On the back of news that South Park has been renewed until 2016, which to put into perspective means seventy new episodes, we wrap up the series with “The Poor Kid”, an episode that – much like last year’s “Mysterion Rises” storyline – explores Kenny’s life not only as the middle child in a low-income and emotionally unstable household but as a fictional character who is periodically murdered for laughs. He always comes back the next week, so his repeated deaths are treated with levity, but what about the rest of his life? Should we be making fun of that?
That’s the question buried a little beneath the surface of this week’s episode, under the thick layer of Cartman’s ‘Your momma so poor’ jokes and Kenny’s social worker’s jokes about the sexual abuse of minors allegedly happening at Penn State. First things first though.
The show begins with a fight breaking out between Kenny’s dad, mom and older brother while he watches a show called “White Trash in Trouble”, in which poor people drink Pabst Blue Ribbon, fight each other and get arrested for the benefit of the tv cameras. A running joke has police officers demand the recently-arrested say ‘I’m white trash and I’m in trouble’ to the viewers at home.
Kenny and his siblings are taken away to a foster home run by the Weatherheads, who are fundamentalist agnostics, which turns out to be a rich vein of one-liners. They only drink Dr Pepper because ‘is it cola, is it root beer, no-one knows’; while instructing the children on their chores they demand that the dusting be done more ‘ambiguously’ because ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’; before bed Kenny is instructed to repeat the agnostic dogma that ends with ‘maybe the universe is ruled by a giant reptilian bird or something, we have no way of knowing.’
Back in South Park, Cartman learns that since Kenny’s departure he is the poorest kid in school: when Mrs Cartman refuses to get a third job to change that fact he tips off the police that she is operating a meth lab so that he can be taken to a foster home in Hawaii. This episode plays up the differences between Kenny and Cartman – when taken to his new school in Greeley, Kenny dons his Mysterion outfit to comfort and protect his little sister; Cartman rats out his mother who is trying to provide for him. In a show where occasionally the boys play little or no part (like the awesome “Broadway Bro-Down”) it’s great to just sit down and remind ourselves that the boys are more than just vessels for punchlines.
Anyway, after the children are punished for believing with certainty that Mysterion is an angel, the Weatherheads use weaponised Dr Pepper to indoctrinate them back into uncertainty. Mysterion comes to save the day by planting a Pabst Blue Ribbon in their fridge: ‘it’s like beer, but… different’. After a few sips they are being separated by police officers. Upon discovering the abusive household the children have been left with, Kenny’s social worker breaks down with some of the best Penn State jokes of the show.
This is where the big questions lie: is South Park doing its subject matter a disservice by making cheap jokes all the time? What happens when you take the jokes too seriously, as the social worker does, and miss the actual suffering? It’s not often South Park takes a good long look at itself, and much of this episode does feel a little flat on first glance, but these are worthwhile considerations, given that we have five more glorious years of this to come.
So order is restored, Kenny and Cartman return to South Park and Cartman continues his song and dance number about not being the poorest. Then a giant reptilian bird which may or may not rule the universe crashes through the ceiling and eats Kenny. See you next time, South Park. Don’t go changing.
So how was this season for you? What were your favourite episodes? Let us know in the comments.