Butters and Cartman have always had one of the best relationships on South Park. The two are practically opposites, even more than Cartman and Kyle—Cartman is an unchecked id, a borderline sociopath who revels in every scrap of power he’s given, while Butters is purely naïve and excited about everything good that comes into his life, to a degree of uncomfortable sweetness. So the cycle of Cartman exploiting Butters has long proven worthwhile fruit for episodes of the show (I’m thinking especially of “The Death Of Eric Cartman”), and “The Magic Bush” is no different.
The best parts of this episode are the ones that put Butters and Cartman in direct conflict, particularly when they’re fighting over the Stotch family drone, which Cartman bullies Butters into using to spy on the neighborhood, especially Craig’s mom’s apparently ample bush. “It’s like—it’s like a yeti.” So South Park wades in to two serious issues—civilian use of drones for invading citizens’ privacy and the stolen celebrity nude photos.
Like many latter-day South Park episodes that strive to hit too many topics (like the season premiere), “The Magic Bush” fails to make a significant point about either of the things it’s dealing with. Drones are bad for spying on people? Sure. We shouldn’t put nude pictures of people online, but it’s not that big of a deal either way? Well, the second part of that is a little bit of a problem, but in general this isn’t that interesting of a position. “The Magic Bush” is classic South Park taking the moral high ground where the moral high ground isn’t that moral, and it’s not that interesting, or enjoyable.
The image of South Park cluttered with drones—all apparently part of a Neighborhood Watch—is only sort of funny, at best, and Stone and Parker seem to think it’s relevant on its own, capable of being funny just because there are a ton of drones in the shot. This joke is practically beat into the ground the same way Mr. Stotch’s fear of the drone is, but where that works based on the established ridiculousness of that character (remember “Butters’ Very Own Episode”?) and is turned way up to make fun of Halloween specials and the way people twist themselves to somehow explain the existence of supernatural activity (“He’s not allowed to fly it without my supervision”), the drones obviously serve only to make a boring political point.
On the other hand, the politics might be a little better than the “bush” humor relentlessly piled on to Craig’s mom. This sort of crassness can be effective on South Park, and disliking it is missing the point of the show on some level, but that doesn’t mean this episode is a good handling of the stolen celebrity photos. “The Magic Bush” does give Mrs. Tucker some agency and the ability to voice her disdain for everyone’s fascination with her pubic hair, but that doesn’t really make up for the way Cartman gets to moralistically get everyone to calm down about photos being plastered all over. This isn’t quite the same thing as saying “Jennifer Lawrence deserved what she got for taking nude photos,” but honestly it’s in the same ballpark, and this kind of victim-blaming makes all of the decent enough jokes in this episode harder to take.
This extends especially to a half-hearted attempt at racial humor, or jokes about the media frenzy over Ferguson using a black drone to replace Michael Brown. I get that South Park can mock whatever it wants, but replacing a shot kid with a drone isn’t really a funny way to tackle this subject. Like, riots and the events of Ferguson are funny because drones are involved? I’m not inherently opposed to jokes about sensitive subjects, but South Park works at its best when a righteous indignation fuels the political humor, and “The Magic Bush” just feels lazy.