For such a pointedly silly episode, my guess is that this one is going to be polarizing, even more so than usual. Basically, it all comes down to what you expect from South Park: Do you demand that the show ground its outlandishness in a solid story? Or are you content to follow it wherever it goes, no matter how little sense it makes, so long as there are a few good jokes along the way? Where you fall on that spectrum probably greatly influences your opinion of “Royal Pudding” (and your interest in this sort of analysis of South Park in the first place), an episode that took the show’s zest for randomness and ran wild with it for one of the series’ strangest half-hours. Which is saying a lot.
As an argument in favor of randomness, there was some funny ephemera that flew by tonight—chiefly involving all of the Canadian royal “traditions,” like the “March Of 1,000 Farts,” celebratory showers of Captain Crunch, giant bowls of butterscotch pudding, and the “Prince of Canada” pulling off his bride’s arm and shoving it up his ass. As a straight-up lampooning of the pomposity of the royal wedding, with all its anachronistic, meaningless rituals and inflated sense of self-importance (“Indeed, a horrible day for Canada, and therefore the world”), “Royal Pudding” made its own unique satirical mark on territory that was well-worn before the nuptials even took place.
And it did so in an amazingly short amount of time: Before the first act was over, it had already summarily mocked the disproportionate public and media obsession—check the sly insert of a news report on deadly tornadoes—and parodied the ridiculous notion that the marriage of a rich girl into a figurehead monarchy constitutes some kind of “fairy tale” by providing a genuine fantastical climax, one where the would-be Canadian princess is spirited away on a beam of light and trapped in a magical isometric cube. Had the episode been able to just stop there, it would have been a mini-masterpiece of A-level absurdity.
But of course it couldn’t stop there, and in trying to match the awesome unfiltered nonsense of those wedding scenes, “Royal Pudding” mostly just piled it on. Like this: Called to action by a film reel hidden in his “Box of Faith,” Ike takes sword and sandwich in hand and joins his fellow Canadians by “the tree in Edmonton,” where he soon finds himself leading a quest to rescue the princess. He’s aided in his efforts by a couple of familiar faces—Celine Dion’s baby-daddy Ugly Bob, plus a newly radioactively enhanced Scott The Dick—as well as members of a randomly encountered Inuit tribe (against the strenuous objections of “Eskimo racist” Scott), who reveals to them that the princess’ kidnapping has long been foretold by ancient prophecy. With Eskimo tracker in tow, this unlikely fellowship sets off to find the mythical “beast that preys on all nationalities” that has so cruelly imprisoned her in his magical castle.
On the one hand, this was just another typically fanciful adventure in the South Park version of Canada, a nation whose seeming banality hides a mythic wonderland of monsters, mimes, and “little mushroom people from Nova Scotia.” But unlike similarly themed episodes such as “It’s Christmas In Canada,” “Royal Pudding” lacked something crucial to making those adventures work—namely, central characters to react to all this crazy shit, and provide some sort of reliable anchorage no matter how off the rails things gets. I don’t think I’m alone in believing that whenever South Park decides to sideline Kyle, Stan, and Cartman et al., it tends to produce some of its least satisfying episodes. And for me “Royal Pudding” was no exception, the plot’s randomness seeming all the more slapdash as it shifted its focus to an equally random assemblage of characters. It didn't help that their dialogue was more less limited to baby talk and inscrutable Inuit dialect (outside of a few Eskimo jokes from Scott), meaning large sections of the episode simply plodded forward, from one capricious twist to the next, with no one around to comment on it.
Of course, Kyle didn’t totally sit this one out, as Ike’s absence forced him to become the center of both the school play he’d abandoned and the B-plot that was tasked with keeping the episode somewhat grounded. That secondary story also provided some of the show’s funniest moments—especially in that it featured some of the only lines that weren’t pure exposition—particularly Mr. Mackey’s descent into Augie Garrido-like furor over the kindergarteners’ inability to properly capture the emotional “arc” of the fight against tooth decay, and thus do justice to the very personal story of the death of his father. I’m guessing that Mackey provided a bit of surrogate venting here on Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s part, who have, of course, mounted their own adorable little pageant on Broadway and would probably love to heckle their chorus line from the front row one night, or spend intermission telling their actors to “take a serious fucking look at themselves, because Act I was pure dog shit,” and so on.
But as with the quickie Osama Bin Laden gags from last week, I almost wish they had waited to do an episode that addressed their Broadway experience more directly (like “Helen Keller! The Musical” did, I guess, but with the added insight that only staging a massive pain-in-the-ass show can provide). Here it felt as though the story of Mackey's play existed merely to prop up their royal wedding parody, a feeling strengthened by (speaking of Bin Laden allusions) the episode's finale, which attempted to dovetail the plots by having Ike discover that it was Tooth Decay who’d kidnapped the princess all along and vanquishing him, much to the relief of Mr. Mackey and therefore the world. Granted, it was funny in that sort of knowingly contrived way, but I can't help thinking it would have gone down a lot easier had the whole episode not felt so bric-a-brac in its construction. I’m not sure having one of the kindergarteners call attention to its overall ridiculousness (“What?”) was enough, funny as it was.
Anyway, I know there will be dissenters—loud ones, even—who found this episode wall-to-wall hilarious, think I need to “chillax” or fuck myself or chill-fuck myself or whatever, and so on and so forth. Like I said up top, this episode is bound to be divisive. But while I think I’m not squarely in either the “character and story come first” or the “LOL random” camps when it comes to what I expect from South Park, what I do know is that it’s capable of balancing both of those better than it did here. That's all.
- It also used to be capable of better Canada jokes than recycled digs at Bryan Adams and the country’s odd fascination with Kraft Dinner, or having Rush play an Elton John parody called “Flower Breaking Wind.” (Although I did like the inclusion of Corey Hart.) Surely we haven't run out of things to mock about Canada?
- Hey, Terrance and Phillip are still married to the Queef Sisters. Those crazy kids are making it work.
- “So pure of heart, so strong in body, so hot in the face.”
- “Why don’t you just get rid of Tooth Decay?” “Getting rid of Tooth Decay is what I’m trying to fucking do!”
- “You call rolling your fat ass out on the stage and lazily blurting out your lines like a turtle taking a shit ‘trying’?”
- I’m guessing that if this episode has any sort of lasting legacy, it will most likely be the ‘Eskimo blowjob’ joke, namely: “Eskimos are good for nothing. I paid one to give me a blowjob once. All she did was rub her nose against my penis for 45 seconds and ask me to pay her.” Coming soon to a sports bar near you!
- Better that than “snow monkeys” or “ice beaners” catching on, anyway.