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South Park’s ‘A Boy and a Priest’ Falls Flat Trodding on Well-Worn Ground

After last week’s season opener about school shootings, South Park dove into another horrible thing happening to children and did an episode about the Catholic church’s molestation scandal. If this sounds familiar it’s because South Park already devoted an episode to the issue, 16 years ago in Season 6’s “Red Hot Catholic Love,” and covering that topic again invites some pretty unflattering comparisons to that classic episode.

..all the adults yell out molestation jokes while Maxi tries to give his sermon…

Like that episode, “A Boy and a Priest” casts Father Maxi as maybe the only priest in the entire Catholic church that isn’t a child molester. But where that episode had classic, memorable moments like Randy’s The Catholic Boat fantasy and Cartman turning out to be correct when he says if you put food up your butt you’ll crap out your mouth, this episode’s gags seem forgettable in comparison.

Much like last week’s where no one cares about school shootings, no one really seems to care that their children might be molested. In “Red Hot Catholic Love” the parents were so concerned about the molestation scandal that they converted to atheism; in this week’s episode all the adults yell out molestation jokes while Maxi tries to give his sermon and when Randy finds him playing board games with the boys at Butters’ invitation he doesn’t panic, he just looks for his phone to take a picture to make jokes about the scene on the internet.

There’s very little reference to the events of the last episode. Stan’s arm is in a sling, but the show is otherwise entirely self-contained, which is for the better even during a weaker episode like this one. Being bogged down trying to support a seasonal arc wouldn’t have helped make the episode any funnier.

While last week’s episode doesn’t play into this week’s, the aforementioned “Red Hot Catholic Love” plays a big role in this episode’s plot, to the point where this episode is basically a sequel. Maxi is bothered by all the pedophile priest jokes because even though he’s not a pedophile, he knew how bad the problem was from his trip to The Vatican in that episode, and he feels guilty for saying nothing. While the idea of the church sending a clean-up crew to vacuum they boys’ asses with a Cumbee is pretty funny, it’s not nearly as good a gag as the Gelgamek Catholics and the Queen Spider being the real leader of the church.

Maxi eventually comes to the decision that being a good priest is important if for no other reason than it keeps a bad priest out of his town and away from the children he has real (appropriate) affection for. It’s a sweet moment in the episode, but it’s not enough to make up for the fact that it feels like Parker and Stone have done this episode before, and it was much better the first time around.

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