So South Park apparently has a weird continuity now? The show has experimented with loose continuity before, but it’s most been in the form of multiple episode arcs and the offhand returning character (or “200”). This seems like something different, something that might not be revolutionary, but will at least be new: At least if this week and last week are any indication, the season will continue to explore the consequences of the boys’ actions, allowing the plots to be motivated in part by their attempts to dig themselves out of a hole. (Kyle’s remark about the decreasing value of apologies plays pretty clearly off the show’s history with big speeches.) So last week, Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny threw a party to apologize for storming out of South Park for startup-land. This week, not only are Stan’s troubles with Wendy ongoing, Randy’s Lorde returns.

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It’s kind of astonishing that South Park spends an entire subplot making fun of an article that runs fewer than 200 words: a post on Spin complaining about the Lorde joke at the end of “Gluten-Free Ebola.” (In case you missed that episode, Randy pretends to be Lorde at the end of the episode when he can’t get her to perform at the boys’ party.) Certainly, the article is a textbook overreaction to an episode of South Park, suggesting that making jokes about Lorde’s age (an issue that has been raised several times) is somehow out of bounds for a show that prides itself on mocking everyone. (It’s also not very good.) But this still seems like punching down a bit, and kind of kicking someone when they’re down. Regardless, South Park is cool with taking a tossed-off response to a tossed-off joke and turning it into several minutes of national television, which is kind of admirable even if you don’t find jokes about music journalism funny (and I do).

And “The Cissy” throws itself headfirst into mocking that post, using the opportunity to take the original few seconds of the Lorde joke to its natural conclusion. This includes a stereotypical record boss, illicit cash stash, and a bit where Randy explains how Auto-Tune transforms him into Lorde. The key to this story, though, is that it’s about Randy, and not Lorde—suggesting that Randy’s real, unexpressed identity might just be a teenaged girl who speaks to people all over the world, and drawing humor from Randy’s sadness at not being allowed to use the women’s restroom at his office. That focus is important, since even though they mercilessly quote the article’s description of Lorde as ”humble,” the South Park team does seem to like her—as the Spin reporter menacingly says, “It would be a shame if someone was… having fun at her expense.”

The sheer weirdness of the Lorde story means I haven’t even gotten to the ostensible main plot, in which Cartman pretends to be trans in order to use the girls’ bathroom. “The Cissy” loses some points for originality in this respect (for example, it’s almost identical to “Le Petit Tourette”), but the story is still decently funny. Wendy’s escalation by claiming to be a trans man named Wendell is great, tapping into the Wendy-Cartman conflict of some of the best early episodes. And the fighting over bathrooms is just about the right way for this show to approach the issue—I’ll admit, I giggled when Mr. Garrison said, “Actually, it’s more like a royal flush.” The deadly seriousness with which everyone takes the bathroom fighting (and the things we thankfully cannot smell) certainly suggest that, to some extent, “The Cissy” doesn’t care about exploring the gender issues it raises.

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Except that it clearly does. As much as the rest of “Cissy” is pretty bizarre, the actual take on trans issues is one of the more humane, clear-sighted arguments I’ve seen from the show in a while. For the 12-year-olds in the audience, there are pretty clear explanations of what it means for someone to be trans, and why it’s a bad idea to call being cis “normal” (basically ripped from a comment thread on my review of the Transparent pilot). And even though Kyle mocks the South Park big statement, Sharon’s speech to Randy is the best and most earnest preachy lecture the show has done in years. The lesson here is that everyone should get special treatment—or, put another way, that no one should. And that’s enough to make this is a pretty damned good South Park.

Stray observations:

  • “We deal with a lot of fake stories at Spin.” Wow, they must have been super pissed off.
  • “There are actually people struggling with their gender identity.”
  • Everything in life comes down to being able to poop in peace.

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