Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 18, 2003)
Time for Season Four of South Park and its 17 episodes. 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. Most of the synopses come straight from the DVD’s liner notes, but since seven of the 17 episodes also appeared on the Timmy! and Winter Wonderland compilation DVDs, I simply copied my prior remarks from those reviews. (Lazy? Maybe, but why reinvent the wheel?)
The Tooth Fairy’s Tats 2000 (aired April 5, 2000): Cartman discovers a much higher than normal payment from the Tooth Fairy for one of his teeth, so he concocts a plan to bilk her out of enough bucks to afford a Sega Dreamcast. He gets his friends in on the deal, but after scores of teeth go through the mill, Mrs. Cartman has to tell him there is no Tooth Fairy and the money came from her own account.
All those exchanged teeth blew her wad, so the gang decides to expand their operation. They go to a posh neighborhood and figure a way to trick the parents of rich kids, but they plan is thwarted when they find someone else thought this up first. It turns out there’s an entire Mafia-esque “tooth trade” run by a young Godfather. The dental establishment suspects something is up, and they set a trap for the perpetrators.
“Tats” was a strong show. In the best Park tradition, it offered a loose and fluid experience that had plenty of small but indelible moments. From Cartman’s reverential proclamation of the phrase “Sega Dreamcast” to his use of “tits” as a declaration of glee to Kyle’s crisis of faith when he learns there’s no Tooth Fairy, “Tats” was a very solid experience.
Cartman’s Silly Hate Crime (aired April 12, 2000) partially revolves around some sledding competitions. The team of Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny always wins because of Cartman’s weight, and they’re confident they’ll take the trophy when challenged by a group of girls. However, Cartman spews some nastiness toward Token, the sole black student of South Park Elementary, and the authorities lock him up as the perpetrator of a hate crime. The rest of the episode follows his experiences in juvie prison, while the other boys attempt to free him so he can anchor their sled.
“Hate Crime” didn’t offer a terribly memorable experience. I say that because as I write this, I watched the DVD six days earlier, and I’m having a hard time remembering any especially interesting moments. Wait – I liked the bits in which childish cruelty was mocked. It seems that schoolyards must have a fat kid to torment, and with Cartman in prison, another boy got stuck with that mantle. Of course, no one considered him to be fat before Cartman left, and he lost that discriminatory distinction as soon as Cartman returned, which made the absurd meanness of the experience that much funnier.
Otherwise, “Hate Crime” seemed like somewhat pedestrian South Park. It made some good points about the stupidity of certain legislation, but it failed to become anything terribly special.
Timmy 2000 (aired April 19, 2000) focuses our wheelchair-bound friend. In this episode, the school staff seems unable to deal with the mentally-challenged boy. Mr. Garrison interprets his incoherence as insolence, despite the fact the kids point out Timmy’s retardation. Principal Victoria also becomes angered, but they eventually decide that Timmy can’t work because he has an attention deficit disorder; a doctor tests him in an unusual way and soon puts Timmy on Ritalin.
When the other kids see that Mr. Garrison now requires virtually no work from Timmy, they declare that they have ADD as well, and the quack doctor agrees. Soon the entire class is doped up on Ritalin, and their unusually high level of compliance drives the staff nuts.
In the meantime, Timmy stumbles across a flailing metal band, the Lords of the Underworld. His spastic wailings fit perfectly into their music, and the group soon rockets up the charts. They win a coveted spot to open for Phil Collins at a music festival, but their popularity becomes so enormous that the billing gets reversed. A jealous Collins – most definitely not voiced by the real singer – sabotages the band when he convinces the band’s guitarist to quit. Of course, a happy ending eventually ensues, although some controversy about whether fans mock or love Timmy crops up along the way.
“Timmy” provides a nice look at various actual issues. Amazingly, it views the whole ADD issue in a surprisingly accurate and fair light. It argues correctly that Ritalin is an overprescribed drug used simply to placate kids who really don’t have attention deficit concerns, but it also states – also correctly – that some students really do benefit from it. The show also looks at the ways that we view the handicapped and reminds us that treating them like china dolls is almost as bad as mocking them.
Of course, since this is South Park, the episode doesn’t function like the message show I just described. It has the usual level of silliness and crude hijinks. I loved the ridiculous “test” for ADD used by the doctor, and the bizarre decision to voice Collins ala one of the Gumbys from Monty Python was also inspired. “Timmy” wasn’t quite as entertaining as “Tats”, but I liked it nonetheless.
