The usual South Park recapping team is out having lives tonight, so I'll be filling in on the premiere episode of season 14, "Sexual Healing." I'm a fan, but I've never been enough of a fan to be a regular viewer, and tonight marks my first new episode in a really long time. I was pretty excited that I had a reason to check out the premiere, because while I realize South Park isn't exactly consistent these days, it's often surprisingly ambitious, and I've always loved the way the series can surprise you by taking a ridiculous premise seriously while still mining the joke for all its worth. As a comedy show, there's no requirement for scripts to make complete sense, because the absurdity and plotholes are part of the joke; this allows for freedom in plotting that makes a great contrast against the sort of "Pfft, this is so stupid" punch-lines. The best episodes manage to have their cake and fart on it too, and when it clicks, it's gutbusting.
Tonight did not click. In fact, I found "Sexual Healing" to be frustratingly tedious, killed mostly by a central joke—isn't it ridiculous how outraged people are when wealthy men sleep around?—that never really made all that much sense. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have gotten huge mileage out of South Park's blink-of-an-eye turnaround time, which means we get a Tiger Woods parody tonight that we probably won't be seeing on The Simpsons or Family Guy for months, if ever. But here, instead of using that relevancy to offer some different perspective on the issue, or at the very least a funny perspective, we get the same gag beaten into the ground over an occasionally amusing but mostly tedious twenty minutes.
On the good side, what worked: the chimpanzee gag. Scientists trying to find the cause of Tiger Woods and other philandering celebrities' wandering ways give a chimp some money, the chimp goes crazy, starts screwing everything before it gets beaten up by its "wife," and then makes a public apology on its talk show. This was silly, and man did I want more silly, as so much of "Healing" was just a series of riffs on how absurd it is to get shocked over men, ha-ha, just being men. Kenny's auto-erotic asphyxiation was nice (especially the costume), and while Butter's mad fascination with pubic hair wasn't ever really hilarious or anything, it's at least an understandable reaction. Pubic hair is kind of weird.
There were a few decent lines here and there, and the EA Sports Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 game was clever the first time (it became less clever on each repetition, although the joke never completely died), but I never felt engaged by this episode or shocked or anything more than occasionally entertained. The satirical target here wasn't meaty enough to warrant a full episode, and the developing plot just felt too half-assed. Lots of cheap shots at celebrities, and thought I won't say those celebrities didn't deserve it (although Bill Clinton jokes? Still?), their presence didn't add much. Hey look, it's David Letterman. Because everybody knows, when the Letterman scandal broke, the whole world was baffled that he'd been screwing around.
Although that's not really the gag, I guess? It's note-worthy that the big voice-of-reason speech came from a random soldier and not from Kyle or Stan, but man, that speech made things even worse, because it made the subtext, which was about the only humor left at that point, text. It'd be like having somebody come out at the end of of the first Mr. Hanky episode and telling us, "See, that's just a talking turd, but because it's Christmas, we'll pretend like it means something, even though it's incredibly gross. People believe in some crazy shit, don't they?"
Anyway, randy chimp aside, this was pretty blah, and really not a bright way to start the season.
- The "Now Available in HD" logo during the opening titles made me laugh nearly as hard as anything in the show. Sure, the animation is impressive from time to time, but come on.
- "Our nice-lady-with-a-handkerchief test is extremely comprehensive and thorough."
- "Oh no! I don't want to buy a Batman costume!"
- "Which would mean that the alien… is also a wizard."