Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 10, 2003)
After it made a tremendous popular impact with its first season, South Park seemed to fade a bit during its second year. Actually, the series used the concept of “season” loosely. Season Two began only five weeks after the end of the first, and its episodes popped up sporadically from April 1998 through January 1999; it didn’t follow the standard fall-to-spring presentation.
I can’t speak for other fans, but I lost a lot of affection for the series during Season Two. I don’t tend to be a “fair weather fan” who gives up on things I like quickly, but the show really seemed to wear out its welcome. By the end of this season, I’d stopped watching the show regularly.
Did I abandon it prematurely? Maybe – we’ll take a closer look at all the shows from Season Two and see if I gave up on it took quickly. I’ll examine each of these programs in the way presented on the DVDs, which also appears to be the order in which they were first broadcast. The synopses come straight from the DVD’s liner notes; I usually write my own, but these seem pretty good, so why reinvent the wheel?
Terrance and Phillip in Not Without My Anus (first aired April 1, 1998): “Terrance and Phillip travel to Iran to rescue Terrance’s little daughter, Sally, who’s being held prisoner. A complex chain of events involving a female pop vocalist, a Middle Eastern dictator, and chemical warfare leads to a hostile takeover of Canada. It’s up to Terrance and Phillip to save Sally and their country.”
An attempt at an April Fool’s joke, “Anus” failed miserably for series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Season One ended a few weeks earlier with a cliffhanger, and they promised to complete it on April 1st. Instead, they offered this totally irrelevant T&P based parody of an obscure Sally Field flick, and they cheesed off legions of fans.
Personally, I loved it. At the time, I thought it was an audacious gag and I admired the guys for this bold decision. Taken from that setting, how does the episode itself fare? Really well, as “Anus” provides a simply brilliant program. It’s a completely surreal exercise that goes down all sorts of bizarre paths. “Anus” stands as one of the great South Park shows.
Cartman’s Mom Is Still a Dirty Slut (first aired April 22, 1998): “Just as Mephesto is about to reveal the identity of Eric Cartman’s father, the genetic engineer is shot by a mysterious gunman. While the boys wait for Mephesto to regain consciousness, a blizzard hits South Park and the citizens are stranded for hours on end without food.”
Three weeks later than promised, we finally settle the Cartman mystery. After the hilarity of “Anus”, it’s inevitable that “Slut” offers a less amusing experience. It has a lot of fun with the cliffhanger concept and tosses in some good bits, but it still suffers simply due to its chronology.
Chickenlover (first aired May 20, 1998): “A series of heinous crimes involving chickens leads to a startling revelation – Officer Barbrady can’t read! When Barbrady resigns and anarchy ensues, the boys pitch in to help. Cartman brings his own brand of law to the streets of South Park.”
An average episode, “Chickenlover” only includes a few memorable moments. It adequately parodies both afterschool specials and Cops, but haven’t both those subjects been mocked to death? Still, it’s fun to see Cartman as a fascistic deputy, so “Chickenlover” tosses in some decent humor.
Ike’s Wee Wee (first aired May 27, 1998): “After a mishap in the classroom during his lesson on the evils of drugs and alcohol, Mr. Mackey, the school counselor, is fired. In an act of desperation, he turns to drugs and alcohol. Meanwhile, it’s time for Ike’s bris and, when Kyle and the boys find out what it means to be circumcised, they try to save Ike from that fate.”
“Wee Wee” rebounds a bit from “Chickenlover”, mostly due to the spectacle of Mackey under the influence. His descent into hippie culture seems funny, and I also like the bits in which the kids mock the counselor in class. While not a great program, “Wee Wee” presents a fairly solid show.
Conjoined Fetus Lady (first aired June 3, 1998): “With Pip as their star player, the South Park dodge ball team is off to the championships. Back in town, the local citizens declare a ‘Conjoined Twin Myslexia Awareness Week’ in a misguided attempt to help the school nurse deal with a strange medical disorder.”
The bad: though the elements that deal with the nurse try to parody political correctness and do-gooders who go too far, it just comes across as lame. The whole dead fetus thing never becomes anything other than gross, too. The good: the dodgeball bits are consistently funny, especially when the kids go to China. Those bits make it a good episode as a whole, but it’s an erratic one.
The Mexican Staring Frog of Southern Sri Lanka (first aired June 10, 1998): “The deadly ‘Mexican Staring Frog’ is sighted in South Park and the town’s fearless hunters, Ned and Jimbo, are on the case. Their heroic efforts drive up the ratings of their new hunting show on the cable access channel and threaten to edge out an old favorite, ‘Jesus and Pals’.”
