Maybe this is a stretch, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of The Sopranos when watching tonight’s installment of South Park. Specifically, I was thinking about “Christopher”, the universally agreed upon (and maybe only) “bad”episode of the landmark HBO series.
Like “Christopher,” “Credigree Weed St. Patrick’s Day Special,” centers on a white character (Randy Marsh) who’s enraged that one of the only cultural holidays he feels permitted to celebrate is being taken away from him. But where Silvio Dante had an authentic (if ultimately problematic and limiting) connection to Columbus Day, Randy’s proclaimed passion for St. Patrick’s Day is business-driven and cynical.
It’s completely in line with how Randy has treated his entire Tegridy Farms enterprise. Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen him adopt the faux persona of a folksy farmer with his inconsistent southern accent and weed stem perpetually hanging from his lip like a piece of straw—a shift that’s about selling product and little else. But the identity-hopping goes back even further than that. With just about every new venture of Randy’s, he leans hard into a disingenuous archetype for the purpose of personal gain (withering alcoholic, California pioneer, the list goes on). It only make sense that, to hawk Tegridy’s St. Patrick’s Day weed strain (or “special”), he’d dance a jig, dress up like a leprechaun, and take on a shaky Irish brogue.
Of course, it pisses Randy off to no end when his new business rival Steve Black does the exact same thing across the street at Credigree Farms with more successful financial results. From the get-go, “Credigree” is an extension of when we last saw the two feuding weed farmers, with Randy accusing Steve of cultural appropriation. Granted, Steve is monetizing a culture that isn’t his own. But considering how Randy’s been guilty of cultural appropriation pretty much since we’ve known him—not to mention how he flat-out tried to use and commodify Steve’s blackness in “The Big Fix”—it feels justified in this specific case. Steve’s now just beating Randy at his own game.
There’s also the fact that, as a holiday, St. Patrick’s Day in the United States has largely become an excuse for drunken revelry at best and drunken buffoonery at worst. I’m not saying there isn’t anyone who feels a genuine cultural or spiritual connection to its Gaelic and Christian origins. But in a mainstream sense, the traditions feel limited to wearing green, dyeing rivers green, drinking beer that’s green, and so on. Neither Randy nor Steve’s phony Irishness feels like a particularly offensive transgression or even an out-of-the-ordinary bastardization.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone further explore how far St. Patrick’s Day has strayed in a secondary storyline with Butters. Not only is he enthusiastic about the more widely known rituals such as wearing green and pinching anyone who doesn’t—it turns out that, like a Celtic Linus Van Pelt, he’s also well educated in the holiday’s actual history. Did you know that the real St. Patrick wasn’t even Irish at all, but a Romano-British missionary? Or that the three-leafed clover has imagistic ties to the Holy Trinity? I didn’t until tonight.
But in a town like South Park, such purity never lasts long, especially when it comes to Butters. Shortly after arriving at school, he pinches a girl who’s seemingly not wearing green (it’s actually on her socks) and gets arrested for sexual assault. While in jail, he tries to extoll the virtues of the real-life St. Patrick to everyone who’s been thrown in the drunk tank with little success.
Butters eventually finds a worthy listener in Randy, who’s also landed in jail for starting a fistfight with Steve. In order to help them escape, Randy draws inspiration from Butters’ tales of St. Patrick’s fortitude to give himself newfound powers (or maybe his abilities come from the weed that Stan and the other boys managed to smuggle into the police station). In a visual cue that looks borrowed from a Lucky Charms commercial, he breaks himself and Butters free by shooting rainbows and gold coins from his hands.
Because Randy and Butters represent the two sides of St. Patrick’s Day (or any holiday, really)—the sincere and the commercialized—it feels like Parker and Stone are teeing us up for a final moral lesson during the episode’s climax at an Irish pub called Farty O’Cool’s. It’s here that, thanks to Towelie, Steve has bought Randy’s entire stash of St. Patrick’s Day Special at half-price and is now selling it to the whole town as his own. Is Randy going to explain what the holiday is really about? Is Butters? Or maybe it’s Steve, who, after revealed to be using Randy’s product, seems ready to wax philosophical on the pitfalls and complexities of cultural appropriation.
But all of these potential conclusions get undercut by a moment of true deus ex machina. As the mob of Farty O’Cool’s patrons chase down Butters due to his newfound reputation as a sex criminal, the very 2D spirit of St. Patrick descends from the heavens to the boy’s rescue. However, he quickly shows his true colors by groping everyone in sight and explaining that, yes, St. Patrick’s Day was indeed founded as an excuse for his own drunken bacchanalia. The whole town is suddenly turned off by the very idea of the holiday, with Butters left to clean up their mess as part of his community-service sentencing.
“Once again, I should’ve never listened to what they told me in church,” he says.
I know that some South Park fans have grown weary of this tendency—how Parker and Stone can sometimes sabotage everything in the final act and forgo any meaning that could have been gleaned from the story. And yet it’s successful here because, to put it crassly, the jokes just work. It will always be funny to see the wholesome Butters thrown into unbearably gritty situations like getting arrested for sexual assault. It will always be funny to see Randy deal with his latest perceived injustice. It will always be funny to see another debauched villain portrayed as a lo-fi cardboard cutout a la Saddam Hussein and Mel Gibson.
Sure, there’s a chance that Parker and Stone are hinting at something greater with Butters’ final line. It would definitely be in character for them to point out that traditions so strongly rooted in religion tend to result in diminishing returns. Or maybe they’re just having fun taking the piss out of a holiday that’s become pretty stupid (if occasionally fun). I’m veering toward the latter.
- There were a ton of old-school, just-because bits tonight. A couple that come to mind are the cop exclaiming “oo-de-lally” (one of Butters’ favorite phrases) and the way every perp who gets brought into the police station says “coppa” like they’re in a James Cagney movie.
- Farty O’Cool’s is the perfect name for an Irish pub in South Park. I also loved how there was always a dinky version of Dropkick Murphys’ “Shipping Up To Boston” playing in the background.
- “I didn’t know Kelly Ann was a miner. She didn’t have a helmet or a pick-axe or anything.”
- “We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day for four simple reasons: I. Love. To. Fuck.”