On paper, South Park making fun of yuppies and suburban expansion almost feels passé at this point. What more could there be left to say on either topic after the greatness that was “The City Part Of Town”?
Not a whole lot, it turns out. But as the pseudo-sequel, “City People,” proves, a successful South Park episode isn’t always about what’s being said, but how Trey Parker and Matt Stone are saying it. When an influx of the title characters start flocking to town as a means of escape in the wake of the pandemic, they look about how they have in the past. It’s clear that, as soon as they step out of their Teslas, the show is once again going to skewer how quickly overdevelopment and a certain kind of migration can wreak havoc on a community.
But these latest city people don’t have the condescending calmness of their forebears. Rather, they peck about like urban-dwelling pigeons, blurting out their wants through one-word sentences like “pilates,” “oat milk,” and “metal water bottle.” In classic South Park fashion, their communication becomes more aggressive and panicked as the episode progresses, the repetition reaching a fever pitch that’s undeniable in its humor. Sure, the point is still more or less “Don’t these people suck?,” as driven home by another titular “city”/“shitty” pun from Mr. Kim/Dr. Janus. But the pigeon comparison is so blunt, fun, and stupid that it works like gangbusters.
There’s just as much glee in the way South Park targets a different group this week: real estate agents. After jacked-up rent prices push Liane Cartman to get a job selling houses, we’re introduced to the finer points of the profession—namely taking a business photo that involves a demented grin, crossing your arms, and leaning backward at such a sharp and awkward angle that your bones break. While the ghastly professional photo of a real estate agent is by no means a new phenomenon, South Park finds such a true and specific way to make fun of it that you wonder why another comedy series hasn’t already pushed it to such extremes.
The episode’s primary conflict arises when Cartman, claiming to also want to make easy money for essentially doing nothing, cuts in on the real estate game and starts offering up his friends’ houses to the out-of-towners at increasingly high prices, with Butters in tow as his cameraman. Not only does this anger Liane—who’s doing her best to support their family—but her new coworkers as well, who are driven into a frenzy by the latest competition.
By the time the town council (with Mr. Kim among their ranks) arrives to gun down all of the real estate agents, they find that the work has already been done for them. In an effort to take flashier photos to keep up with Cartman, the agents have all bent their bodies so out of shape that their spines have snapped. This intentional anti-climax foreshadows the city people’s conclusion, too. When Cartman shows them the recently vacated home of Tolkien and the gun-toting town council makes an appearance, you expect there to be a bloodbath. After all, this is South Park.
But instead, the gunshots merely drive away the city people without any injury, and the focus of the episode turns to a more vulnerable moment between Cartman and his mother. As they duck for cover from the bullets, it’s revealed that Cartman’s pivot to real estate wasn’t driven by a desire to make money, but to sabotage Liane’s new career so she could remain at home and continue to take care of him. Selfish, sure. But a different kind of selfish.
Similar to the season premiere, “City People” never quite explodes into the kind of bonkers finale promised by the episode’s front half. And yet the quieter look into Cartman and Liane’s codependent relationship proves to be interesting in its own right. There’s something both fascinating and depressing about seeing Cartman’s mom—the butt of so many jokes over the years—take literal agency and try to make something of herself, only to be thwarted by her son’s parasitic needs.
The final nail in the coffin comes at the tail end of the episode when, still unable to afford rent (turns out Cartman never got a real estate license or joined an agency, and therefore didn’t make any actual money), both characters are forced to live in an abandoned hot dog truck. While it may not be the most narratively cathartic ending for the Cartmans, it feels like the ending they deserve—at least for now.
- As some folks may have noticed in an earlier draft, I originally interpreted the city people as chickens. But several of you pointed out that they’re more like pigeons, which makes much more sense as a joke (hence the updated copy). That being said, I’ve rewatched several times and they still feel more chicken-like than pigeon-like to me. What do the rest of you think?
- Although we didn’t get a direct continuation of last week’s episode, I’m glad the show at least acknowledged it by showing that Tolkien’s family had moved. Here’s hoping that the Randy/Steven feud continues.
- I love that South Park has gotten to the point where there can be an entire episode without Stan or Kyle and it doesn’t feel out of place.
- The real estate commercials—complete with boilerplate drone shots and numbingly calm music—were right on-point.
- It also felt right that Cartman both began and ended the episode with disgusting food-stuff all over his face.