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South Park Phones It in With ‘Buddha Box’

The spectre of continuity reared its ugly head right off the bat in Buddha Box, tonight’s new episode of South Park. The episode opens with Cartman visiting a therapist, talking about the things that have happened this season and how he thinks they’re all related to Black Panther not being a good movie. It’s kind of weird to bring that back up now, and in retrospect I think dropping it was the right choice for the season, which has been pretty good, though not without missteps.

Cartman’s therapist diagnoses him with anxiety, which he calls “an excuse to be lazy and lame to everyone around you,” and that leads Cartman to get the episode’s titular Buddha box, a cardboard box that he can put over his head that blocks out everything but his mobile phone.

The idea of Cartman walking around in his box, completely ignoring the outside world and using his anxiety diagnosis to deflect is a pretty good one. It also leads to an interesting story line with Kyle, one that we’ve seen a few times before. Cartman isn’t really hurting anyone with his Buddha box, he’s just kind of annoying in that he’s not paying attention to everything going on around him. These situations get increasingly ridiculous until Kyle finally snaps and knocks it off of Cartman’s head and gives him a speech about how everyone has anxiety and just deals with it.

This has been done a few times before, and it’s always interesting. We know Cartman is a huge asshole, but a lot of times he’s doing nothing particularly harmful and someone, usually Kyle or Wendy, will come for him anyway and just end up making things worse. I think it’s an extension of Parker and Stone’s “caring about things is stupid” worldview, but it actually makes for some interesting episodes where Cartman is wrong but it doesn’t make sense that anyone cares that much.

The b-plot once again focuses on PC Principal and Vice Principal Strong Woman’s PC Babies, and doesn’t seem to have much to say that it didn’t last time. There’s a cute Muppet Babies parody with the PC Babies, but the whole concept still doesn’t go beyond “PC Babies cry about dumb shit no one cares about like white guys having dreadlocks or the names of drinks.”

I did like the character growth PC Principal and Strong Woman had, for the most part. It gets a little heavy-handed into a whole baby boomer “kids spend too much time on their phones” message that’s pretty tired in general. I could get that same joke from Bill Maher or anyone over 50 if I really wanted to hear it again.

But after explaining how phones are bad to the whole town, who by now are all using Buddha boxes, the fact that everyone is on their phone all the time and not paying attention gives PC Principal, Strong Woman and the PC Babies a chance to be a family without everyone judging them. It actually leads to a really sweet ending and lets these characters, who are one-note stereotypes right down to their names, be actual characters for once.

This isn’t a bad episode of South Park, but it’s not a particularly good episode, either. It kind of feels like a lecture from Jordan Peterson but without the Kermit the Frog voice. Yeah, kids are on their phones too much and PC Babies cry at everything. Thanks grandpa, I wouldn’t have figured that one out on my own. I’m sure no one’s uncle made that exact point at Thanksgiving dinner last week.

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