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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

South Park: “Broadway Bro Down”

Illustration for article titled iSouth Park/i: “Broadway Bro Down”
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I’d like to make a humble proposal: that every episode of South Park henceforth be centered around Broadway musicals. If possible, the show should continue to use the talents of Robert Lopez, co-creator of The Book Of Mormon, who helped pen the music for tonight’s installment. Sure, the show has long featured the musical stylings of its co-creators, but rarely has that skill been deployed as effectively as tonight’s masterful half-hour. Trying to place any episode of the show in overall context in relation to one another is pretty much impossible: Find 100 fans of the show, ask them to list the Ten Best Episodes ever, and watch 100 different lists emerge. Also, watch “yelling” and most likely “punching” emerge as well.

So placing “Broadway Bro Down” in the context of the show’s all-time pantheon, good or bad, is something I’ll leave to you all below. But in terms of hitting high notes (both literal and metaphorical), this was one of the season’s strongest outings, bar none. You could definitely make the case that “You’re Getting Old” might have trumped tonight in terms of quality. But as the show slowly moves away from any lasting impact from that episode, I’m tempted to put “Broadway” above it for the time being as the 15th season’s signature episode. It managed to be incredibly sweet while being ridiculously filthy. It mocked what it loved while never losing sight of that love in the process. In short, it was pure South Park.

The show has been hit or miss when bringing in real-life personalities and revealing their “true” nature within the reality of the show. But having four of Broadway’s premiere composers be complete “bros” that love to drink beer and hang at Hooters proved to be a brilliant masterstroke. I don’t know why Stephen Sondheim having a “bro off” while wearing a Terry Bradshaw throwback sent me to the floor in hysterics, but I do know that I don’t care to overanalyze it. Maybe there were subliminal hints throughout the episode, just as there are apparently subliminal messages in all musicals that make women “famish for blow jobs,” in the unfortunately immortal words of one Randy Marsh. If so, I can live with that. At the time it was released, Sondheim called Bigger, Longer, And Uncut the greatest musical of the previous 15 years. Tonight, Trey Parker and Matt Stone repaid his kind words in full. Also, they did so in the parking lot of a Hooters, which as we all know is the most likely place to see Sondheim in his natural habitat.

One could, and many undoubtedly will, tease out the gendered stereotypes on display on tonight’s episode. Those stereotypes go well beyond Elton John and into the very idea that Broadway itself is a “feminine” entertainment. Having done my fair amount of theatre in high school and college (stage crew, represent), I’m all too familiar with these stereotypes. But having a subliminal message coded into the Broadway shows themselves turned things on their head in a way that was outlandish but not offensive. At least, not until Randy decided to make the subtext into actual text and unleash a secret world on an unknowing female theatre-loving public. What was once a subtle way to give both parties some pleasure from a night of theatre soon turned into a blatant, sordid attempt to get head 24/7.

Tempering this onslaught of adult oral pleasure was the ridiculously sweet, and ultimately tragic, tale of Larry Feegan and Shelly Marsh. What started out as a series of potshots at vegans turned into a fuzzy counterpoint to the main plot. Forced to spend the weekend with the Feegans, thanks to Randy and Sharon’s New York sexcapades, Shelly questions Larry’s parents about the choices they have made on his behalf. And while the big production numbers in The Big Apple were spectacular, Larry’s quiet song about coming out of his shell was unexpectedly moving. Having the musical aspects of the show morph from the big stage to a small porch was a fantastic move, and one that set the stage for the hysterical yet horrifying ending.

With Randy’s musical (The Woman In White, renamed by Andrew Lloyd Webber from Splooge-Drenched Blowjob Queen) about to open, he’s shocked to learn that his daughter has gone on a date to see Wicked with Larry. Terrified of revealing the secret about Broadway but even more afraid to have Shelly turn into the “daughter in white,” he springs into action to destroy Broadway the only way he knows how: by dressing up as Spider-Man. Now, Turn Off The Dark jokes are fairly old at this point (especially given the freshness of all the Tim Tebow material tonight). But it was still fantastic to watch Randy wreak havoc from the rafters, eventually forcing the musical to pause before the subliminal seeds were set in Shelly’s brain. And since Larry actually fucking died due to Randy’s interference (and through Shelly’s empowerment), well, let’s just say that Shelly will be playing “Settlers of Catan” in one-player mode in the near future.

In the end, the subterfuge of musical theatre turns into another example of the various compromises that makes relationships work. Sharon is horrified to learn that most of her blow jobs were delivered under the powerful sway of musical subtext. But she’s also not exactly pissed, because she herself got as much, if not more, pleasure from the actual performance as Randy did afterwards. When I have tried to tease out other types of subtext in the back half of this 15th season, many have resisted the idea that any such thing actually exists in the show. But “Broadway Bro-Down” is, among many things, about the way in which powerful ideas are buried in popular entertainment. To paraphrase one of the many musicals currently on Broadway right now, it may take a spoonful of sugar to help Sharon Marsh go down. But a spoonful of sugar also helps some of the more powerful messages in the works of Trey Parker and Matt Stone go down, as well. Often those messages go down so subtly that they only take effect after a great deal of time, and in many small doses. Like, say, over 15 seasons of television. And if you disagree, well, I’ll be happy to meet you in the parking lot of the local Hooters to bro this out.

Stray observations:

  • I alluded to it above, but man, all the Tebow jokes killed me, especially considering that his game against Miami happened 72 hours ago. It was a nice reminder of the show’s rapid turnaround time and how effectively it can be deployed in certain instances. Also, I can see a Tebow-centric episode in the show's future, easily.
  • Randy Marsh should not update the Wicked Wikipedia page anytime soon. He thinks it’s about a green girl and a goat.
  • All of the songs were clever tonight. But the showstopping number in The Woman In White was breathtaking for its sheer audacity, audacity that even Sondheim himself had to quote.
  • Given the controversy over Nipplegate a few years ago, I doubt the Super Bowl will ever consider tonight’s “Hummer at Halftime” concept.
  • What would tonight’s episode be without an explicit push for The Book Of Mormon, followed immediately by one last subliminal guarantee of oral sex?
  • “Have you seen South Pacific? It’s a jawbreaker.”
  • “Could I trouble you for a quick Lewinsky?”
  • “Now get on your knees and put that heart to woooooork!”
  • “What makes you the authority, bro?” “West Side Story, bro! Sweeney Todd, bro!”

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