Quintuplets 2000 (aired April 26, 2000): “The boys are so impressed with a performance with eight-year-old contorting quintuplets from Romania that Cartman decides to develop an act of his own. The quintuplets defect to the United States and when they seek shelter with Stan’s family, their father is brought in by the Romanian government to demand his daughters back. Before long, it’s Janet Reno to the rescue!”
If there’s one thing I hate… actually, I hate plenty of things, but Cirque Du Soleil resides high on that list, so I’m always up for a good parody of that groups inanities. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode seems much less compelling. Even with Janet Reno dressed as the Easter Bunny and Kenny’s attempts to become a singing star, “Quintuplets” appears decidedly mediocre.
Cartman Joins NAMBLA (aired June 21, 2000): “When Cartman decides Stan, Kenny and Kyle are too juvenile to hang out with, he goes online to find older, more mature friends. He is thrilled to discover lots of adult men who want to be friends with eight-year-old boys and soon Cartman becomes the poster child for NAMBLA. Meanwhile, Kenny actively tries to prevent his parents’ attempt to have yet another welfare baby.”
Sometimes South Park takes paths that can veer into the badly distasteful, and given the nature of NAMBLA - perhaps the creepiest organization around - this show differently stood that risk. However, it manages to avoid becoming just tacky and crass, mainly due to Cartman’s inane innocence. On the other hand, the Kenny subplot does become little more than gross. Calling a plane-crash ride “The John Denver Experience” also was below the belt and not funny.
Cherokee Hair Tampons (aired June 28, 2000): “Kyle needs a kidney transplant and Cartman is discovered to be the perfect donor. Cartman gladly offers his kidney to Kyle - for the prince of 10 million dollars. Stan, depressed about the inevitable loss o his best friends, decides to take matters into his own hands and get Cartman’s kidney for Kyle.”
“Hair” takes on the absurdities of New Age medicine and does so reasonably well. It mocks the “natural is better” trend with some well-placed jabs, and Cartman’s selfishness is always good for a few laughs, especially via his bizarre tendency to have milk come from his nose at any time. “Hair” falls short of greatness, but it’s a generally good show.
Chef Goes Nanners (aired July 5, 2000): “Chef’s passionate protest declaring the South Park flag racist enflames the entire town. The kids separate into two opposing camps and prepare to debate the issue. Stan and Kyle champion the current flag while Wendy and Cartman head up the side for a new flag. Wendy finds herself strangely attracted to Cartman.”
At its best, South Park manages to cut demonstrate various sides of an issue, and beneath the absurdity, it does that here. It deals with the fact that changing a longtime icon isn’t a cut and dried subject even when it may seem outdated. Of course, it still manages some good laughs, even though it ends on an unusually poignant note when Wendy rejects Cartman.
Something You Can Do With Your Finger (aired July 12, 2000) finds Cartman with a dream – literally. During his sleep, he gets the inspiration to form a boy band named Fingerbang and make millions off of a song of the same name. The other kids resist the idea but eventually Cartman convinces them to do it, though he has to make some concessions along the way; he very reluctantly agrees to take Wendy – a girl – into the group as its fifth member since all boy bands have to have five participants, and she’s the only prospective singer who could perform respectably.
From there, they rehearse and try to get a gig at the local shopping center. This is tough going, however, due to confused opposition from the mall’s manager. In addition, Stan’s father strongly opposes his son’s participation in the group for his own mysterious reasons. Even though Fingerbang lands a show at the mall, their success becomes endangered when Stan’s dad refuses to let him go to it.
Of the shows on this DVD, “Finger” probably will age the worst, as its emphasis on the recent crop of boy bands such as ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys clearly centers it in the current era. This episode seemed reasonably entertaining, but it also felt a little behind the curve. So many other spoofs of boy bands have occurred that they’ve lost a great deal of their luster. Heck, these groups already seemed like little more than self-parodies anyway, so there wasn’t a lot of room for development, and the many satires did the job just as well as South Park; even a piece of junk like Josie and the Pussycats nailed a mockery of the genre.
Granted, it may not be fair to state that “Finger” is “behind the curve” since it obviously wasn’t created recently. The show aired in July 2000, which made it a little more innovative at the time. However, this still was a worn-out subject even then, so the show’s crew loses some points for taking on such an obvious and easy target.
