God knows Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and the rest of the South Park production crew have had their hands full with projects in between seasons. But it’s pretty evident that somewhere along the line, one or more of them started watching a lot of Animal Planet because for the second time in three episodes, one of that network’s shows gets parodied. While the Bigfoot parody was hit-and-miss in “Jewpacabra,” this episode tries to go all in as a parody/homage to I Shouldn’t Be Alive (and any other number of similar shows that air across networks like Discovery and the National Geographic channel) but, ultimately, falls short even after a promising start.
The boys want to take advantage of the great outdoors on their last day of spring break so, naturally, they decide to go zip-lining. Putting the episode in this kind of framework is tricky: It can work really well. The narrator’s scientific explanation of Stan and Kyle having to act nice with others in the tour group in particular is a nice touch. But it’s hard to get consistent comedy out of something boring, like sitting through a tour group video presentation. It’s funny at first, but there’s a risk of being too one-note; the comedy itself eventually becomes boring.
It does work early on and it all culminates in a killer fart joke. The trick, though is making it last an entire episode and the gimmick does start to wear thing halfway through the episode. The boys are clearly bored and Cartman is drinking Mountain Dew, Double Dew, and Diet Double Dew while approaching Stage IV diarrhea. By the time the boys join yet another tour group—this time, horseback riding—in an attempt to escape zip-lining, the schtick of wringing humor from boredom begins to tire.
And then things just get… weird. When the boys find a marina and try to board a boat to get back home, the episode suddenly cuts to live action, taking the spoof of these dramatic reenactments another step. Grown men stand in for the boys during the reenactment scenes, though it cuts back to the animated versions for those testimonials. There’s some high-pressure diarrhea and vomiting and beavers, and then the boys are at risk of dying from being bored and everyone has herpes. Even bringing back the classic Kenny death and Mr. Hanky can’t salvage the episode at this point. The plot “twist” that Stan chose zip-lining so he could get a free iPod Nano falls as flat as the live-action reenactment does.
The episode is one-note, the humor flailing as the gimmick grows tired, and any late attempts to salvage the episode fail to turn things around. The episode was also disjointed, showing promise early on before completely losing steam even as it attempted to do something “different.” Over the weekend, I happened to watch the episode “Good Time With Weapons,” which featured those fun anime segments. Those attempts to push the show outside of its typical visual aesthetic worked because it was how the boys saw themselves, as ninjas, and the episode succeeded in making us believe those segments were the collective imaginations of 10-year-old boys. This gimmick, though, just couldn’t sustain any momentum, and when the abrupt left-turn came in the last third of the episode, while jarring, it didn’t bring any new life to the episode.
Many commenters have pointed out that the six-days-to-air process is probably to blame for ongoing inconsistencies; episodes could have been much stronger had there been more time to develop the stories, scripts, and jokes. After six episodes of this season, I’m inclined to agree. The hectic production schedule works for the show if it’s satirizing current events, but beyond that, there’s not much to be gained from it. It feels like the team is still doing it because they’re just used to it now. This rushed production schedule probably accounts for the disjointedness in this season’s episodes, too, like the Cartman dream sequence in “Jewpacabra,” and the live action sequence here. It’s like they were so rushed they just got to the end of the episode and said, “Uh, let’s just, uh, do THIS!”
The thing that’s most frustrating is that, on paper, this episode certainly had potential. Having the kids go zip-lining and getting stranded in the woods—as the episode implied early on—had shades of “Weapons” when Butters got the throwing star in the eye and things spun out of control in a glorious way from there. But, instead, the zip-lining aspect is completely abandoned and milking satirized drama from the boys being bored just doesn’t cut it. Had this episode been created on a more typical production schedule, there could have been time to iron out what didn’t work. The show still has plenty of moments, and, given the performance over the past couple of seasons, it still has plenty of gas left in the tank. But the show is maddeningly inconsistent, and tonight’s episode was a microcosm of that problem.
- Yes, I realize I gave “Jewpacabra” an A- at the time. In hindsight, I still think it’s one of the better episodes, but I’d say it’s a solid B now.
- I’ve only caught bits and pieces of I Shouldn’t Be Alive, so my background on it is pretty sketchy. I’ll leave it to you, the commenters, to judge how well the series parodied the show, though overall I thought it did a good job of sending up that survival sub-genre as a whole. And that’s the regular narrator of I Shouldn’t Be Alive, right?
- Poor Kenny and his herpes.
- “Even though in his mind, Kyle was thinking, 'Dude, fuck you.'”
- Do any of you remember to always take in the gnar? Shaka, brah.
- “Why do people say ‘long story short,’ Stan?”
- “Eric Cartman is a ticking time-bomb.” But his line about beavers being attracted to blood was awesome.
- So was Mr. Hanky’s Helicrapter, Seven-Turdy-Seven, and Poo-Choo Express. I’m a sucker for poop jokes.
- If you ever have the chance to see Chicago comedian (and Pop Pilgrims host) Dan Telfer in person, he has a killer bit about ziplining as a teen.