In its sixteenth year, South Park is a little institution all by itself, a unique show made by an alarmingly small writing team on a shockingly short schedule, and the number of times they’ve come up with standalone twenty-minute units of comedy that are still worth watching years down the line is phenomenal. That said, this season’s first two episodes have been competent rather than classic, a little thin on laughs and light on message.
The first episode was a fairly innocuous take on the TSA as the Toilet Safety Association, making sure Americans were correctly using their latrines after Clyde’s mum was killed in a freak toilet seat accident. It sounds funnier on paper, and in practice was kind of toothless, relying on a well-used image of a surveillance operator as a bit of a pervert rather than a proto-dictator. One great Butters joke about sitting on the toilet backwards to use the cistern as a little shelf for your comic books, then lots of Randy being outraged.
This week, the target is the J&G Shopping Network and its practice of shilling crappy jewellery to lonely senior citizens. Stan’s grandfather has spent $6000 on a bolo tie for Stan, who takes it to a Cash for Gold shop where he is told he can get $15 for it. Or Taco Bell offer him – after haggling – a seven-layer taco. Naturally, when the boys uncover the scheme to ship bootleg jewellery from sweat shops in India to be sold for thousands on television, their plans diverge: Cartman sets up his own shopping channel, the others go to India to confront the children working for pennies on the production lines.
The main conceit of the show plays out in a two-minute sequence that you can watch on Splitsider, under the title “The Jewellery Polka”. To the haunting rhythms of Parker and Stone doing funny voices, the fake ornaments are shipped to the States, bought by credulous grandparents, given to their children, sold to Cash for Gold shops, melted down, shipped to India to make more fake ornaments. Despite the slight unbalance it gives the show to spend such a long time on one dialogue-free montage, these guys are experts in making comedy out of music.
Cartman, of course, also ends up in India – because long gone are the days when the boys worried about how they could afford world travel – and there’s a slightly ambiguous double confrontation; Stan wants an apology for taking advantage of his grandfather, Cartman wants an apology for taking so much of his profits. The implication is that everyone is being exploited to some degree, but the fact that child labour is being employed at all takes something of a back seat to Stan’s (absolutely genuine) concern for his grampa.
So, Stan sets an example of phoning in to challenge the show for its moral bankruptcy and demands the host kill himself: “What you do is sort of unjustifiable. And you know it’s unjustifiable. And you don’t care. You’re the definition of evil. So kill yourself”, which encourages seniors to do likewise. The host eventually complies, the credits rolling over an image of fake emeralds covered in blood.
So a little uneven, but it’s great to see a show where the boys take the lead, and one that does tackle the issue of how we treat/dismiss/exploit the elderly, which is rare enough in any mainstream show. I can really only think of Leonard from Community as someone over the age of 70 who isn’t a doddery fool or a semi-divine dispenser of wisdom. On the other hand, with so much in the news about the concerted efforts of so many legislators to infringe on the rights of women and gay people, the shopping channel feels a little small fry. But South Park in an election year? I can hardly wait.
How did you find this season’s opening? Let us know in the comments.