Nonetheless, boy band spoofs are hard to dislike, and this one covered the subject fairly well. In addition, it let the South Park guys write their own boy band hit, and “Fingerbang” was a reasonably witty send-up of the typical tune. The show wasn’t as creative and clever as one might expect, but it still seemed entertaining.
Do the Handicapped Go to Hell? (aired July 19, 2000): “Part one of two. Priest Maxi’s threats of eternal damnation have the boys racing to make their first confession and Holy Communion. Stan and Kenny are ready to accept any penance in an attempt to avoid the fiery depths of hell while Cartman is mostly interested in the wines and crackers. Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein returns to the underworld to rekindle his relationship with his former lover, Satan, the prince of darkness.”
Probably (aired July 26, 2000): “Part two of two. Satan is torn between two lovers as he tries to choose between his new boyfriend and his ex, Saddam Hussein. As a last resort, he looks to God for advice. Meanwhile, Cartman has taken the lead role of evangelist as he and the boys try to save their friends and assure their own place in heaven.”
Since “Hell” and “Probably” comprise two parts of the same show, I thought it made more sense to discuss them together. The programs follow up on the Satan/Saddam relationship depicted in the South Park movie, and it continues to seem funny and bizarre. It’s also interesting and amusing to watch the kids turn so religious, especially since it’s hard to beat an evangelistic Cartman. Two parts seems like a little much, though, as the piece runs too long.
Fourth Grade (aired November 8, 2000) finds the kids in a melancholy mood as they move on to a new level and a new teacher. Ms. Choksondik freaks out some people due to her pendulous breasts that are unsupported by a bra. She also has a lazy eye that means no one’s ever sure if she’s looking at them.
She can’t connect with the kids, and she seeks out the advice of their third grade teacher, Mr. Garrison. Unfortunately, due to a terrible event at the end of the prior year, he’s gone into hiding, and she needs to climb a summit to find him. When she does so, he becomes her Yoda-esque mentor and trains her to deal with the students.
In the meantime, the kids attempt to build a time machine to go back to third grade. This succeeds, actually, due to the help of some Star Trek-loving men. However, only Timmy ends up going back in time, where he goes through a mix of adventures that largely remain off-screen. In the meanwhile, the boys try to get the nerds to recreate their device, but a rift keeps them apart; they can’t agree if Star Trek: The Original Series had 72 or 73 episodes. (They’re both wrong: it featured 79, a mistake that I’ll bet was intentional to aggravate the real Trek geekboys in the audience.)
“Grade” was another pretty good but not great show. Ms. Choksondik seemed a little too crass and unappealing; frankly, the program’s adult females often have trouble crossing that line, and she’s another relatively weak character. That said, I did like seeing her because she strongly reminded me of an educator from my past. For 10th grade Geometry, our instructor had a lazy eye that really did make it difficult to tell if she looked at you or not; when she’d call on you through vision, you’d always have that little pause to figure out if you were really the subject.
She also was infamous for her first day of school declaration: “You’ve probably heard that I’m a really mean teacher, and you’ve heard right.” That statement became well-known not due to its nastiness; instead, we remember it because when she said it, we thought she related that she was a really “meat” teacher. As such, she was universally known as the Meat Teacher after that. Honestly, I can’t remember her real name; she remains the Meat Teacher to me.
Trapper Keeper (aired November 15, 2000): “A mysterious stranger warns Cartman that his Trapper Keeper is more than what it appears to be and could take over the world if not destroyed immediately. Of course, Cartman ignores the warning and the countdown to humanity’s destruction begins. Meanwhile, Mr. Garrison holds a student election for Kindergarten Class President and finds it no easy task, as both sides demand a recount after the election.”
A clever riff on Terminator 2 as well as the controversy around the 2000 election, “Keeper” stands as one of this set’s best episodes. Both plots work really well, as the show tosses in lots of cool little moments. It’s funny and smart and a good program.
In Helen Keller! The Musical (aired November 22, 2000), the fourth graders need to stage a Thanksgiving play based on the life of Keller. Due to his physical limitations, Timmy’s the only choice for the lead role, and all seems well until Butters regales them with indications that the Kindergartner’s pageant will be a serious extravaganza.
Not wanting to be outdone by five-year-olds, the fourth graders step things up a notch, and this includes giving Keller a pet turkey who performs tricks. When Kyle and Timmy shop for one, Timmy insists they buy a rather flawed bird in that grand style. Inevitably, this goes over poorly with director Cartman and the others, and they hire a Broadway diva turkey to play the part.
