13. Cartman’s Mom Is A Dirty Slut
Near the start of this episode, there’s a scene that I distinctly remember watching over and over again a few years back: the scene in which Cartman sits at the table in the garden, surrounded by his toys and pouring imaginary tea for them, while having a conversation with his imaginary friends. It’s, perhaps, not quite as great comically as I remembered (although the voice of Rumper Tumpskin is laugh-out-loud funny), but is a brilliant piece of characterisation.
The gentle harpsichord, medieval-style music, the lovely child-like way in which Cartman speaks to his toys, concealing the pain at not knowing who his father is, before twisting into that bitter Cartman sneer, the fact that he begins to turn on himself via the relative safety of his toy’s voices, it all displays a remarkably in-depth, brilliantly twisted persona behind what is essentially a crudely-drawn set of squiggles. It seals, for me, just how potent characterisation can be in encouraging us to follow a book or TV show to its very end. More than plot or events, it is the characters we love and follow.
And what more fitting a place to develop a bit of character back-story than here, the final episode of the first season of South Park?
Delving into the somewhat chilling life of Cartman, this episode charts the struggle of everyone’s favourite little bully as he attempts to discover the identity of his biological father. Things kick off with a flashback, in which Cartman’s mother tells the tale of her night at the annual drunken barn dance. Enticing the men with her freshly baked cookies, it’s not long before Ms Cartman is rolling in the hay with most of South Park’s male inhabitants. The fact that one of the men was Chief Running Water leads Cartman to believe he is also a native American.
There is something genuinely quite sad about Cartman’s endless drifting from pillar to post, the temporary trial of new identities in the hunt to find his own, and highlights an all too realistic story for many children conceived in such thoughtless ways. The pathos is evenly matched and kept in check with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, however, not least of all Cartman’s bling-studded African American incarnation (“West siiiiide.”).
Other highlights include Stan’s grandfather’s manic laughter over the completely humourless jokes of Bob Saget on America’s stupidest home videos, the Celine Dion-esque music that plays every time Ms Cartman claps eyes on a new man at the drunken barn dance, the revelation that the entire town has, at some point, had sex with her, except for “Halfy,” a man with no lower body, and Cartman’s utterly crushed demeanour having been informed it’ll take three thousand dollars to pay for the DNA tests needed to uncover the identity of his father.
It’s never been a secret that Parker and Stone relish making parodies of the TV show format, and here they take that idea to its ultimate conclusion, ending the series with a classic cliff-hanger.
Just as everybody is gathered at Dr Mephisto’s laboratory to find out who is Cartman’s father, the show freezes and a voice-over informs us of the possible suspects, before telling us the answer is to be revealed in the next series of South Park (“Son of a bitch!” shouts Cartman, probably echoing a lot of viewers’ frustrations).
As far as plotting and humour go, this isn’t the strongest episode of the series, and, to be fair, it had a tough job following in the wake of the awesome Mecha-Streisand, but it packs in enough laughs to supplement the storyline, and that’s really more what this episode is about – developing the character of Cartman, delving into the back story of how he was conceived, and setting up a device to leave viewers desperate to tune in and catch the start to the second series.
An all round successful effort and great end to the show.
Favourite bit: has to be Cartman’s twisted tea party!
Read our review of episode 12 here.