Over the course of its 23-year run, South Park has had quite a bit of fun with veganism and vegetarianism. There was season 6's classic “Fun With Veal,” which taught us that “if you don’t eat meat, you become a pussy,” a fate which Stan nearly suffers. More recently, Cartman tricked Heidi into thinking she was eating vegan KFC — when it was actually just plain old KFC — as part of his plot to fatten her up and turn her into a female Cartman. Now, the show turns its attention to the recent plant-based burger trend, specifically the Impossible Burger, which has become increasingly popular since debuting at Burger King in August. The show doesn’t spend much time debating whether it can match the real thing, as Randy says it “tastes like shit” after one bite, but it does pose some intriguing questions as to just how much better of an alternative plant-based meats really are, while also featuring Randy Marsh and Cartman at their absurd best.
After reconciling with Towelie last week, Randy has yet to make amends with his family, as we see in a tense opening scene where he looks to them for ideas to save his now-fledgling weed business. Shelly still hates marijuana, and Randy is unwilling to take Sharon’s advice and cut back on advertising. Towelie comes up with the idea to sell the remaining stems and seeds as mulch, but before that idea can be explored, a stoned drive takes them to Burger King, where Randy comes across the Impossible Burger, and quickly realizes he could make his own plant-based burger with the leftover product. Thus begins Tegridy Burger, which doesn’t taste any better than the Impossible Burger, but everyone’s too stoned to care. I was hoping too see Randy deal with his fractured relationship with his family, but this was quite an enjoyable way to add to the Tegridy Farms plotline. It’s becoming clear that the main story of this season will be Randy looking for ways to keep Tegridy Farms going every week. How he’ll manage to pull this off with his family openly loathing him should be interesting to see.
Back at school, Cartman is incensed when his beloved sloppy joes have been replaced by a dubious-looking food that a cafeteria worker can only describe as “feesh,” in a voice that sounds a bit like Kyle’s ultra-stereotypically Jewish cousin of the same name. How did this happen? The girls (and one vegan boy) lead a protest for healthier, environmentally conscious food, leaving Cartman without his beloved junk. He responds by having a heart attack, and then having another one when yet another protest threatens to take away barbeque ribs day. Between this and his pig antics last week, Cartman has become completely unable to function when something doesn’t go his way, which could be something to explore later on, specifically because its hard to tell whether any of this is voluntary (I can’t help but think of Mitch Connor here). Either way, the stalemate between Cartman and the girls creates the need for a compromise. This is where we meet The Goo Man.
A spot-on parody of There Will Be Blood’s Daniel Plainview, The Goo Man comes to town with a simple goal: to turn everyone in town into vegetarians by consuming his mass-produced goo. This parody works because it’s entirely unexpected, but also fits into the episode perfectly. The Goo Man quickly gets multiple restaurants to convert to his Incredible Meats, as well as the school cafeteria, which is desperate to placate an increasingly belligerent Cartman. They get lucky; Cartman eagerly downs a plate of Incredible Tacos without much difficulty. The problem appears to be solved, but we’re left wondering how Cartman could so easily digest meatless food after reacting so violently to healthier options before.
The answer to that question gives this episode its most satisfying pay-off. The slimy substance being sold by the Goo Man is....actually pretty similar to the pink-slime filled meat products that Cartman had been enjoying all along. As it turns out, Cartman doesn’t necessarily like meat, he just likes mass-produced crap. This episode is quite cynical regarding plant-based imitation meats, asking the question of how much *better* for you they really are. But as Cartman sees it, if he can still eat his usual slop, and it happens to be good for the environment, he’ll take it as a net gain.
With Cartman neutralized, The Goo Man’s only remaining threat is Randy’s thriving Tegridy Burger business, which has the entire town stoned out of its gourd. A rancher arrives at Randy’s door claiming that because no one eats meat anymore, he has no use for his cows, so he leaves Randy to deal with them. This quickly becomes an issue, as they crap all over the place, and eat up his weed crops. With little idea as to how to solve the problem, Randy and Towelie decide to simply kill the cows, smoking a bunch of weed beforehand to make them forget the ethical nightmare they’re in. This is one of the more disturbing scenes South Park has ever done; not on the level of the ending of “Stanley’s Cup,” mind you, but pretty hard to watch, especially if you happen to care about animals. I’ll admit that the sheer surrealism of it all managed to get an awkward laugh out of me.
There’s a twist however; the rancher was working for The Goo Man, and with help from a frustrated Burger King employee who also joins up with him, they film Randy and Towelie’s bovine killing spree, making it look like the burgers aren’t actually vegan. Randy tries to explain that they didn’t actually eat the cows, but as one might guess, the damage has been done. Tegridy Farms has suffered yet another blow, and we’re left wondering how many more schemes Randy can come with in order to save it. After finding fortune at the end of last year, Tegridy Farms appears to be cursed in season 23.
While not quite as funny as last week’s episode, “Let Them Eat Goo” continues Season 23's winning streak. Cartman’s violent reactions to healthier food show him at his terror-inducing best, while the resolution to his plot is clever and unexpected. Randy’s escapades continue to be quite enjoyable as well. Admittedly, he’s been acting like a jerk all season, and on any objective level, he deserves to fail. At the same, though, watching his increasingly far-fetched attempts to keep the business going is incredibly amusing. As we approach the mid-point of season 23, the show is in very good shape, and should have more than enough intriguing plotlines going on to keep viewers guessing the rest of the way.
- “You just got pwned by a towel.” Randy’s being a jerk, but this is a quality burn.
- “This seriously tastes like dog shit, and you get people to buy it?” I can’t help but wonder if Matt and Trey actually tried the Impossible Burger before making this episode, or if they were just going with their gut instinct about how it tastes (I haven’t tried it myself, and now I kind of don’t want to anymore).
- In Cartman’s battle with Wendy and the rest of the protestors, the topic of free speech comes up, as Cartman suggests that their *speech* caused his heart attack, and thus should be curtailed. I’m curious to see where they go with this. After acknowledging that climate change is real last season, this struck me as a clear reference to the ongoing right-wing efforts to stifle conversation and action on the topic. I would have like to have seen this play a larger role in the episode, and I’m hopeful they’ll come back to this point later on.
- My hardest laugh of the night came when Cartman had his second heart attack, and did a pretty spot-on Fred Sanford impression.