Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

South Park: "T.M.I."

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So far, this season has been pretty heavy on the straight-up satire, with plotlines built around very specific targets (the cult of Apple, The Comedy Awards, the royal wedding). But “T.M.I.” breaks that stride, both keeping things on a smaller scale and widening the scope of the show's mockery. Unlike some of the weirder tangents of late, it’s a more modest story about Cartman and eventually Randy losing their shit, a dream-team combination of two of my favorite standard plotlines. And rather than zeroing in on someone or something in particular, it makes fun of something far more universal—namely the fact that so many people have become so pissed off (and loud) lately, without really being able to articulate why.

And yes, I know, there was some Tea Party rhetoric (and even an actual Tea Partier) mixed into all the unfocused ranting seen tonight, which named everything from our socialist, Kenyan president to the fact that “everyone wants to be Justin Bieber” among the reasons why our country is throwing such a hissy fit. But in keeping with South Park’s usual philosophy, these positions weren’t addressed directly, nor were they exposed for the divisive political shams and jealous harping on God’s personal R&B archangel that they are, because that would be boring. Instead, they were explained away using the show’s usual Occam’s razor logic: Everybody who’s always getting mad about something—from the loftiest political pundit to the lowliest Internet troll—just has a tiny penis. End of story.

As an argument it’s inelegant, immature—and damn funny. It’s also about as close to a “statement” as South Park typically makes about such matters, considering the show’s most consistent political agenda, as far as I can tell, is and always has been simply, “Don’t be an asshole.” That’s a lesson it believes everyone could stand to learn, whether it’s self-satisfied assholes who think they’re saving the world by driving hybrids in “Smug Alert,” pop culture critic assholes offering this exact sort of know-it-all overanalysis in “The Tale Of Scrotie McBoogerballs,” or as seen here, assholes who are so busy being “mad as hell” that they never stop to figure out what it is that would make them happy. Of course, while I’d characterize that overall philosophy as apolitical, and argue that calming the fuck down is definitely a matter of bipartisan interest, I also recognize that having a Tea Partier in the mix will no doubt lead some to get all up in arms about this episode—which is the point. But for those who are able to stop and look beyond their own politics, they'll find an all-inclusive message that's kind of brilliant in its stupidity.

After all, getting angry without ever stopping to think is exactly what gets Cartman in trouble tonight, once he discovers a chart innocently displaying each boy’s height differential, then draws the hyperbolic conclusion that the school has just posted his penis size for all the world to see. “It’s a conspiracy!” he screams, claiming it’s the administration’s insidious ploy to “get the girls all riled up over which boy has the biggest schlong,” thus weakening them. So he comes up with a drastic solution: Rallying his classmates into whipping it out and taking their own measurements, which he will then proudly put on display himself. Does it matter that ultimately his findings are only about 0.2 inches off from the school’s, and therefore all but meaningless, or that in posting them he’s publicly exposed himself as the guy with the smallest dick in school? No, because he controls the information, and it was his idea—and whether it’s revealing the flaws in an elementary school physical or, say, forcing the president to dig out his birth certificate, one should always be proud of the fact that they were the tiny-peckered proponent of truth.

Of course, Cartman is relatively more humble than the likes of Donald Trump, as once Cartman's crusade blows up in his face, he humbly realizes that he’s been done in once again by his own anger management issues (issues that Principal Victoria and his mother are only just now realizing he has, apparently). That Cartman would readily admit his flaws and submit so quickly to counseling seems a bit inconsistent with his character, I suppose, but it’s difficult to complain when it led to this sublime scene that followed: As his new therapist tests his boundaries, taunting him with nicknames like “Shitty Titty Jelly Belly,” Cartman sits coolly texting on his phone, ostensibly oblivious and “even-keeled.” Seconds later, it's revealed that he’s been whipping up fake police reports and sending them to the therapist’s wife to convince her that her husband has been having an online affair with a 14-year-old, leading her to call him up and commit suicide as he listens, helplessly. The whole beautiful scheme plays out like a miniature, condensed “Scott Tenorman Must Die,” includes his preferred alias "Mitch Connor," and culminates in Cartman ominously delivering his ancient catchphrase, “I’m not fat, I’m big-boned”—a classic Cartman moment in more ways than one.

There was plenty of “classic Randy” going on as well, as he put all of his geology skills to work teaching the children how to find their proper “adjusted penis size,” or “T.M.I.” After his complex formula is rejected by Obama-appointed chick Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin—who has her own socialist ideas about the placement of the girth variable, it seems—Randy retaliates with a violent beatdown, ending up in Cartman’s anger therapy sessions alongside South Park’s other most id-driven character. Having already suffered the loss of his TV, his pants, and his job thanks to Obama back in “About Last Night…,” you can probably understand why Randy would finally decide he’s had enough of the government pushing him around, spurring him to start a riot that begins with him symbolically setting his own chair on fire and rages until the nation’s FedEx stores, American Apparels, and other seats of federal power are under siege.


Once he has the media’s attention, Randy and Cartman then air their grievances and make their demands, which range from something about “fascist media control” to “fuck Kyle, yeah!” But thanks to the keen observation of their therapist, the government realizes that only one thing could ever placate them and their equally frothing followers: Revising the national standards to assure them they all have big penises—as big as their black president's, probably—which ushers in the sing-song realization that America is finally “back.” (Except for Cartman, who still has a small weiner.)

That small penis size—or more pointedly, insecurity—is often behind anger or conflict is hardly a profound or even original statement; in fact, it’s even one the show has already made before, in episodes like “Chinpokomon” and “Osama Bin Laden Has Farty Pants.” But in this case, it was the right statement, the only logical response to an increasingly illogical discourse, where facts aren’t as important as feelings, differing opinions are tantamount to personal attacks, and whoever shouts the loudest and longest wins. In that sense, for all its deliberate silliness, “T.M.I.” was as sharp as any satire the show’s turned out. Even better (from my perspective), it was an episode based entirely in its characters—its most reliably funny characters, in fact, who so rarely have any scenes together—that managed to turn the minute, ridiculous happenings in a small Colorado town into a microcosm of what’s going on in the country. And that’s the South Park I like best.


Stray observations:

  • The episode did have one moment of specific, ripped-from-the-headlines commentary: An opening scene where Butters confuses the Arnold Schwarzenegger scandal for a scene from Terminator 5 and Maria Shriver for Skeletor. Considering the news leaked just yesterday, pretty impressive turnaround there.
  • Speaking of Butters, how great was he in this episode? From coaxing his “scared turtle” penis out with a “Where you goin’, little feller?” to measuring it later with a protractor and having a bedroom freak-out over its being “micro,” he was employed perfectly here.
  • We also got two other returning favorites—the City Wok guy and the angriest Goth Kid—plus one I wouldn’t mind seeing again in small doses: mouth-breathing wanksta hick Wayne D.
  • While we’re on the subject of wankstas: Reminiscent of his long-ago discovery of the word “hella,” Cartman here is suddenly, inexplicably obsessed with the phrase, “Put me on blast.” I'm guessing there's a funny inside joke that goes with that.
  • “No, dude, fuck you, we’re burning this shit !”—the national mood, eloquently expressed.
  • “And we want our moms to stop tripping because bitches be tripping all the time!”
  • “Is the team standing by to fuck that little boy Kyle?”
  • Hey, just a reminder: “When someone is consistently angry or always finding new reasons to get angry, it means they have a really, really small dick.”