Timmy sticks it out with his new pet, named Gobbles; that title adds another word to Timmy’s vocabulary, at least. Heartbroken when the gang won’t let Gobbles appear in the play, Timmy flees, but all ends well by the finale.
“Keller” was another decent but unspectacular show. It certainly had some good moments, primarily due to the two turkeys. Gobbles was wonderfully pathetic, and the diva turkey added hilariously snooty elements to the feathered personality. However, the episode simply lacked a certain quality that would have made it great. It was quite enjoyable, but not a classic.
Pip (aired November 29, 2000): “Pip gets a job at the Havesham Estate where he meets Estella. She cruelly spurns him with insults. Pip travels to London to become a gentleman and win Estella’s affections. He soon discovers Miss Havesham’s plan to break his heart and use his tears to power her ‘Genesis’ device, thereby exacting a revenge on all men.”
Mark “Pip” as one of the oddest South Park episodes ever. Introduced and occasionally narrated by Malcolm McDowell in live-action footage, this show purports to retell Great Expectations with the series’ Pip as the lead - and with no other regular cast members from the series. Of course, it takes liberties, especially via the Genesis device, and becomes bizarre and amusing.
Fat Camp (aired December 6, 2000): “Our favorite big boned boy is going to Fat Camp! Cartman’s family and friends have intervened and are forcing him to trim down. While Cartman’s away, Kenny’s star is on the rise when he gets his own reality TV show. He stages a stunt for the finale where he spends six hours in Ms. Crabtree’s uterus.”
The Cartman plot goes down a slightly predictable path, but it’s still fun. The concept of Cartman in fat camp is fairly irresistible; it’s somewhat surprising it took them so long to get to that point. The Kenny story gets awfully gross, but it’s a decent parody of the “Jackass” trend.
The Wacky Molestation Adventure (aired December 13, 2000): “The ‘Raging Pussies’ are in town and when Kyle’s parents say he can’t go to the concert he calls the authorities and reports that his parents have been ‘molesting’ him. Taking a cue from Kyle, all the children of South Park get their parents locked up and South Park becomes an eerie adult-less town with Cartman firmly planted in the mayor’s seat.”
What a great episode! The show provides salient points about the legal ramifications of false accusations, but it does best with the turn the town takes when the parents leave. With references to flicks like Children of the Corn and Star Trek, this one is a winner.
A Very Crappy Christmas (aired December 20, 2000) finds the burg of South Park without the spirit of the holiday. Mr. Hankey doesn’t make his annual appearance, which sends Kyle and the other kids into the sewer to find him. There they discover Mr. Hankey with his drunkard wife and three kids, and they get him to increase his efforts to renew interest in the occasion. Along with the South Park kids, they plan to do so via a special animated film called “The Spirit Of Christmas”. The boys will create it while Mr. Hankey and clan will revitalize the town’s drive-in movie theater for a special showing.
The big day comes and… kerplonk. The equipment fails and though briefly excited, the town re-enters their doldrums. However, Cornwallis, one of Mr. Hankey’s boys who also went through a crisis of spirit, finds a way to fix the projector, and eventually the citizens of South Park remember the true meaning of Christmas: to spend lots of money on presents.
“Crappy” was one of the better episodes, if just because it found some very witty ways to spoof various subjects. When Mr. Hankey confronted his son’s concerns, he did so through a musical number baldly based on The Lion King’s “Circle of Life”. As seen during the theatrical movie, the South Park crew absolutely excel at musical parodies, and this one was no exception; they nailed the project.
In addition, another spoof took on a more obscure subject. I don’t know if it still airs widely, but I strongly recall a Rankin-Bass animated special from the Seventies called ’Twas the Night Before Christmas that featured George Gobel as Father Mouse. His brainy and nerdy son Albert ruined the holiday because he sent a letter to Santa that essentially told St. Nick to go elf himself. When Albert learns that his intentions were way off base, he fixes a special clock intended to alert Santa that the town really loves him despite the contents of the letter.
Clearly the movie theater aspect of “Crappy” takes from this concept, and the show also includes a nice little parody of a ’Twas tune called “Even a Miracle Needs a Hand”. The Lion King spoof was fun because it came in an unexpected place; the movie may be awfully famous, but one doesn’t anticipate a connection to it in a Christmas show. Obviously, segments that mock a yuletide program were more logical, but “Crappy” earned points through the use of a somewhat obscure inspiration. “Crappy” seemed like very good South Park.