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‘South Park’ Delivers the Season’s First Stinker With ‘The Problem With Poo’

Sometimes when South Park does an episode about current events, it hits just the right note to give a smart and insightful commentary on the issue. This week’s episode, The Problem With Poo, is not one of those episodes. The show’s A story features Mr. Hankey in a plot touching on celebrities like being fired for bad tweets and a B story picking up a thread from last season that features PC Principal and Vice Principal Strong Woman, but neither plot really produces any funny or memorable moments.

The episode starts off with a small nod to serialization as we can hear a school shooting before cutting to a town council meeting to address the townsfolk’s outrage at their inaction; of course, they don’t mean stopping school shootings, they’re discussing the fact that some people find the Christmas pageant’s producer, Mr. Hankey, offensive. This is basically the most insightful and clever the show gets, because we as a society do genuinely seem to care more about people saying something offensive on social media than we do about children being killed at school.

That contrast in the opening moments aside, Mr. Hankey’s story never really goes anywhere or says anything. After having his funding cut because some people find him offensive, Mr. Hankey makes some tweets that upset everyone, like saying the elementary school kids are “retarded homos,” which he alternately calls “a bad attempt at a joke” or blames on Ambien, a clear reference to Roseanne Barr. After his tweets get him fired he ends up in a hearing that for some reason parodies the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. The only reason for this appears to be to show Mr. Hankey sniffling during the hearing the way Kavanaugh did, which is not nearly a good enough punchline for the amount of set-up required.

PC Principal and Strong Woman’s story follows up on their affair from last season, still playing up the joke of everyone unanimously agreeing that co-workers having a consensual sexual relationship is the worst thing you can possibly do. There have been a few op-eds about the immorality of office dating lately, but it’s not something anything close to a large number of people care about as far as I can tell. It turns out that Strong Woman got pregnant and is desperately trying to hide the fact that PC Principal is the father.

Of course, when the babies are born, everyone can tell that they’re PC babies, presumably because of their PC Bro sunglasses. The babies crying any time someone says anything politically incorrect is a somewhat fun gag, but it wears thin by the time they’re crying over nothing and someone says “Sometimes PC Babies don’t even know why they’re crying.” I didn’t think the joke needed to have a hat put on it like that, and it’s not a strong enough gag to carry as much of the episode as it’s forced to.

The message becomes muddled at the end of the episode. Kyle has been trying to help Mr. Hankey because he wants to support his friend, even though Cartman warned him “See what that gets you in 2018.” Kyle ends up covered in shit with most of the town hating him until he too finally turns his back on Mr. Hankey to save himself. When Mr. Hankey is run out of town, presumably being dropped from the show, we get the episode’s final gag. Randy says that he’ll have to find a place that accepts “racist, awful beings” and that there are places that “don’t care about bigotry and hate” before cutting to Hankey’s new home, Springfield, where he’s greeted by Apu and the episode fades to black and flashes #cancelthesimpsons before the end credits. This feels like it’s supposed to be an episode-capping joke like Fun With Weapons had in its Janet Jackson moment, but it just doesn’t feel nearly as relevant.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of this episode’s failure is that the only genuinely funny line in the entire episode is a throwaway gag in Mr. Hankey’s exile scene. The Mayor tells him he doesn’t get to say goodbye and that they’ve called him a “poo-ber.” As Hankey expresses surprise that poo-ber is a real thing, a Lyft car pulls up. It’s a genuinely funny moment, but it’s entirely unrelated to the plot, so it ends up just highlighting how unfunny everything else was.

There’s also no resolution for the PC Babies plot, as they just agree to keep hiding that PC Principal is their father. The episode suffers not only from not knowing what it wants to say about current events but also not knowing what it wants to do with its own character arcs. All of that could be forgiven if the episode was funny, but it doesn’t manage to do that either. The entire episode ends up being what writers call a “Nakamura,” a series of running gags and call backs that all fail because the original joke just isn’t that funny.

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