jason stives reviews the second episode of south park…
Well, they can’t all be classics. That was my first thought after watching tonight’s episode of South Park, entitled “Raising the Bar,” which combined the show’s pension for social commentary with an over the top plotline that really served no purposes other than for laughs, which is fine, I guess. This isn’t a bad thing and I never expect this show to be fluidly perfect but you can tell when the show is trying too hard instead of just going with the flow of the story. This week the boys of South Park found something to attack with ease in the guise of one little miss Honey Boo Boo, the star of the hit TLC show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
It’s no surprise that the critically and morally lauded by and commercially heralded Honey Boo Boo would be stuck in the crawl of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, in fact, I would’ve been disappointed if it hadn’t been addressed. The difference between addressing issues this week instead of last week is it became a focal point in tying together the jokes and themes of this episode and it seemed at one point that they would never intersect. Subtly can be the biggest lynch pin in South Park where sometimes it’s done perfectly and sometimes it is overused to tie in a plot point. “Raising the Bar” was an example of overusing the creators’ thoughts and making it more of commentary than a notation about the obvious in the world, but it was still funny.
Tying in Honey Boo Boo and her Neanderthal mother into a vague idea of Cartman justifying his fatness worked more for the third act pay off then it did the narrative as a whole. Couple that with the literal and metaphorical depiction of raising the bar and it seems a bit all over the place but still found time to be funny. The James Cameron plotline works mainly for an amusing theme song and a lot of the musical cues this week were top notch, especially the Randy Newman inspired Here Comes Fatty Doo Doo theme, which may or may not be overly political (trick question: it wasn’t).
South Park stories that are very Cartman and his cause centric can be wishy washy and I think this week played more for laughs than giving Cartman a probable cause for an issue which, seriously, when has Cartman needed a reason to be right? That’s why there isn’t a focus on one such character in particular and the fact that Token gets a prominent supporting role says that this episode wasn’t concerned about having a center piece. Surprisingly, I don’t have a lot to say about this episode and not in the sense that it was bad but because it’s a straight and narrow commentary on specific current trends it doesn’t need any further development or explanation. That being said (Hey! I have a running saying in my pieces!) there were some great laughs this week. I quite enjoyed Cartman’s anorexia speech as he toddled around the gym on his rascal scooter.
There were a lot of plot points this week and I counted no more than 4 or 5 references that were clearly written in as an opinion about something going on in the pop culture sphere. Trouble is when there are many themes going on at once it never fully resolves itself other than as a plot point and the resolution of Cartman and Honey Boo Boo’s storyline really was done just to pay it off with a “sgetti” fight in the third act. I’d like to point out as much as I love watching Cartman get into fights this one felt a bit forced compared to being beaten up by Wendy or fighting a midget motivational speaker. Cartman is very subdued here and much like the “Poor and Stupid” episode of Season 14 it starts with Cartman having a solemn purpose to his actions only to be dovetailed into a blanket of stupidity. We wouldn’t expect anything less but Cartman is at his best when he is being completely over the top and not just a punch line as many of the characters ended up being this week.
As far as themes are concerned we also get the obligatory taking a metaphor and placing it in some realistic realm situation with the raising and lowering the bar notion. As we saw last week with Randy Marsh suffering literally from terminal sarcasm, the theme of raising the bar is taken to a literal sense by having director James Cameron diving into the ocean to raise the bar (no doubt a reference to his research diving to the wreckage of the Titanic). It seems a bit out of left field but the overly pompous vision of Cameron and doing what he does because he is that great was very well done. Oh, and did I mention that awesome theme song he has?
Yeah, again, that was amazing!
It’s funny to think that you would have to think this far into an episode of South Park but the show has evolved over 15 years from being a controversial thorn in parental groups’ sides to a cultural touchstone that remains present by making fun of everything we are always thinking about. “Raising the Bar” falls into one of the more formulaic outings but still has some great humorous touchstones that only this show can provide.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Good not great)
All Images Credit: Comedy Central