This South Park review contains spoilers.
South Park Season 22 Episode 2
Watching South Park, it’s frequently on my mind how episodes are slapped together in a week. One obvious, major effect of making an episode of television this way is that, by necessity, the premise is decided upon very quickly and doesn’t have a chance to go through many revisions. There simply isn’t time. With an episode like “A Boy and a Priest,” I wonder if a different series, with a longer production schedule, wouldn’t have heavily revised the premise on which the entire episode is based or, possibly, chucked it out altogether.
The societal issue South Park tackles this week is the Catholic Church’s pedophilia problem. This is introduced in a skewed, satirical South Parkian fashion: the adults, led by, who else, South Park protagonist Randy Marsh, all love going to church every Sunday because it gives them the opportunity, during Father Maxi’s homily, to shout out jokes about Catholic priests molesting boys.
The premise is not too dissimilar from last week’s “Dead Kids.” In both cases, a deeply serious problem has become so normalized the adults have grown completely oblivious to the actual harm it’s causing, even though they have children who may be directly affected by it. But the presentation in “Dead Kids” was far clearer: school shootings are hitting so close to home that they’re literally happening at South Park Elementary, and yet the severity of the problem is still not registering. In “A Boy and a Priest,” the premise, it seems, is that the Catholic Church’s boy molesting problem is such a foregone conclusion that it’s now a punchline; the fact the victims are still very real children suffering very real trauma has been diminished to background noise.
But the conceit is a flimsy one to ride a whole episode on. It’s just a dumb and not particularly funny idea that the adults love Catholic priest jokes so much that they also love going to church to make them. And that when church closes down everyone is extremely depressed because they don’t get to make those jokes every week. And that Randy is so excited when Father Maxi comes to his house because it means he gets to keep making Catholic priest jokes. I don’t know; maybe it would work if any of the jokes were actually funny but they’re all lame and basic (possibly on purpose, though I don’t understand how that services the plot). I mean, aren’t Catholic priest jokes sort of old hat in general these days?
The rickety initial premise means the whole storyline suffers. I don’t really know what the message of this episode is, or if there even is one. At a guess, the moral is the one stated outright by Father Maxi: there isn’t a cancer in the Catholic Church that can be excised because the cancer is the Church itself.
However, this message is confused because Father Maxi is revealed to be a good guy. He hangs out with Butters the whole episode, but the relationship is totally innocent. At the end, he kills off the Archdiocese’s evil clean-up crew and goes back to preaching (as the adults continue to make their pedophilia jokes). As Father Maxi is the South Park stand-in for all Catholic priestdom, this is in direct contrast with what he tells Butters. The message this seems to convey is there are good Catholic priests out there? And that they just need to get on with their good preaching in the face of all this trouble?? I guess???
That I haven’t mentioned the jokes in “A Boy and a Priest” until this point should be some indication that I didn’t think much of them. I laughed when, at Clyde’s party, Maxi says “and now let us pray” and all the kids go “Aw!” Other than that, the rest of the comedy mostly falls under that South Park banner of taking a joke idea and iterating on it endlessly, so if you aren’t on board with the comedic premise early on, you’re probably not going to enjoy the episode. As mentioned, the boy molestation jokes all fell flat (assuming they were even trying to be funny). The other recurring joke is the clean-up crew repeatedly mentioning cum. The surprise of hearing them say “cum” is funny a few times, but it gets progressively less entertaining.
“A Boy and a Priest” is built upon a flimsy foundational premise that makes for a mostly unfunny episode, a fairly bizarre plot, and an unclear message (if there is one). On the other hand, it’s got a solid character arc for Father Maxi, so, uh, for everyone whose favorite South Park character is the boring priest, this one’s for you.
Joe Matar watches a lot of cartoons and a lot of sitcoms. He’s obsessed with story structure so that’s what all his reviews are about. Joe also writes about video games on occasion. He has an MA in English if you can believe it. Read more of his work here. Follow Joe on Twitter for more fun @joespirational!