South Park: “The Poor Kid”
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South Park: “The Poor Kid”

Given the seismic nature of the South Park mid-season finale, fans were probably expecting something equally earth-shattering in the season finale itself. Well, it was at least roof-shattering, given the episode’s final moments. But given the news today that South Park has been renewed through 2016, coupled with the show’s back-and-forth relationship with actual continuity this season, what should we take away from Kenny’s first death in this season?

The running joke of Kenny dying ended with Season 5’s appropriately titled “Kenny Dies.” After his return in “Red Sleigh Down,” the show abandoned its gag of reanimating Kenny after each inventively ludicrous death on an episode-by-episode basis. (Update: As a few of you have noted, Kenny indeed has died since. I reworded this to make the point more clear that it's no longer as prevalant as it was in the early seasons.) But here we are, at the end of Season 15, with Kenny tossed around and left in bloody pieces in the school hallway by a giant reptilian bird. (Looks like those agnostics were onto something after all!) Is South Park aiming to spend the next five years just killing him week after week? I’d be curious how fans would feel about a return of that technique, were that the case.

Or, did we just see the straight-up end of Kenny? That’s highly doubtful. Maybe Trey Parker and Matt Stone are just as sad about the demise of The Cape as Abed over on Community, and will have Kenny appear in season 16 only in his Mysterion disguise. Mysterion itself was another callback to the show’s Kenny-centric past, this time an homage to a character first introduced in “The Coon” two seasons ago. If tonight’s episode was a stealth retrospective on Kenny as a character, it will be interesting to see if Mysterion returned by larger design or just as a way to help Kenny calm the nerves of his frightened sister.

The return of Mysterion coincided with Child Protective Services removing Kenny and his siblings from their home after the show “White Trash In Trouble” busted down their doors. The cause? Poor economic conditions and Pabst Blue Ribbon. (It tastes like beer, only different.) PBR is “child abuse in a can,” apparently, and is single-handedly responsible for children being removed from their homes and sent to live with the Weatherheads by social worker/would-be stand up comic Mr. Adams. The latter served up all the Penn State jokes one expected might be in tonight’s episode, and the former served as the single most observant agnostics in the history of history.

With Kenny sent away to Greeley, Cartman finds himself the poorest kid in school. This sends him into a mini-breakdown, unable to stop telling “yo’ mama” jokes even though his own mother is now the target of them. Forget everything that happened with Polly Prissy Pants a few weeks back: Here’s a Cartman that gets the cops to falsely arrest his mother under the assumption he can pick his own place of foster residence. Naturally, he ends up in the same home as the McCormick children, where they drink Dr. Pepper (the official agnostic beverage) and ambiguously dust the floors. Both Mr. Adams and the Weatherheads were one-joke creations, but the Weatherheads featured infinitely more variety in their agnostic viewpoints. While you could see every one of Adams’ punch lines coming a mile away, I’m not sure many saw the Dr. Pepper hose in the Punishment Room on the horizon.

But did any of this represent the back half of this season at its finest? The show seemed to admit at times how recycled some of this material was. The joke-offs between Adams and Cartman were studies in re-skinning old material. (Cartman admonishes Adams at one point, screaming, "Will you stop with the Penn State jokes?! All you're doing is taking something topical and revamping old Catholic jokes!") And the shots at agnostics were funny but par for the course in terms of the show’s satire of religions. Mocking agnostics isn’t really as socially relevant as mocking those averse to vaccinating children. And social relevance wouldn’t matter if the episode were either as character-driven as “1%” or as gut-bustingly funny as “Broadway Bro Down.” If that final moment shocked, it did so due to its lack of context, not as the unexpected-yet-inevitable outcome of either this episode or the season as a whole. (Unless you take the final moments as the show admitting that agnostics are actually into something.)

Then again, such a shock could in and of itself be a “fuck you” to anyone (like those annoying television critics) who try and discern meaning in what’s designed as chaos. But it’s hard not to look at Kenny’s “death” as unfortunate, given his moving heroism as Mysterion. Protecting his sister gave the episode some true pathos, and his solution to saving all of the foster kids from the Weatherheads made logical sense within the world of the show. (He learned it by watching “White Trash In Trouble” as they busted down his doors. Who says TV isn’t educational?) Having that hero taken out in such an absurd manner could either be the show shutting down its recent attempts at emotional continuity, or in fact a way to re-establish its original form of continuity: the weekly death of Kenny McCormick. Guess we’ll find out in season 16.

Stray observations:

  • Mr. Adams’ “soft room” is filled with large, creepy portraits of clowns. Very soothing for those kids, ya know. Just look again at the picture at the top of this article. Or don't, if you prefer not to have nightmares tonight.
  • I’ll be curious how the media reacts to the Penn State material. I know how Parker/Stone would react to those reactions, but I’m curious all the same.
  • I hope the director’s cut of this episode has the full 20-minute version of Cartman’s song extolling the hardships of Jacob Hallory.
  • There were various shots of the Weatherheads’ home, particularly in the basement, in which the light in the home seemed to form an iris in the “camera” of the show. It was particularly effective in the Punishment Room, and served to effectively isolate the children away from their foster parents.
  • I’d love to hear what people viewed as the strongest episode of the season. I would rank “Broadway Bro Down” first, with “You’re Getting Old” a close runner-up.
  • “Joe Paterno doesn’t walk into a police station. Come on, that’s a good one.”
  • “It’s a play on words. We like to have fun here!”
  • “Stop it, children! We do not speak such certainties in this house!”

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