Other than “Anus”, so far Season Two of South Park has been pretty mediocre, and things don’t improve with “Frog”. Like the other shows, it has its moments, mostly when we see the kids make their fake frog tapes. Otherwise, the show fails to ignite, and the story seems only fitfully amusing.
Flashbacks (first aired June 17, 1998): “A freak accident leaves the South Park Elementary School bus teetering precariously on the edge of a cliff. As the boys relive landmark moments in their young lives, their bus driver, Ms. Crabtree, goes for help. A strange turn of events leads her to find the love of her life and dream job – as a stand-up comic.”
A clip show with a difference, “Flashbacks” works pretty well. For one, it attempts a good narrative as Crabtree inadvertently pursues her new career. In addition, none of the clips are straightforward lifts from the original shows, as they all alter the old material in amusing ways that reward longtime viewers. Heck, it even flashes back to itself!
Summer Sucks (first aired June 24, 1998): “It’s summertime in South Park, and it sucks. The entire town is gearing up for the annual 4th of July celebration when a ban on fireworks is imposed, Mr. Hat has disappeared, Ned and Jimbo have been thrown into a Texas prison and Cartman is forced to take swimming lessons. The mayor’s plan to put some punch into the 4th of July celebration with a 20-story-high ‘snake’ goes dangerously awry and Cartman may never make it out of the deep end.”
It’s hard to knock a show with a humongous killer ash-snake, and Cartman’s problems with first graders who pee in the pool also make this a good show. It blends a few disparate plotlines and includes one of Chef’s best songs to date. “Sucks” definitely doesn’t.
Chef’s Salty Chocolate Balls (first aired July 19, 1998): “South Park’s first film festival attracts crowds of pretentious, tofu-eating lovers to the quiet mountain town, and the resulting strain on the sewer system causes problems for everyone’s favorite piece of talking poo, Mr. Hankey. Kyle must appeal to the movie industry to save his little friend’s life.”
Though its title might make it sound like a one-dimensional episode that revolves around Chef’s luridly named confection, “Balls” broadens well behind that. Actually, it’s a rare show that takes on territory also addressed on The Simpsons and does it better, as “Balls” provides a terrific parody of independent film festivals and the movie industry in general. All that and Mr. Hankey too! With scads of clever film references, “Balls” is one of the year’s better shows.
Chickenpox (first aired August 26, 1998): “The kids’ parents only have their best interests at heart when they arrange for Stan, Kyle and Cartman to be exposed to the chickenpox virus. The boys see things differently and they decide to get even with the help of a streetwalker named Old Frida. At the same time, Kyle’s mother arranges an ill-fated fishing trip for her husband and his former best friend, Kenny’s dad.”
After such a great program with “Balls”, a regression seemed inevitable here, and “Chickenpox” definitely falls back into the pack. A few decent moments emerge, mostly due to Cartman’s addiction to Calamine lotion. Otherwise, “Chickenpox” feels pretty bland, and the scenes with Old Frida get decidedly gross.
Roger Ebert Should Lay Off the Fatty Foods (first aired September 2, 1998): “Stan, Kyle and Kenny are strangely drawn to the new planetarium. Is it just a harmless place to learn about the solar system, or is it the scene of a diabolical plot to control the minds of South Park’s citizens? Cartman, meanwhile, is on a personal quest to appear on television singing the happy Cheesy Poofs song.”
The incongruously titled “Ebert” rebounds from the disappointing “Chickenpox” but not by a ton. It provides a decent parody of a Star Trek episode and tosses in a mix of good material, but it never feels really inspired. Still, any show with haiku insults, “Laser Loggins” and the world’s oddest Elvis impersonation can’t be too bad.
Clubhouses (first aired September 23, 1998): “Stan is psyched to have Wendy visit his clubhouse for a game of Truth or Dare. But first he has to build one. When Cartman finds out, he immediately enlists Kenny’s help in building an elaborate rival clubhouse. If that weren’t already enough for any eight year old to deal with, Stan also has to help Wendy fix Kyle up with Bebe and come to terms with his parents’ untimely divorce.”
A little better than “Chickenpox” but not nearly as good as “Ebert”, “Clubhouses” mostly works pretty well. It includes a clever parody of the self-absorption of divorcing adults, and the scenes of Cartman’s “Ewok Village 2000” clubhouse certainly seem fun. However, it lacks that oomph to take it to a higher level, so it remains a good but not exceptional show.
