South Park is a show that’s set the bar high for satire with some of its best episodes. Sure, there have been plenty of lows, but there’s always plenty of grist out there for the show to take shots at. Problem is, there’s so much out there that sometimes its easy to lose focus on what the target is, and there’s a temptation to cram way too much into just one 22-minute episode. “Taming Strange” suffers from this issue: having too much to mock.
Ike is hitting puberty at a bizarrely early age, and Kyle is worried about reconnecting with his younger brother in the midst of Ike's angst, the sort of episode that’s in South Park’s wheelhouse: plenty of chances for raunchy jokes but with some heart at its center. Kyle’s character has always been genuine, as has his love for Ike. It’s a great dynamic, and the strange nature of this episode’s premise seems like it has a lot of great material to mine.
Problem is, the episode doesn’t know where it wants its focus to be. There’s a lot of promise in the Ike-Kyle plot, but that’s squandered when it decides to veer off-course with the Fufa/Miley subplot. The thread involving the school’s new tech hub, Intellilink, felt more like a “look how current we are” gag at the new health care website’s expense, but at least it weaves in to the main plot eventually and has a point. Besides being shoehorned into the episode, the Fufa/Miley Cyrus plotline doesn't even have a point or joke for a pay-off. Well, other than the robot chiding Fufa that you don't have to flash your bits for fame but even that point is watered down and vague.
There are some solid jokes in the episode, including everything to do with Ike and his new-found pubescent bro-ness, so it’s not like the episode is a lost cause. And even if it’s a mess, at least it’s an entertaining mess, and that counts for something. You don’t have to layer on scathing satire in every episode to be a funny show. But trying to do too much can get in the way of a good joke, and that’s what happens here. The Ike-Kyle dynamic is undercut by the unnecessary stuff.
It almost feels like someone doesn’t trust the material to stand on its own or that there’s some need to throw in a current event for reference. Tossing out the Miley-like plot would have made the episode infinitely better. Hell, I’m sure the writers could have come up with something great using this premise without the health care website stuff. Not to mention that the chance to properly satirize Miley Cyrus in a story of its own—or, rather, the corporate goons behind her and the ensuing furor from the masses—is wasted here.
That’s also what’s the most disappointing about this episode: Despite some good laughs, it wastes a great premise by trying to do too much. Sometimes, it's okay to just slim it down and let the jokes fly. Sometimes, it's okay to leave the real world out of it; the show has always done just fine staying within its own universe.
- The episode’s title seems to be a reference to Passing Strange, the award-winning musical which I’ve never seen. But Ike just uses the word “strange” as a Canadian euphemism, so who knows? I’m sure someone out there has seen the musical and can clue the rest of us in.
- The Canadian Puberty Guide is okay, but Fuzzy Bunny’s Guide to You-Know-What will always win.
- Using Yo Gabba Gabba seemed like a pretty good comparison to Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, but, again, the thought of having to compare the two in the first place is annoying.
- Puberty Ike as a bro is pretty hilarious, Skoal and all.
- Tom Brady crapping his pants is also gold, as is the implication that he needs testosterone.
- As far as taking down "edgy, sexy" pop culture figures goes, South Park was far better at hacking away at Paris Hilton than Miley.
- This is the second straight episode with no or very brief appearances from Stan, Cartman, and Kenny.