead to this arc dragging out too long. It’s been too sharp so far to stretch it out and let it go limp, like so many Game of Thrones wieners.
- Has South Park ever done a cold open like that? Also, bonus points for going all out with the Game of Thrones-inspired intro music this week.
- The Lady McCormick voiceover should be added to every episode commentary track for future DVDs.
- Equally good: the translation bit with Princess Kenny, a great carry-over from Thrones with a crude South Park twist.
- Not for nothing, but the show’s multi-episode arcs, especially “Imaginationland,” remain some of my favorites.
- As for the media criticism, as a person who works a day job for a large metro daily newspaper, I love the send-up of TV news sensationalism even as I acknowledge that it's pretty much an industry-wide habit.
- The wiener chorus was the only joke in this episode that approached overkill for me. But I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who loved it.
- Xbox One sponsored tonight’s episode. Should we take that as a sign as to who’s going to win this Console War?