Cow Days (first aired September 30, 1998): “South Park’s 14th annual ‘Cow Days’ rodeo and carnival is here and the boys are determined to win Terrance and Phillip dolls. In order to get the money, they sign up Cartman, who believes he is a Vietnamese prostitute named Ming Li, for a bull-riding contest. Meanwhile, all of South Park’s cows become transfixed on a memorial cow statue for the celebration. Is this the beginning of a strange cow cult?”
For the last four and a half years, I remembered “Days” as a terrible episode that initiated my disenchantment with South Park. While definitely not a great show, “Days” is better than I recalled. Yeah, the carnival game that involves balls and Jennifer Love Hewitt’s mouth remains lame, and the segments with Cartman as Ming Li badly misfire, but some other moments seem pretty funny. The carnival features some amusing rides, and a couple of other bits come across as reasonably winning. Overall, however, this show remains below par.
Chef Aid (first aired October 20, 1998): “Chef sues the wrong people after a big record label steals a song he wrote called ‘Stinky Britches’. After a huge loss in court, he is left penniless. It turns out that Chef has some very famous and talented friends in the music business who want to help their old mentor. Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny organize a benefit concert to raise some cash and Chef Aid is born.”
"Chef Aid" offers some solid mockery of both the music and legal business and specifically targets Johnnie Cochrane and Alanis Morissette for some prime ribbing. I didn't think the episode featured any terrific highlights, but it's a generally fun piece. Where else will you hear Elton John – the real one – sing “Cheddar Cheese Girl”?
Spookyfish (first aired October 28, 1998): “When Sharon Marsh’s Aunt Flo makes her monthly visit, she brings a mysterious pet fish for Stan. When bodies start to pile up, Mrs. Marsh becomes convinced Stan is responsible for the murders. Meanwhile, an ‘evil’ version of Cartman from another dimension befriends the boys, and possessed animals wreak havoc on the townspeople of South Park.”
Though it doesn’t match up with Season One’s excellent “Pinkeye” – the series’ first Halloween show – “Spookyfish” seems pretty good. Presented in “Spooky Vision” – which mostly just puts those words on the sides of the screen and small pictures of Barbra Streisand in the corners – the program reminds us of the “evil twin” plot of Star Trek’s “Mirror Mirror”, and the title amphibian gives us the episode’s funny creepy moments. Heck, as far as I’m concerned, the show could just feature Cartman’s seemingly constant use of the phrase “hella” – as in “it’s hella-cold” – and I’d like it, but “Spookyfish” includes a lot more to help make it a solid episode.
Merry Christmas Charlie Manson (first aired December 9, 1998): “When Stan’s parents say no to a road trip to Cartman’s grandma’s house, Stan sneaks out to join Kyle, Kenny and Cartman anyway. Dinner with Cartman’s family takes a bizarre twist when their Uncle Howard shows up after breaking out of prison. He brings his cellmate, Charlie Manson, and the holiday results in a police standoff.”
I figured that "Manson" would mistake offensiveness for irreverence and humor, but I was completely wrong. This show is one of the season’s best and offers a hilarious visit to Cartman's grandmother's house. If nothing else, the scenes with Cartman's relatives - especially baby cousin Elvin - are terrific and the show manages to avoid any gratuitously crude elements. It should seem lame, but it instead comes across as very amusing.
Gnomes (first aired December 16, 1998): “Cartman, Stan, Kyle and Kenny are assigned to write a report with Tweek, the very nervous and highly caffeinated boy who insists gnomes are stealing his underpants. When they are unable to come up with a topic, Tweek’s father offers to write the paper, and uses the opportunity to vent his frustration at the corporate juggernaut Harbuck’s Coffee and its attempt to drive him out of business. Meanwhile, the boys try to stay awake to see if the underpants gnomes truly exist.”
Other than the shots of the coffee-fueled kids and the marauding underpants thieves, “Gnomes” offers a fairly dull episode. It seems surprisingly uninspired, as few of the gags go much of anywhere. In addition, Tweek is maybe the series’ most annoying character, and not in an amusing way.
Prehistoric Ice Man (first aired January 20, 1999): “After Kyle falls into an underground cave and Stan is lowered to rescue him, they discover a man frozen in ice. With the help of Dr. Mephesto, it is determined that this prehistoric iceman has been frozen since 1996. Unable to cope with the modern world, the prehistoric ice man tries to return to his own time, not knowing the government has other plans for him.”
Although it improves on “Gnomes”, “Ice” also seems rather lackluster. It features a decent spoof of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, but given his status as a self-parody, it doesn’t take much to mock him. The concept of the “primitive” man gets old pretty fast, and this episode feels watchable but slow. Only the brief version of “Stinky Britches” ala Marilyn Manson gives this one much life.