In case you somehow got it into your head that there was even a tiny chance South Park would change at all in its eighteenth (!) season, opening the premiere with those immortal words dissuaded those notions pretty quickly. The boys’ motivation at the beginning of the first South Park of the new season is finding the filthiest, most disgusting name imaginable for a startup so they can drop out of school and make money doing nothing, so of course they stumble upon “The Washington Redskins,” capitalizing on the fact that Washington’s football team recently lost its trademark. (An aside: The name is offensive, and I’m going to try my best not to use it in this review.) So far, so good.
The way this plot kicks off allows “Go Fund Yourself” to hit two targets, relatively equally: the Washington football team, and Bay Area startup culture. The former provides most of the funnier material in the episode—treating generally detestable authority as broadly, pathetically worthy of our sympathy is a trick South Park has pulled for years, tracking literally all the way to the Devil himself, and it works wonders here, because is there anyone in the world who likes Dan Snyder? His fussy attempts at getting Cartman to give up the name for moral reasons are solid, and allows for a quick shot at noted liar Roger Goodell for being a robot controlled by the NFL. But, by the time he’s done being put through the wringer and physically destroyed as the only person affiliated with the team still willing to play football, it’s hard not to feel a little bit for this heavily caricatured asshole.
“Go Fund Yourself” gets some other, slightly subtler jabs at football in, especially Cartman being excited about the company’s name because it’s “aggressive” and “manly,” which does a surprisingly effective job of suggesting the sort of poisonous masculinity that underlies the NFL. Somehow, that gets repeatedly and perfectly confused with the Catholic Church in the best joke of the episode—both institutions make similar claims to be for a “higher purpose” (love of the game, God) and then have to deal with the rampant moral corruption produced by inherent, systemic rot. This also leads to the funniest single moment of the episode (at least for me), Butters’ gasped “Oh no!” The weak part of this half of the story, though, is the raid Snyder leads on Kickstarter to shut down Cartman’s source of income, which produces the most cringeworthy part of the episode. This stuff is really on the nose, and it’s not even that funny. (Is the joke here just that there are stereotypes associated with Native American culture and football players are acting them out?)
On the other hand, the startup satire is all happening at the basest possible level, so those jokes are all fine at best, and never really go anywhere past a South Park color-by-numbers. Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny, and Butters get into Internet startups because they don’t want to go to school (which feels very appropriate, given when this is airing). Their assumption that all companies need is a cool name without having to do anything else, the cynicism directed at Kickstarter (great, let’s all make fun of the potato salad guy), and the ultimate “bro down” plan all have a whiff of laziness—even more than you’d expect from latter-day South Park. It doesn’t help that “Go Fund Yourself” is airing just a couple of months after Silicon Valley’s first season, which got a lot more mileage out of the same target. At the least, there are the increasingly lewd logos for the company, which are probably peak South Park and still got chuckles out of me both times I watched the episode.
For the past few years, South Park has been settling into a comfortable groove, never slipping into out-and-out terribleness, but generally content to take on some of the more obvious targets and turn out one or two very good episodes per season. (“Broadway Bro Down,” which Comedy Central aired before this, is probably the last great episode.) If “Go Fund Yourself” is any indication, season 18 is likely to continue that pattern. The combination of subjects is clever, but it forces the episode to feel a bit scattered where the best South Park episodes dive deep into their premises and come out on the other side of madness. But if this is what we can look forward to for the next few weeks, well, that’ll be pretty fun, too—there’s really not that much to complain about. Bloody butt cough.
- Welcome to TV Club coverage of this season of South Park! I’ve loved this show for most of my life (it’s the first show I ever tried to review episodically), and I’m very excited to trade off reviews with Josh Modell.
- “I certainly don’t want you to feel that Furry Balls Plopped Menacingly On The Table is holding you back.”
- Sorry to bring ethics into a comedy review, but the NFL is an evil organization. This episode couldn’t have made fun of nicer people (and doesn’t even get into any of the other terrible things the league has done recently).