Photo: Comedy Central

“Hummels & Heroin” preempts South Park’s what-we-learned-today speech by getting its message out of the way early. After a guy playing Chuck E. Cheese at a children’s birthday party overdoses on opioids, one of the police officers remarks that he’s sure the drugs are coming out of prison. “When there’s a drug epidemic, you can usually trace it back to people who have been thrown away by society and forgotten about,” he pointedly (and accurately) says.

Cut to not a prison, but a nursing home depicted in the same fashion as a prison straight out of Midnight Express or an episode of Oz. Elderly people bulk up with rubber weights, solitary confinement gets switched out for a punishing game of solitaire, and a woman named Mrs. McGillicuddy rules the roost by pushing her product into the streets via the nursing home’s visitors. Her preferred method of smuggling? Crappy crochet pillows stuffed with the senior citizens’ pain meds. These then get traded on the outside for Hummel figurines, which function as the highest form of currency in the nursing home. Stan’s grandpa and the other inmates residents detest McGillicuddy’s power and her prized glass display of Hummels, ashamed of being forced to become part of her drug ring.

Outside of the episode’s general concept, South Park doesn’t have anything hyper-specific to say about the opioid crisis. And the message that is there is fairly obvious: As a society, we worsen drug epidemics by keeping people relegated to the awful circumstances that drove them to sell or use the stuff in the first place. That generalization is fine by me. I’m not sure what else Trey Parker and Matt Stone would have to say about the matter outside of the general shittiness of it all, and because “Hummels & Heroin” works in service of story escalation rather than a sharpened moral, it ends up being the first truly gut-busting episode of season 21.

There’s plenty of room to build upon each gag with the exhaustive repetition that South Park does so well. By the end, we’ve gotten the drug-induced demise of a slew of children’s birthday entertainers, including Peppa Pig, Dora The Explorer’s Swiper The Fox, and a Chuck E. Cheese who drowns in the vomit filling up his costume. We’ve gotten prison imagery pushed to ludicrous extremes inside the old folks’ home, culminating in Stan’s grandpa taking down Mrs. McGillicuddy by clubbing her with a bag full of Hummels. We’ve gotten newcomer Marcus Preston, a little boy who vows to bring down the drug dealers after seeing Chuck E. Cheese die at his birthday party. We’ve gotten several brand-new rap songs comparing nursing homes to prisons, including one penned by Killer Mike.

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To add to the musical mayhem, the boys distract McGillicuddy and her gang by performing barbershop quarter versions of “old-people music” such as Cypress Hill’s “Insane In The Brain,” Nirvana’s “Rape Me,” Green Day’s “When I Come Around,” Kelis’ “Milkshake,” and Spin Doctors’ “Two Princes.” I’ve always maintained that South Park is at its best when there are lots of songs, and “Hummels & Heroin” is no exception. The frequent music only adds to the overall sense of anarchy.

While its success probably relies on your tolerance for toilet humor, “Hummels & Heroin”’s most effective joke wafts out of McGillicuddy’s open hospital gown. “She’s ruthless and she has those old-lady farts,” Stan’s Grandpa tells him. “They’re so loose, you don’t even acknowledge they happen.” Every time McGillicuddy tries to intimidate someone, the threat of physical violence is accompanied by an almost gentle gas that sounds like a horse neighing itself to sleep. It’s disgusting, gets overused, and then, in true South Park fashion, starts being funny again after the 20th or so time.

Is it a fart joke? Yes. But South Park is really good at fart jokes. It’s been that way since the show’s very first episode. So much fuss has been made in the marketing about this season being somewhat of a throwback, of embracing the irreverence of earlier years. By not worrying too much about what they’re saying as much as how they’re saying it, Parker and Stone have finally pulled that off.

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Stray observations

  • Does anyone know who the other rappers were? I recognized Killer Mike, but couldn’t place the others.
  • Was Marcus’ obsessive quest for justice a parody of anything specific? It reminded me of an elementary-school version of Inspector Javert from Les Miserables, but that’s probably stretching it.
  • I’m glad to see Butters still hasn’t learned proper urinal etiquette.
  • I was also glad to see the show used the accurate “updated” Chuck E. Cheese rebranding that rolled out a few years ago.
  • “It was found deep in the anus of one Chuck E. Cheese.”
  • “Congratulations on becoming head bitch, Grandpa.”

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