South Park: “Obama Wins!”
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South Park: “Obama Wins!”

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South Park

“Obama Wins!”

Season 16, Episode 14

South Park and politics have always been a terrific mix, with the topic bringing the best out in the show’s sharp satire. And the show has also gotten good episodes in the few times it’s used President Obama, particularly season 12’s “About Last Night,” which made great use of the left-wing’s blind optimism and the anxiety of the right-wing. (It’s too bad the 2000 election, due to timing, was reduced to a subplot in “Trapper Keeper.”) And it’s anxiety from both ends of the political spectrum that is completely toyed with in tonight’s episode, “Obama Wins!”

Opening with a fantastic Soderbergh-esque montage of Cartman traveling the country to swing state voting locales, the episode wastes no time jumping into the plot. While the main plot up front is Cartman’s plan stealing ballots and Obama’s deal with the Chinese, a great parody of political thrillers, underneath the joke is a brilliant satire of the actual paranoid pathos of pundits and voters. Oh, and the plot involves the Chinese obtaining the rights to Star Wars from Disney and Morgan Freeman because everyone understands things better when Morgan Freeman’s around.

It’s a kitchen sink mentality that can either, well, sink an episode or let it go to inspired heights on lunacy. This go-around, it’s the latter as “Obama Wins!” turns out to be the highlight of a strong half-season. From Cartman’s convoluted plan to earn the role of Luke Skywalker’s son in the new Star Wars movie, to the return of President Duck, and Mickey Mouse landing in Boba Fett’s ship, the episode spins further and further into left field in a glorious, rollicking episode that’s as inspired as the show’s been lately.

But beneath all this lunacy is, as I keep saying, pointed satire: Disney as a ginormous corporation, voter fraud, the anxiety about the rise of China. It’s a multi-layered trick that’s what make shows like South Park and The Simpsons, at their best, so brilliant: sharp satire buried under crude jokes and swearing, the cheap and the hard-earned laughs. The Hummer jokes are almost a third level joke that I didn’t appreciate on the first viewing but hit better on the second viewing. As I said earlier, this half-season has been strong: “Raising The Bar,” “A Nightmare on Face Time,” and “A Scause For Applause” are among the strongest episodes in recent years. And, now, “Obama Wins!” tops those. Right down to the jubilant circle around the fire and the smoke rising into Obama’s image, the inspired, absurd zaniness of the episode holds beginning to end with no lags.

Most viewers might not put it in the pantheon of “all-time” episodes. And maybe my adoration of the episode will fade with time. But, even then, I have a feeling “Obama Wins!” will remain one of the great episodes, at least from the stretch of recent seasons, if not from the show’s entire run. For the first time in a while, I feel like the show's staff is as invested in the show as it used to be. Even if I'm wrong, the show is also as strong as it's been in recent years, and I'm really looking forward to where it goes next spring.

Stray observations

  • After all my espousing about the satire, this whole episode was probably just a ruse to use the “General Tsao’s chicken” joke a bunch of times.
  • At my day job, I've been living, breathing, and prepping for the election for six weeks. This episode is about the only way I could stand anything more about the election.
  • “Warm nuts.” Heh.
  • Was Ike crying because he’s Mormon and therefore sad Obama won? That’s what I read it as.
  • “No, really, there are states full of swingers.”
  • Cartman tearing the votes in half makes me wonder if he’s destined to become Karl Rove.
  • My assumption that the show might have an alternate version with Romney as the President is sort of hampered by the involvement of the Chinese and the associated lines, but maybe not.
  • Like Stan, I would be more impressed than mad.
  • “I need Morgan Freeman to explain it to me” is one of the greatest lines of the season.
  • Obama WOULD eat at Red Lobster, wouldn’t he? Hmmmm?
  • Poor Butters and his almond allergies. But Kenny as his translator is great.
  • “When it comes to Star Wars, we can’t trust anyone.”
  • Yeah, Cartman’s Tauntaun was great, but what about the baby Ewok?
  • The lunacy of this episode kept making me think of the early episode “Jewbilee” when Moses is based off the Master Control Program from Tron. Don’t know why.
  • Seriously, strong end to a strong season. Almost like maybe Matt, Trey, and the staff have caught a second wind (or third or fourth or fifth…) after Book of Mormon’s success. 

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