So, was the two-week wait worth it?
South Park missed its deadline for the first time in show history last week, and quite honestly, it’s more impressive that this was the first instance rather than annoying that it happened at all. It’s a high-wire act that the show has pulled off for so long that we just take it for granted. Even if one grumbles that the “do it in a week” approach doesn’t always yield episodes of the highest quality, few if any have questioned if such a technique might actually get in the way of an episode actually airing. One unfortunately timed blackout later, and we all know the truth.
Unfortunately, “Goth Kids 3: Dawn Of The Posers” was a fairly limp episode, one that an extra unexpected week of time apparently could not fix. The idea of putting the goth kids front and center is fine: The show hasn’t remotely overused them, and putting them in a new scenario offers up the type of perspective break that South Park does at least once or twice each season. But comparisons to the exponentially better “The Ungroundable” were present throughout the installment, and after watching that episode before tonight’s new one, it’s unclear why Trey Parker and Matt Stone went back to this particular realm if there was nothing new to explore.
That’s probably not entirely fair to say, but the show took its sweet, sweet time arriving at its central thesis: People will often willingly buy into a lie in order to avoid take responsibility for their actions. It’s not just those such as Henrietta and Ferkel (the latter named for the first time tonight, I believe, along with Michael and Pete) who willingly buy into the lie that there are emo plants that infect people with spores in order to turn them into self-loathing, Sunny Day Real Estate-listening human beings. It’s also people such as Harold Flanigan, who gets duped by the reality television show “Yes! I’m Scared!” into kidnapping kids in order to save his own skin. There’s probably a pretty good episode of TV somewhere in this idea, but this isn’t that episode.
Why? Because it’s a muddled idea that really doesn’t have a lot to do with what comes before it. The best South Park episodes hit on a good idea and then mine that idea for all it’s worth. Here? We get a bunch of scattered ideas that are tossed aside almost as quickly as they are introduced. We get confusion over the definitions of and delineations between emos, vampires, and goths…but we already had two-thirds of these topics covered in “The Ungroundable”. There’s an Invasion Of The Body Snatchers vibe to Henrietta’s transformation… but it never really extends beyond the small emo crowd in the school. There’s a brief hint that Henrietta’s parents are more concerned about their fragile egos than Henrietta’s mental state… but it’s treated as a throwaway joke more than insightful analysis. The ghost of Edgar Allen Poe probably should exist front and center if invoked at all… but he literally floats through the episode, claiming no allegiance to any of the groups who use him as patron saint and barely making any impact at all.
All told, there are a half-dozen solid ideas that didn’t need any extraneous factors sucking up the episodic oxygen. I don’t have a particular preference about which one SHOULD have been told, but deploying all of them turned “Goth Kids 3” into a muddled mess that committed the further sin of simply not being very funny. I laughed out loud at the “Death And Despair” ringtone, but little else. The reality show reveal felt like a Hail Mary rather than a logical progression. (Yes, it’s South Park, but the best episodes at least have internal logic, even if it doesn’t resemble our real-world logic.) Unlike most episodes this season, “Goth Kids 3” isn’t particularly topical, but that wouldn’t really matter if it were funny or at least interesting. (“You’re Getting Old” wasn’t exactly funny, but it was deep and insightful, and had something to say.) Tonight felt like Parker and Stone wanting to do an episode with the goth kids, despite having no good story for them, and proceeding apace anyway. That might have been fun for them, but less so for the audience.
Putting Butters, Randy Marsh, or the Goth Kids front and center is the kind of thing a show can do when it’s developed such a rich tapestry of secondary and tertiary characters. But the opportunity in those episodes lies in revealing to the audience something new about these people. With Butters and Randy, that’s usually not a problem. But with the Goth Kids, their very affectations make “knowing” them somewhat difficult. Everything’s an act, one that they put on for others and, as revealed tonight, even for themselves. Henrietta needs to believe there’s a spore in her head to justify how quickly she left her friends. Ferkle needs to believe that to justify her selling out her friends to the emo plants. But why? Why do they need this? This is Character Building 101, and the episode doesn’t achieve it.
Only when Pete lets Henrietta off the hook for her actions do any of these four reveal a kernel of “real” emotion. By then, it’s too little, too late. We already know that human beings lie when presenting themselves to the world. If this episode had revealed why any of these four particular people do so, then “Goth Kids 3” might have had a reason to exist. That wouldn’t have yielded some sort of universal truth. But it would have at made the time focused on these characters worth it.
- I dug the goth-specific intro to tonight’s episode, which let Ferkle unleash his best Shirley Manson impression.
- Every time Mike Makowski says “per se,” I giggle to myself.
- The South Park Glee Club meets from 8:30-10:00 am, right before “Klown Around Kidz.”