Sean and Josh have graciously agreed to allow me to tackle this week's episode of South Park.
Some background: I first saw "The Spirit of Christmas" on Christmas Eve in 1995, thanks to a friend who worked for a TV production company. (To put this in perspective -- and make me feel really, really old -- the first commercially available DVD player didn't arrive in the U.S. until two years later.) Those few minutes of kiddie cursing/Santa and Jesus fighting/Brian Boitano advising were hilarious enough that people sent it to their friends, which was much more difficult to do back when "sharing" meant dubbing VHS tapes. Then Trey Parker and Matt Stone got a deal with Comedy Central, where South Park has aired since 1997.
Even if South Park isn't as good as it once was, the show has managed to stay culturally relevant, particularly if you equate relevance with controversy and pissing people off. Tonight's episode comes just a few months after "200", which led to DEATH THREATS. Then came "201" and finally "Crippled Summer". (The Society For Drug Addicted Towels didn't raise much of a fuss over that one.)
I haven't been watching South Park as much as I once did, so I used this review as an excuse to catch up. (Not now, honey. I'm WORKING.) I liked "200", thought "201" was better, and "Crippled Summer" made me laugh. None of these were as funny as "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride" or "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo", which to me illustrate South Park at its best -- making a point and/or achieving LSD-level absurdity.
So maybe the writing on South Park isn't as strong as it used to be. You know what else isn't as strong as it used to be? My knees. (Getting old sucks.) If we never see an episode as brilliant as "Big Gay Al" or "Mr. Hankey", that's fine. Not that I feel sympathy for television writers, but it's probably hard to be consistently clever week after week. (Parker and Stone said as much in this interview.) There are bound to be a few duds.
Tonight's episode, "Poor and Stupid", isn't a dud, but it wasn't one of the greats. The promo made it look like they were going to shit all over NASCAR by saying that their fans were poor and stupid, and I was prepared to be write something about how that was a lazy way to make fun of a topic that has plenty to mock. I don't get NASCAR at all; I can honestly say that I would rather watch curling than a car race. Still, NASCAR is insanely popular, and not all of the fans are poor and/or stupid.
Which is basically what the message of this episode is, if there is a message. There were definitely some amusing moments, most of which had to do with Vagisil, which Cartman decides to eat in order to get stupid enough to be a NASCAR driver. (Try not to be eating when you watch the scene in the drug store. Trust me.) After declaring "I'm totally poor and stupid. I'm ready for NASCAR," Cartman sneaks onto the track... and drives the wrong way! See? NASCAR isn't all that easy after all!
Or something to that effect. The plot was fine, it just wasn't all that interesting. The NASCAR material was fairly weak; the best jokes were about Vagisil, which is a funny word. (Not Lake Titicaca funny, but still amusing.) Butters is always good for a few laughs (he does a nice Porky Pig at the end), and the Amish-bearded Vagisil CEO had his moments. I like it better when Cartman's self-absorption is balanced by Stan and Kyle, and they were only around in the beginning. This episode sometimes feels like it's running on fumes (bad pun!); by that I mean that it's almost under-written. For example, why show the ESPN Pardon The Interruption guys if you aren't going to make fun of them at least a little bit? And Cartman could have gone further with his President Obama rant.
So if this episode was trying to make a point, it wasn't a strong one. And with no singing, dancing log of feces leaving little brown spots everywhere he goes, or a towel shooting up heroin, there weren't any crazy absurdist moments. "Poor and Stupid" isn't terrible, but it could have been a lot better.
- This isn't exactly news, but the disclaimer at the beginning is probably the greatest disclaimer in the history of television.
- Sad Cartman is weird. He's better as a sarcastic prick.
- There was an ad at the beginning of the broadcast for the new Medal of Honor featuring what they claimed were "actual Marines" who consulted on the game. South Park should make fun of that.
- Cartman has Tivo.
- "A rich smart kid has no place on a racetrack."
- "Ha ha! I helped the needy!"
- "I need to get stupid, Butters. I'm getting all the blood to rush to my head and watching a marathon of Two and a Half Men."
- "Sure she's hot. She's wearing a sweater."
- "All those ladies have stinky vaginas?"
- Butters is one of the best names for a character ever.
- "Yours takes the retard cake." Heh heh. Retard cake.
- "I wasn't born with a plastic spoon in my mouth!"
- "I first created Vagisil for my wife, Patty. She is my muse."
- "Vagisil car." Heh heh.
- "I'm gonna do some dip and speak my mind!"
- Maybe Token could have popped in to say he's into NASCAR.
- "You know how you get when you don't use your Vagisil."