Over the course of its 23 seasons on the air, South Park has gained a reputation for its take-no-prisoners policy when it comes to satire. No topic is off limits, no matter how rough the consequences might be. The most memorable example of this came in 2006, and again in 2010, when South Park came close to depicting the prophet Muhammad on two occasions, only to be overruled by Comedy Central censors each time. Tonight, Trey and Matt were similarly subversive, going after another topic that is rarely mentioned in polite society: the heavy role that Chinese censorship plays in the entertainment industry, particularly the release of feature films. It’s no secret that blockbuster movies like the Avengers films have to be cleared by the Chinese government before reaching that market, and as such, there’s certain places no mainstream film can ever go. “Band In China” tackles this issue with admirable candor, resulting in an episode that ranks right up there with last year’s two-part Amazon takedown as some of the show’s most blunt, honest satire.
As in last week’s episode, Randy is looking to expand Tegridy Farms, and figures a good way to do so would be to enter the Chinese market, because hey, there’s just so many people there. Unfortunately, he fails to do any research on the country’s marijuana policies, and is quickly apprehended at the airport with a giant suitcase of weed, and sent to a Chinese prison. His obliviousness at the entire situation ranks among the episode’s funniest moments, as he is still doing his affected southern twang, and presenting himself as a Simple Country Weed Farmer while being taken away in handcuffs. It’s a bit reminiscent of King Of The Hill’s “Lupe’s Revenge,” where Peggy thinks she’s receiving a medal for returning a child home safely, when actually, she’s being arrested for kidnapping her.
While this is going on, Stan has formed a band with Jimmy, Butters, and Kenny called Crimson Dawn. There have been episodes focusing on the boys starting bands before (which the show eventually alludes to), but it’s such a winning formula that Trey and Matt can’t be blamed too much for going back to the well. This time, Stan’s anger and frustration at his father moving the family away from South Park, as well his total lack of regard for his feelings, inspires him to start a death metal band. The first scene of them performing works quite well, because at this point, no reference had been made to what music the band actually plays, so the sudden aggressive metal riffage out of nowhere is played to great comedic effect. The band wins over the same record producer who made the PC Babies stars, and since there’s no money to be made from records these days (“What are you kids, from the 90s?”), he goes straight into making a biopic. This is where the two plotlines meet, as the movie Stan attempts to write is censored by the Chinese government at all turns, to the point where he basically can’t write anything. After the randomness of “Mexican Joker,” it was refreshing to see an episode waste no time in tying its storylines together.
Imprisoned in China, Randy continues to make the case for the greatness of both weed and Tegridy, but to no avail. Here, we find out that because Randy angered the Chinese government, all the Marvel superheroes who were also trying to do business in China have been apprehended as well. Since all of these characters are now owned by Disney, this gives South Park a chance to bring back one of their most memorable characters ever, the angry, violent Mickey Mouse, who famously beat up the Jonas Brothers in “The Ring.” He’s just as aggressive this time, smacking Thor around, and calling Winnie The Pooh (who yes, actually has been banned in China) a “fat diabetic bear.” Bringing this character back brought needed levity to an episode that is often quite tense. That they actually have him play a significant role in the episode’s resolution is even more rewarding.
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With few options left, Randy and Mickey team up to get what they want from the Chinese. How? By killing their arch enemies, you guessed it, Winnie The Pooh and Piglet. They set a trap of honey for the pair, and when Pooh is finally content, Randy garrotes him. [UPDATE: A previous version of this recap inaccurately described the manner of Pooh’s death. The A.V. Club regrets the error.] With Winnie and Piglet neutralized, Randy gets what he wants, and marijuana is now not only legal in China, but supplied entirely by Tegridy Farms.
Unlike his father, Stan refuses to give into the demands of the Chinese government, and his biopic is shelved. That said, he is initially tempted to sell out in one of the episode’s funniest scenes. Reasoning that his movie will only be released in China if his band is lame and vanilla, he briefly brings back the immortal Fingerbang for a reunion, before pulling the plug at the last second. Perhaps I’m being a bit of a sucker for fan service, but the callback to a 19-year old episode in a perfectly apropos fashion worked incredibly well for me. With Randy giving into Chinese pressure, while Stan holds firm, the conflict between father and son has grown, and could prove to be the primary storyline of this season. When Stan says he’s going to write another death metal song about how much he’s come to resent his father, we know that we’re just beginning to scratch the surface here.
After a funny-but-uneven premiere, “Band In China” is a much more sure-footed episode, and one that shows Trey and Matt remain unafraid to go after a big target. It’ll be interesting to see if this episode will become as controversial as the “Cartoon Wars” saga, or if it’ll slip through the cracks. At any rate, this was a strong episode that should have anyone put off by “Mexican Joker” feeling a lot better about season 23's potential.
- “Oh yeah, I did kill Winnie The Pooh.”
- “You’re gonna have to lower your ideals of freedom if you want to suck on the warm teat of China.”
- This episode seems to take place at the same time as “Mexican Joker.” Towards the end, Cartman and Kyle get off the train having escaped the detention camp. I’m still not quite sure how they got out. Didn’t the guard leave before letting them out when he thought he was in the wrong flashback?
- The Tegridy Farms-themed opening from last week is back, so I’m guessing they’ll be using it throughout the season.