This South Park review contains spoilers.
South Park has always been a show unafraid to blurt out its morals (“I learned something today…”), but in later seasons it’s sometimes lost its focus. The plots and running gags overlap and muddle one another until you feel like there’s a point in there somewhere, but you’re not sure what it is and it’s unclear whether Matt and Trey know either. So it’s refreshing that “Splatty Tomato” mostly stays simple and on-message.
The President (who, tellingly, is never called “Mr. Garrison”) is creeping around South Park, scaring kids and shitting in the woods. Everyone wants to stop him but the only people who can are a family we’ve never met before, the Whites, and they don’t want to because, they insist, Hillary would’ve been just as bad.
Again, the message is hardly subtle. Bob White, the head of the family, makes declarative statements like, “The Whites have been here from the beginning” and “the Whites still support the president!” It’s evident that South Park is taking the position that we all know Trump is a scary mess and it’s up to his white supporters to reject him and put a stop to it all. This is hardly a breakthrough, but it’s at least communicated clearly.
The episode also satisfyingly wraps up the long-running Heidi and Cartman romance. “Splatty Tomato” is overall surprisingly well-plotted; sometimes you can feel how these episodes get made in a week as storylines lose their way, but Heidi’s gradual realization of Cartman’s manipulative victimhood works even though it comes through just a few small scenes and lines of dialogue. The start of her character change is initiated by a cutting remark from Kyle and, from there, Heidi self-reflects on some key moments in her and Cartman’s relationship, eventually leading to her choice to break up with him.
Similarly, it works that Ike is the one who captures the President. Ike’s Canadian patriotism fueling his desire to bring the President to justice is seeded early on, so it makes sense when he nabs him later. I know this sounds like basic stuff, but “Splatty Tomato” is juggling quite a few plots here and I was honestly surprised it all held together. (However, Ike’s appearance here did highlight how weird it was that he had no presence in the previous episode where Kyle got all anti-Canada.)
The PC Principal and Strong Woman romance storyline works less well than the others. It doesn’t get much of a real climax and the point it’s making isn’t quite so clear. I guess the idea is that co-workers being attracted to each other is something that must happen regularly, but we have a culture that overreacts to the mere suggestion of it. But it feels unrelated to everything else going on in the episode and all the vomiting is such an old South Park standby that I didn’t even crack a smile.
But then South Park doesn’t make me laugh all that much these days generally and, that said, “Splatty Tomato” at least had its fair share of clever moments. The President’s poor approval rating being represented by the Rotten Tomatoes rotten icon is a funny idea and makes some sense for our entertainment-obsessed culture. It’s also good how the episode flirts with doing an It parody, but there’s been more than enough of those this year, so instead it turns into a self-referential acknowledgment that everything that’s happening is just like It and Stranger Things, nicely weaving back in Trey and Matt’s continuing anti-nostalgia crusade. Though it goes on too long, one of the best gags is all the unfitting 80s music popping up on the kids’ Pandora and Spotify playlists during their spooky woods adventure (my favorite cuts were “The Super Bowl Shuffle” and “Pac-Man Fever”).
It’s also funny watching South Park dance up against controversy when Officer Bright tells us we can’t talk about shooting the President. “Don’t even do any coy, satirical takes on shooting him.” I’m not really sure why this new character of Officer Bright was introduced but the only line I laughed out loud at was his, said as they close in on the President, “Just remember, he’s been eatin’ animals and livin’ like a monster.”
I don’t usually find South Park laugh out loud funny these days and Season 21 has been mostly weak, so “Splatty Tomato” was a nice surprise in that it was well-plotted, had some clever gags, and ended with a clear moral for Heidi, Cartman, and the Whites: “if you always make yourself the victim, you can justify being awful.”