Okay, I'll say this right off the bat: I don't get the joke. But honestly, I think that says more about the joke than it does about me. Peruvian flute bands? It took me a few minutes to figure out that South Park was making fun of an actual phenomenon, and not just making something up for the sake of a show. Some creative Googling led me to some complaints about the ubiquity of Peruvian flute bands in tourist-y areas, but I've gotta say, I've never seen one (that I can recall anyway). And I do my fair share of traveling. And our office is mere blocks away from a stretch of Michigan Avenue that includes regulars like painted-silver guy and dudes banging on old buckets. (Not to mention their kin, caricature artists and religious nuts.)
So Peruvian flute bands as some sort of omnipresent annoyance–is that something to hang an entire episode of South Park on? No, it's not. Of course, they could make an episode about almost anything funny, but they didn't really do it here. This was the weakest episode in the last couple of years and yes, I'm including the Internet celebs one that you all seemed to hate.
Anyway, in a nutshell: The boys decide to start a Peruvian flute band to make some easy cash. The government decides that Peruvian flute bands are a danger and Homeland Security sets about rounding them all up and sending them to Miami to prepare them for deportation. (I was waiting for a whole bunch of Scarface jokes here, but surprisingly didn't get them.) In one of the episode's only really funny lines, the U.S. government official tells the Peruvians, "You will be taken from here to Guantanamo Bay, where you will spend the rest of your lives."
But wait, something sinister is afoot: A mysterious Peruvian warns of a furry danger if the bands are sent away–and it comes to pass. Once the flute bands are gone, giant guinea pigs attack South Park. A semi-funny gag throughout the episode–Randy Marsh won't stop videotaping his family–bears a bit of fruit here as SP pays a bit of tribute to Cloverfield. (Or maybe they were mocking it, probably that.) Then, for no damn reason at all, it turns out that the head of Homeland Security was in on the guinea pig plot the whole time. And he has a giant killer tongue. Maybe this was another movie homage, but I didn't get it. And then, finally, it turns out he was plotting all along to remove Craig from the equation, because Craig is "the only person who can stop it." So Was this just some sort of absurdist ending, or was there a "to be continued" that I missed? Will the boys end up in Peru next week, with Craig's guinea pig involved in some way? God, they better.
-- You know who's just not very funny to me? Craig.
-- You know what is funny? The fact that Kenny shaves his balls.
-- Two seconds of playing board games with Cartman made me think that an episode about playing board games with Cartman would've been more inspired than this one.
-- Title of the boys' CD? Tapas And Moodscapes by The Llama Brothers. That ain't bad.
-- Panflute epidemic = pandemic? Insert sad trombone noise.
[Communication breakdown! Looks like we got a mite confused about who was covering this week's South Park, so I did my own take. Read it. Or don't. (Spoiler alert: I didn't much care for it either.)--Sean O'Neal.]
I suppose the trouble with winning an Emmy for an episode like "Imaginationland" is there's always that temptation to go for broke again with another ambitious, multi-part arc to prove it wasn't a fluke. Still, after last week's return to simple, self-contained storytelling worked so well, I can't help but feel a little disappointed by "Pandemic." Oh lord, don't let be misunderstood: I thought "Imaginationland" was top-notch, but the reason it worked so well was that its clever conceit (personally I love the idea of a world where Snarf and Mayor McCheese live out their august years, and I'd retire there myself if I could) and its solid B-story (Cartman's demand for ball-sucking justice) meshed so seamlessly that it didn't matter that both of those plots were completely nonsensical. By contrast, however, the otherworldly nuttiness of "Pandemic" just felt slapped together and contrived–the result of a brainstorming session not unlike those "manatee ball" accusations South Park has levied at a certain other cartoon. But of course, despite any reassuring "To Be Continued" after that WTF ending, I'm guessing this was indeed just the first half of a two-parter, so I'll just have to reserve full judgment until next week.
In the meantime, let's talk Peruvian pan flute bands. In the world of South Park, they're inexplicably everywhere, raking in cash from easily impressed tourists at shopping malls across the globe. Their sudden ubiquity–not unlike the plagues of hippies and homeless people the boys have dealt with in the past–initially just pisses Stan off, until he hits upon the bright idea of forming a combo of their own. The only trouble is they need the start-up capital to buy instruments and multicolored ponchos to snare all those gullible white folks. Enter Craig, one of the tertiary characters who's not really friends with them but not really enemies either, who reluctantly agrees to put up his birthday money after he's promised he'll get it back tenfold. Soon enough, "The Llamas Brothers" are at the mall bleating out their own super-smooth versions of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," and peddling copies of their CD, Tapas And Moodscapes. (Biggest laugh of the episode.)
Unfortunately for them, Homeland Security bulldozes in, arresting every Peruvian pan flute band in sight and throwing them in an internment camp. After finally convincing the guards that they're really Americans–or, at least, "hybrids"–the boys are tasked with infiltrating Peru to stop the banal busking scourge at its source, an assignment that causes Craig no small amount of consternation. Of course, that's nothing compared to the actual Peruvians, who ominously warn that being sent to Guantanamo Bay will have dire consequences, as they're the only ones holding back "The Furry Death." Meanwhile, back in South Park, Randy has been obnoxiously recording everything with his new digital video camera, a jokeless subplot that finally pays off when things suddenly go all Cloverfield, and Randy captures a shaky-cam glimpse of what's causing all the mayhem: Giant, murderous guinea pigs. Cut back to evil Homeland Security man, who reveals that he's somehow the one behind it all before sucking out the general's eyeballs with his evil alien deathtongüe, then cackles that he's already taken care of the only boy who could possibly stop him. Close-up on a picture of Craig. Smash to credits and another mediocre episode of Chocolate News.
Again, it would be wrong to judge a story on its preamble alone–although ostensibly I am here to play Judge Judy and executioner. And solely on its own merits, "Pandemic" suffers in comparison to past multi-parters like "Imaginationland" and even "Go God Go," both of which managed to break up the storytelling but still have each individual episode work on its own. On the upside, I'm all for putting the focus on Craig for once: Dude's a deadpan, negative little shit, and I can totally identify with that. His meta-commentary on the way the core characters always come up with some grand, selfish scheme that backfires and hurts everyone around, yet they never learn from their mistakes–and thus, "everyone at school thinks you're assholes"–was the sole smart aspect of an otherwise outlandishly silly episode. Yet, for all that rampant goofiness, there were very few genuine laughs to be had, especially compared to the classic, character-driven comedy of last week. So while maybe the denouement will cast "Pandemic" in a better light, part of me wouldn't mind if they didn't even bother. Now that would be funny.
Grade: C (partial credit)
- After this season's homages to There Will Be Blood and Indiana Jones–referenced again tonight, by the way–and now this stale spoof of Cloverfield, it feels like Matt and Trey are just now catching up on their Netflix queue. I can't wait for when they finally stick it to No Country For Old Men.
- "This music is so cultural!"
- Is it just me, or was there an implied correlation between liking pan flute music and having shaved balls?
- Speaking of which, here's a fun discussion to get the comment boards hopping: Shaved balls–yea or nay?