This South Park review cointains spoilers.
South Park Season 21 Episode 2
What are you doing right now? Seriously why are you reading this? What is wrong with you?! Did Tweek’s first masterful concerto not spell it out clear enough yet!?!
WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! THEY HAVE NUCLEAR MISSILES!!! WHY ARE YOU JUST SITTING THERE DOING NOTHING?!?!!!!
Hardly the subtlest of South Park theses, “Put It Down” is (mostly) a direct message—or primal scream—to its viewers and the orange-tinted couch potato with a finger on the tweet button that some of them probably voted for. So much for a douche or a turd sandwich, eh?
Indeed, it is hard to remember a more overtly political episode of South Park, which will probably make it extra controversial with some fans given that Trey Parker and Matt Stone had previously promised to be less concerned with national affairs (and serialized storytelling) this year. Nevertheless, when the daring public service announcement that South Park is brave enough to release is: please, Mr. President, stop tweeting, and especially stop trying to get in a tiny-hand measuring contest with Kim Jong-un… then you know the world has gotten more absurd than Steven Seagal prancing around a safe space in a leather jacket five sizes too small.
So here we are with a South Park episode forced to make us laugh while Trey and Matt are pleading with you (crying, really) to help them do something (anything) to stop a President of the United States from trolling on social media like, well, Cartman on the playground right before Wendy gives him the whopping of his life. Granted, tonight was not interested in drawing too much of a comparison between Cartman, Kim, and “the president” (who in South Park remains a ‘member berry-possessed Mr. Garrison… of course). In fact, it cuts Cartman out of the main thrust of the half-hour and puts him in the B-story. Don’t worry, he’s happier there with no one to compete for attention with.
The Cartman beat of the episode revolves around Eric getting caught going back to Heidi after leaving her for his Alexa device last week. It’s unclear whether he went crawling back once he realized Alexa was interchangeable with Jim Bob or if he simply couldn’t quit her, just like Matt and Trey can’t quit this serialization kick. In any case, it was a mildly diverting subplot with one amazing moment.
I am of course talking about that epic pop ballad “Eric We Don’t Want You to Die.” In spite of an inaccurate title that misrepresents the South Park Elementary student body’s opinion, that is one big fat catchy hook with which Cartman is working from, and goddamn if you didn’t find yourself nodding your head. In retrospect, I will agree with your tune, Eric: don’t kill yourself if you can write more songs as stupid-awesome as that or, for that matter, “Safe Space” and “Kyle’s Mom.” Admittedly, the beat and flow is apparently borrowed from a rapper named Logic’s “1-800” anti-suicide, pro-Logic anthem from the VMAs. But since I haven’t watched the VMAs since 2008, I’ll just have to take Twitter’s word on that. Also, it’s only fitting that Matt and Trey find a way to troll a genuinely positive PSA message while developing their own by the night’s end.
The rest of the subplot seems to suggest that the major narrative thread of season 21 will be about Cartman inhabiting every form of toxic masculinity in his relationship with Heidi. This poor girl, who quit social media simply to live, has discovered what everyone else has long known: Eric is a sociopathic monster who feeds entirely off his need for self-aggrandizement and ego-boosting. Forcing Heidi into a corner when he did the classic abusive boyfriend move of threatening to kill himself unless Heidi takes him back, Eric then goes on to shame her and insult her at every opportunity.
Inevitably, the moment where she finally has enough and breaks Cartman down to Daniel Plainview levels of devastation will be a joy to watch. However, I find it hard to believe they will be able to keep this storyline going for another eight episodes without his toxicity rubbing off on the whole show.
In the meantime, though, that’s a pretty snazzy black hoodie that Eric is wearing in a vain attempt to steal the thunder from “Distracted Driving Awareness Week.”
And it is with distracted driving that the episode’s real interest lies. As literally a giant 20-minute metaphor for the Trump presidency, Matt and Trey muse that the president is the equivalent of a driver heedlessly directing trash talk at North Korea as he barrels down the American vehicle on a sweet angelic kid, who I’ll just go ahead and assume is Cleveland in this analogy. Because, honestly, who would ever want anything bad to happen to Cleveland? No one, that’s who.
And yet it does, time and again, as the “distracted drivers” run over tots of all shapes and sizes. By the end of the half-hour, I’d conservatively estimate there are more dead children in the South Park city limits than a nursery school after Pennywise the Dancing Clown comes to town. It’s absolutely brutal.
The first poor kiddie to get turned into street meat suffers what is easily a contender for the most graphic and ghoulishly over-the-top wholesale slaughter in the series’ history. And while the subsequent deaths are not nearly as violent, the preposterousness of the “texting and driving” massacres continues to rise until reaching the glorious crescendo of even bumper cars proving lethal. Come on, admit it, you at least cracked a smile when that lone, out-of-focus bumper child-stumper claimed another victim behind Tweek and Craig, as they discussed their relationship.
Continuing one of the more amusing subplots from the equally serialized season 19, Tweek and Craig are still an item. It’s actually kind of brilliant that they have so fully accepted that they must continue on pretending to be a gay couple for the town’s politically correct aspirations. Are they really in love now? Is it romantic? It’s hard to say, and I imagine Trey and Matt were giggling incessantly as they wrote it that way.
It’s by far one of the most amusing things to just hear them have the argument of every pair of middle aged, West Coast lovebirds who knows they’re within target distance of North Korea. Tweek doesn’t care that Kim Jong-un is unlikely to aim at them because of pressure from China, nor does he care about the Mutually Assured Destruction (of just North Korea) that Craig keeps droning on about. This about his feelings, dammit.
And who can blame him?
Easily what pushes “Put It Down” over the top and into four-star category are the deliriously gonzo scenes of Tweek trying to deescalate tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, and instead becomes the singular target of two demented despots with fragile egos. Curiously, Matt and Trey have elected to not give Kim Jong-un the same treatment they laid on thick for his papa, Kim Jong-il, in the bug-nuts Team America finale. Hopefully they’re saving such a ripe comedy gold mine for a later week.
In the here and now, the important thing is that Kim Jong-un looks daffy while staring at a vat of cake dough, and it is even more humorous to imagine him indulging in a little boy’s cupcakes… only for the sitting American president to tweet such gems as “I know that kid Tweek, he’s fucking with you, North Korea. Get a clue. I’ll bet he took a dump in the batter.” Soon enough the puerile POTUS is making racist remarks and literally taunting, challenging, really, North Korea to drop a nuke squarely on Tweek’s house. Or on the amusement park he visits in Denver when he goes to get away from it all.
This is brilliant satire. After swinging and whiffing in a major way last week by soft-pedalling the bigotry of the alt-right and the Charlottesville disgrace, Matt and Trey came out hard and channeled their own evident anxiety and dismay about having a madman with his hand over the red button in a staring contest with an even madder man with nukes of his own. Some that could presumably reach their SoCal homes.
They say if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Well South Park just turned its fear of nuclear waste into a smoothie. So drink up, chil’ren.
The whole episode culminates in a biting PSA that, again, pleads with the president to stop tweeting. But of course he won’t. Garrison or Trump, they’re both too vain and deluded to see how they are only making things worse by scrawling every half-formed, and ever ill-informed, thoughts into a social media scree like a 13-year-old middle schooler.
So please, Mr. President, put it down. Pick up a fidget spinner instead. Because right now, I’m not sure there are enough in the country to console all of our inner-Tweeks.
Until then, we’ll always have “Put It Down.” A superb return to form for South Park after a stumbling premiere.