Since the final cut of a South Park episode often gets submitted mere hours before it airs, the show can be topical in a way others can’t. Even the most casual fan knows this. Sometimes the quick turnaround yields brilliant results (like the Emmy-winning “Best Friends Forever,” which skewered the Terri Schiavo case only half a day before her death), and at other times, it causes the plot to wander (see: the weaker points of the current season). The success rate usually depends on how passionate Trey Parker and Matt Stone are about what they’re lampooning, and if they actually have anything to say about it.

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Then there are those times where the duo throws commentary out the window in favor of going completely batshit with their story threads. These are often the best episodes, since the lack of pressure to say something makes way for unbridled—usually filthy—fun. Sometimes you have to take a stance on stem cell research. But sometimes you get to have Randy Marsh’s magically severed penis fly around the room.

To be fair, two of “Cock Magic”’s three storytelling pillars—cockfighting, Magic: The Gathering, and, um, penis magic shows—actually do pop up quite a bit in the news. But the stories have been the same for years. Most people agree that forcing roosters to fight each other to the death is wrong, and folks have been arrested for it as recently as last week. Players of Magic tend to get obsessive about the game, resulting in a strict limit on the number of tournament contestants as recently as yesterday.

Thanks to the somewhat stagnant, if frequent, headlines surrounding each topic, we don’t need South Park to comment on either one. That’s not to say Parker and Stone don’t drop a couple of red herrings early on. When we first see Kenny playing Magic, it’s against a stereotypical nerd who screams an elongated, multisyllabic “No-o-o!” to the heavens when he loses. However, just when you think we’re going to get a whole episode of geek satire a la “Make Love, Not Warcraft,” the story switches gears after a creepy school janitor suggests the boys get into some more “hardcore shit.”

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Suddenly, we’re in the basement of City Wok (looks like owner Tuong Lu Kim/Dr. William Janus is back in business!) watching bleachers of seedy dudes cheer on two gamecocks playing Magic. The joke, of course, is that the spectators are invested in the non-violent game with the same passion, bloodthirstiness, and illegal betting that would take place in a normal cockfight. Despite the competition not involving any physical harm to the roosters, the issue of animal rights comes up for a hot second in the front half of the episode when the boys pick out a bird of their own to throw in the ring. But when no one takes a firm stance on the issue, it’s quickly tossed aside, just like the nerdy guy we met earlier.

You also can’t help but wonder if Parker and Stone rushed past their usual targets just to see how much mileage they could get out of Randy Marsh performing magic tricks with his penis. It starts when he confuses the name of the boys’ new sport with his old college talent, thus renewing his interest in penile illusion. The gag never gets old, mostly due to its versatility. His first showcase is in the style of old stripteases, complete with a live jazz drummer who scores him peeking his dick out from behind a miniature sheet. Next, he books a children’s birthday party, where he seemingly saws his member in half, then pulls it out from behind the ear of a horror-stricken preschooler.

This naturally piques the interest of South Park’s worst police officer, Sergeant Harrison Yates, who, unlike Randy, thinks cock magic only refers to the illegal sporting event. The two very different skills converge unexpectedly in the end of the episode, but in a way that, once again, eschews any kind of blunt message in favor of an unhinged climax that involves Kenny competing against a rooster, Randy putting on an epic cock-magic show that David Copperfield would envy, and eventually pulling his free-floating penis from Sergeant Yates’ mouth.

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And, in one final false lead, the show throws in a C storyline of Wendy and the other girls getting pissed that none of the boys are attending their volleyball championship because, hey, they’re too busy playing Cock Magic. There’s a brief moment where we expect her to go off on a rant about the why Cock Magic is wrong or the unfair lack of interest in female athletics. But she, along with the rest of the team, mostly just stays sad about it, even if she does get Stan to come to the game—granted, he’s on the phone the whole time with his friends, who are all at the cockfight. It’s further proof that “Cock Magic” doesn’t have much interest in commenting on women’s sports, Magic: The Gathering, or even the ethical dilemma of cockfighting. Rather, it’s interested in the ripe comic potential of combining all three.

Stray Observations

  • “Guys, I think Kenny’s maybe a little hurt because he was the big Magic champion, and now chickens are stealing his thunder.”
  • “Cock magic isn’t an Asian thing or a Mexican thing. White people do it, too, if they’re poor enough.”
  • “You think they mind being forced to play Magic: The Gathering?” “They’re fucking chickens.”
  • “You boys have a nice cock.”
  • Did anyone else think Randy’s drummer looked like Mick Fleetwood? Maybe it’s just the bald head and the white beard.
  • “I’m not talking about the basement of some seedy Chinese restaurant, I’m talking about the basement of a well-established Chinese franchise.”
  • Speaking of which, South Park has really given a lot of attention to Chinese restaurants, both fictional and non-fictional, over the years. City Wok, P.F. Chang’s, and now, Panda Express.
  • I have to admit, I thought Gadnuk the rooster was going to tear Kenny to bits after losing against him, which would have made it the first time he’s died since Season 16’s “I Should Have Never Gone Ziplining.” Oh well.
  • I also thought Randy’s detached cock was going to start singing like Fievel, just as Mr. Garrison’s did in “Eek, A Penis!”
  • Did someone call Harrison Yates Detective Harris at the end of the show? Was that a mistake?

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