In many ways, “Help, My Teenager Hates Me!” feels like vintage South Park. It has a self-contained storyline, is anchored by a new rivalry with a group of older kids, and—despite heavily featuring (pretend) gunplay—isn’t especially concerned with sociopolitical commentary or current news headlines. But as refreshing as all of that might sound on paper, the episode is saddled with a central joke that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are never able to escalate.
When the boys all get into shooting Airsoft, the local arena forces them to team up with a gang of teenagers due to age restrictions. After the mock battle, the older kids begin latching onto the younger ones under the pretense of teaching them more about the game. But as Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny soon discover, the teens are more into treating them like surrogate parents, lounging around, demanding food, using a vocabulary that mostly consists of the word “Bruh,” and just being generally unpleasant.
The problem is, the nonstop apathy and frustration of the teenagers becomes boring to watch. While Parker and Stone are undoubtedly commenting on the real-life challenges that can come with raising an adolescent—the selfishness, the lethargy, the irritability—the flatlined demeanor feels out of place on a show like South Park.
It’s a shame, as repetition has long been one of the show’s sharpest comedic tools. But it usually works when there are slight variations in tone or at least an increase in volume. For instance, the one-word gibberish of the “City People” from a few weeks ago largely worked because Parker and Stone kept piling on more characters—to the point where, by the episode’s end, there was practically a barnyard of bird-like yuppies overtaking the town. There was a keen sense of escalation.
But in “Help, My Teenager Hates Me!”, the point seems to be a complete lack of escalation when it comes to the teenagers. And while that may be true to life for some parents, it doesn’t exactly result in a lot of laughs. Instead, we watch the boys become numb to the teenagers’ presence, and we become numb in return.
A brief and belated comic shift occurs in the third act when, in an effort to get rid of the teenagers once and for all, the boys’ dads (and Uncle Jimbo as a stand-in for Cartman’s father) join them in the Airsoft arena. Scored to some modern industrial rock from Gary Numan with jerky camera movements reminiscent of gritty war films like Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, and The Hurt Locker, the battle sequence radiates the kind of faux seriousness and intensity that South Park does so well. After all, there’s absolutely nothing lethal about those tiny plastic pellets.
And yet, the climactic fight also feels like too little too late. Even when Cartman bursts in on his teenager masturbating in the bathroom and riddles him with pellets, it’s not as cathartic as it would have been had the teen been a more formidable foe, or even a more developed one.
We then get one final twist while the boys and their parental figures are walking home, elated over their victory against the teens. As the sun sets against the mountains in the background, the kids earnestly talk about how fun the day was, with zero signs of cruelty or cynicism. The joyous, picturesque scene is a stark contrast to the shithead attitude of their enemies.
But the adults know that it’s only a matter of time before their sons age out of such authentic pleasantness and become teenagers themselves. Randy Marsh aims his Airsoft rifle at the boys, wondering if he should take them out while they have a chance. Gerald Broflovski stops him.
“We still have a few good years before they turn into monsters,” Gerald says in a kind of conclusive statement for the previous 22 minutes.
Yes, teenagers can really suck, especially if you’re their parent. But as an audience, we understand that point pretty early on in the episode, which, in theory, should give “Help, My Teenager Hates Me!” plenty of room for a growth spurt. Unfortunately, it never arrives.
- Serious question for any Airsoft aficionados out there: Were there any in-jokes that I was missing? Is this episode inherently funnier if you have a lot of experience with that kind of gameplay?
- There were a handful of laugh-out-loud moments in the episode—namely the below quotes and the reveal that Cartman is indeed still living inside the giant hot dog. I had forgotten about it until they showed the boys walking home.
- I also got a kick out of the phrase “my teenager” constantly being spoken by fourth-graders.
- Is the book of the episode’s title based on any real text? I’ve seen similarly titled life-hack articles, but was wondering if it was alluding to something more specific.
- “As long as your gun has a red tip and you’re white, the police won’t shoot you.”
- “I wish I had a dad and didn’t live in a hot dog.”