I’m sure I’ve said this before, but here goes: The worthiness of a South Park episode’s target can make or break its jokes. It isn’t absolutely necessary for a great episode, but a big bulls-eye like Kickstarter or Uber (to name two from this season) generally makes for better stories, and better stories make for better jokes. The ridiculousness of freemium mobile games? Not the most fertile territory for satire because, really, who gives a shit if kids want to waste their parents’ money on an inane, addictive iPhone game?
And yes, I get that the episode was trying to draw a line between freemium games, gambling, and alcohol addiction, but that all seemed like a bit of a stretch. I’d rather South Park get to the business of making me laugh rather than teaching me about the ins-and-outs of mobile-gaming’s nefarious moneymaking strategy. Which isn’t to say this episode didn’t make me laugh at all—it definitely had some funny moments. I’m a sucker for any appearance by Canadians and Satan, so it’s nice to get an episode with solid moments from each.
The Canadian Department Of Mobile Gaming as a construct is pretty awesome, and it had me immediately wondering how frequently a freemium South Park game has been pitched to—and shot down by—Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Those guys must be practically assaulted with offers for crappy offshoots all the time—perhaps that’s what made them think it’s a bigger real-world problem than it might seem to me. (And kudos to them for really building The Stick Of Truth rather than just pumping out a shitty video game every year.)
So, to the bright spots in an episode that dragged a lot for me: The whiteboard explanations of mobile gaming’s ridiculousness were great, specifically explanations like “the ‘mium’ is Latin for ‘not really.’” I loved Stan’s heart-to-heart conversation with Satan, who has so brilliantly become the show’s real voice of reason. That the devil himself can drop lines like, “That’s just blatant Skinner Box manipulation!” and “Who’s not filling a fucking hole, right?” prove that there’s still a pretty incredible spark happening in the writers’ room. Oh, and that fake live-action commercial for alcohol? Amazing. “More tuxedos, more cars, more pussy, drink drink drink!”
The not-so-great: being hit over the head with the nuance of the games. Nobody’s being fooled here, any more than they’re being fooled by a Stan’s grandpa’s slot machine. They’re both for suckers, and until we’re ready to make them illegal—which I’m certainly not suggesting—suckers are going to drop money on them. Watching an episode of South Park isn’t going to inspire legislation or make fools come to their senses, as much as we might like it to. And while I loved the Lorde callback and some of the jokes about Randy’s drinking, the desperation to draw parallels between the booze and the game was over the top. Don’t club me with it, South Park—“They don’t care that 10 percent are going to get addicted!”—but instead take some of Satan’s advice and give me a little nuance instead.
- “Just because I make a good living with my music doesn’t mean you can just blow it all on Canadough.”
- “It has to be just barely fun!”
- I didn’t mention Jimmy. I love Jimmy. His line about people with crutches not saying they lost an arm and a leg was genius.
- “Soon Canada will be advanced as Michigan!”
- “I’m having six. It’s called a tasting, and it’s classy!”
- “That’s just nature, right, like rabbits and fish and shit.”
- Of course the Canadian devil is named Beelzeboot.
- Stan returning to the basketball court videogame-style was a nice touch.