South Park: “Reverse Cowgirl”
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South Park: “Reverse Cowgirl”

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South Park

“Reverse Cowgirl”

Season 16, Episode 1
A-

South Park

“Reverse Cowgirl”

Season 16, Episode 1

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Potty humor and civil liberties: they are two of the hallmark subjects of South Park, so it only makes sense that its 16th season kicks off with those two topics in the forefront. And if “Reverse Cowgirl” wasn’t the most laugh-out-loud funny the show’s done in the recent past, it was certainly had sharp points to make about government encroachment in the lives of Americans. You need not have been personally inspected by a TSA agent at an airport or the subject of a frivolous lawsuit to enjoy the way “Reverse Cowgirl” satirized both the government and those willing to cede personal freedoms under the guises of “safety” and “never having anything be your own damn fault.”

Clyde Donovan has been part of the show’s universe since its second overall episode, and serves as the main storytelling engine for tonight’s premiere. The installment opens with him playing football with the boys (including Kenny, who was last seen being eaten by that pesky reptilian bird the agnostics warned us about). Clyde’s mother Betsy soon calls him in to scold her son for leaving the toilet seat up again. She then yells at him again the next day in school, which embarrasses Clyde as much as it amuses Cartman. But while Eric is spinning wilder and wilder versions of these interactions to people who were already there to witness them, tragedy strikes. Thanks to Clyde’s inaction, Betsy does indeed fall into the toilet at the precise moment she flushes, creating a vacuum that will either cause a black hole in the world or just suck her organs from her body. OK, the black hole is hyperbole, but it’s only hyperbole in terms of “death by toilet flush.”

At first, this seems like a setup for an episode-long Battle Of The Sexes to see which gender will budge on this hot-button topic. But it soon turns political with the introduction of the South Park version of the TSA: The Toilet Safety Administration. In light of Betsy’s death, each toilet in America is re-inspected and outfitted with safety belts, security cameras, and agents who check your nether regions before and after doing your business. At first, people are outraged over waiting 40 minutes to go to the IHOP bathroom. But soon, people like Randy just accept the new world order with passive resignation. They are angry about the new intrusions into what Cartman calls “the last bastion of American freedom,” but they aren’t so angry to actually band together and do anything substantial about it.

While these regulations increase in scope and absurdity, Stan and Kyle bring Clyde to the law offices of Hoffman & Turk. After a woman at Betsy’s funeral blamed Clyde for her death, stating there was “blood on [Clyde’s] penis,” the boys try to make him feel better via that most sacred of American traditions: arbitrarily suing someone. They opt for suing the maker of the toilet upon which Betsy died, which leads the lawyer’s web search directly to the "Wickie" page of Sir John Harrington, the 16th century author/toilet pioneer. The boys are dismayed at Harrington’s corporeal status, but the lawyer insists they can make this work via a “sueance”. What’s a sueance? It’s basically a law office staged as a cheaply-done haunted mansion, complete with shaking cabinets and a disembodied voice of someone that sounds like an extra in The Godfather.

The initial sueance scenes dragged a bit, as the lawyer found new ways to keep the kids handing over Clyde’s newly received life insurance payment. But they pay off once Cartman decides that enough is enough. He brings a gun and a baby into his own bathroom, along with a newly-subdued TSA agent. This classifies him as a terrorist under federal law, and the word “terrorist” finally stirs the adults to action. After all, they are OK giving up every single ounce of freedom in the name of safety. But if a terrorist can bypass these ridiculous encroachments, then what’s the point? Hoffman & Turk take their sueance to the Colorado State Courthouse, where the dog-and-pony show turns into an actual summoning. Betsy appears to call bullshit on the lawyers, but also to stick it Clyde from beyond the grave. Unable to take the defamation any longer, the actual spirit of John Harrington arrives to let everyone know that everyone but Butters has been using his device wrong all these years. Didn’t we all know the top of the tank is a shelf for comics, quills, and chocolate milk to enjoy as we sit facing the wall? We didn’t? Oooooh. Awkward. 

Sometimes the endings of South Park episodes forgo actually wrapping up the storylines in favor of straight up non-sequitur weirdness. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that approach. But tonight featured some extremely strong final moments. Cartman once again is adding extraneous detail to Betsy’s browbeating of Clyde…but this time it’s to Clyde himself, who is sitting Harrington-style on the toilet. That would normally be enough as a final image. Instead, as Clyde leaves the bathroom after hanging up the phone, he pauses. He stares at the lowered seat. He thinks. He then flips up the toilet seat before immediately flipping his deceased mother the middle finger. It’s a fun character moment, but it’s also the essential ethos of the episode: No matter what rules and regulations a higher authority seeks to impose on us, we have the inherent right to personal choice at all times. Assigning relative values of worth to those choices isn’t irrelevant, but it’s certainly not the primary aspect of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s worldviews. In fact, the more we are told to do something, the more we want desperately not to do it. Sometimes that means people get hurt as a byproduct. But the mere possibility of danger doesn’t mean that we should spend so much energy trying to prevent the worst-case scenario. Sometimes, you just have to give that fear the middle finger and move on as best you can.

Stray observations:

  • There was a new opening credits sequences, chock full o’ Season 15 goodness in addition to other existing footage.
  • The long sequence featuring the man watching all the toilet feeds inside TSA headquarter was terrifically creepy, even before the introduction of “Creations Moisturizing Lotion”.
  • Colorado loggers have long sawed their feces in half with their urine stream. Now you know.
  • “Now Clyde’s mother is dead, and the blood’s on his penis.” Paging Dr. Freud...
  • “By the power of Christ, we sue you!” I’m surprised we haven’t heard this phrase uttered during the current political primary season.
  • Housekeeping note: I'll be trading off episode reviews with Marcus Glimer each week this season.

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