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I think trading off on covering South Park with Josh has maybe forced both of us into contrarian positions we don't actually subscribe to–in my case, anyway. During the first half of this season, I apparently put myself in the Taking It Too Seriously camp by declaring that I liked South Park best when it dealt with topical issues. This may be true, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate funny for funny's sake. And for the record, last week's rape-ity outing (other than a few choice moments) wasn't that funny, and a lot of that had to do with the show trying to skew topical, even though its targets already seemed like ancient history. So now that we've got a fresh start, I'm trying to lighten up, Francis. Social commentary is nice when we can get it, but I'll gladly take a solid 22 minutes of Cartman being an asshole. Let's reach across the aisle here.
Anyway, this week's episode was pretty self-contained and blessedly free of blatant button-pushing (unless you count characterizing breast cancer as "killer titties"). South Park has done schoolyard fights before–Jimmy and Timmy; Cartman and the motivational dwarf–but I felt like this one really captured that bloodthirsty excitement particular to after-school beatdowns. I remember that feeling well: At my junior high, hearing "meet me behind Kinney's" (the nearby shoe store) was tantamount to receiving a Black Spot; whoever said it to you seriously meant to fuck you up, and in front of everyone you knew. Somehow I never got invited to dance–even though I was born with a knack for letting my mouth write checks my ass couldn't cash–but I saw many an awkward brawl back there among those discarded irregular penny loafers, and every single one had repercussions that dogged the parties involved until they graduated, moved, or died. Like the time this meek, mathlete type named Gokul bit my friend Brent in the armpit so hard that he needed stitches, and was thus called "Armpit" every day until he finally transferred to another district. (For what it's worth, now Gokul is a married father of two working in aerospace, and Brent is in jail for dealing meth. Guess living well is the best revenge.)
That's exactly the kind of fate Cartman is trying to avoid after Wendy, fed up with Cartman constantly making offensive jokes about serious issues like breast cancer, finally challenges him to throw down. (Clearly their brief flirtation during "Chef Goes Nanners" is now a distant memory.) At first Cartman is all cocky posturing and "thug life" arm gestures (what the fuck do you call those anyway?), but slowly it begins to dawn on him that he's in serious danger of losing face in front of everyone. Or, as Butters puts it in a line that seemed slightly out of character, if she wins, "Everybody will think you're a faggot." Of course, this is Cartman, so rather than owning up to his transgressions and sidestepping the fight with a genuine apology like Wendy wants, he tries to weasel out of it–first by choking down his own underwear in atonement (pretty funny), then by trying to force Stan to intervene (during which he barfs up his underwear, which is again pretty funny), and then getting himself thrown into detention by shitting on Garrison's desk (very funny if you're mentally 12… which I am).
Unfortunately for him, the fight gets rescheduled, so Cartman throws his usual Hail Mary: Putting on a nice sweater, combing his hair, and crying to his ever-indulgent, crack-addled mommy. When Wendy's parents get involved, she's forced to back down, but after a pep talk from Principal Victoria–who reveals that she's a breast cancer survivor–drawing a nice parallel between tumors and a certain other "fat little lump" that must be beaten, Wendy and Cartman finally engage in a playground battle royale. Wendy emerges victorious, Cartman is bloodied and bruised, yet pretty much nothing has changed. As Clyde (I think?) says, everyone's opinion of Cartman couldn't possibly get any lower, so it didn't matter if he won or lost. Nevertheless, Cartman thinks that just by telling him that they're trying to make him feel better, and so he goes skipping off, ego intact. (Then my DVR cut out.)
All in all, not the most ambitious episode, but that actually worked in its favor: Outside of Wendy's crib from There Will Be Blood at the end, it could have been broadcast 10 years ago and worked, and I also have a feeling it will still be funny 10 years from now since it wasn't crammed with instantly dated references. Unless they cure cancer, I guess. But let's pray that never happens, right?
Besides, I'm a sucker for a good Three O'Clock High homage. I need to buy that movie.
Grade: B+
Stray observations:
- Nice to see the goth kids again–especially that throwaway "Did she just call us emos?" line–although I have to say their role felt a little tacked on considering Stan never actually did anything despite their ragging on him. (Though I enjoyed the wanton displays of condescending hipster d-baggery in the hall when they're sniping to "jock-y" Stan that "AC/DC never sang about letting guys beat up their girlfriends.") I'm actually sort of surprised that South Park has never tackled the whole "emo" thing, come to think of it.
- "What's up? Crapped on your desk, dawg. 'Sup with that?"
- Once again Butters walks away with the best line of the episode: "Fuck him up, Wendy!"
- Cartman can wring more laughs out of an extra vowel than any other character on TV.
- What did the breast cancer say to the Polish monkey?


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