This South Park review contains spoilers.
South Park Season 23 Episode 7
The idea that South Park, now 23 seasons deep, can reboot itself twice within seven episodes is a gag you can really fall in love with on a surface level. The execution of storylines beyond the intros to Tegridy Farms and this week’s reboot, PC Babies, has left a lot to be desired, though.
“Board Girls” certainly fixes some of the criticisms we’ve had this season. Removing Randy from the equation and telling a self-contained story rooted in the kids being kids goes a long way. However, I can’t help but feel like PC Principal in reviewing this episode, caught between what’s objectively a funny “Macho Man” Randy Savage parody, but one that’s used in a way that’s irresponsible and sloppy in its setup and bows out when it has the chance to wade into the grey area of its intended social commentary.
Since their introduction, PC Principal, Strong Woman, and PC Babies have been a welcome addition to the town and episodes that feature them have been among the high points of recent seasons. The use of these characters is typically to push “PC” to the extreme, outlining a hardline stance and from there using their presence to analyze what Matt Stone and Trey Parker see as the nuance of whatever cultural debate is going on.
This goes back to season 19’s “Stunning and Brave,” in which Kyle catches flack for not saying Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, not because he’s transphobic, but because of charges brought against Jenner stemming from a fatal car crash. While the show’s depictions of Jenner can be considered mean-spirited and hasn’t aged particularly well, the episode’s overall message about mob mentality has. These same rules apply to “Board Girls,” only Stone and Parker open up a conversation about trans athletes that they aren’t equipped to have, and it can’t be easily summed up in a thinly sketched out parody.
Frankly, it’s not a topic I myself have done extensive research on, but my gut reaction to the episode is that it plays to some of the worst stereotypes of the trans community. A quick Google search will show you that the instant reaction from far right-leaning sites, the bathroom bill lot, are interpreting this as South Park ripping trans athletes. That’s not entirely the case here, but it’s easy to see why they made that connection given how the show clumsily introduces the character and undermines the larger point it wants to make.
It’s a bummer because the episode’s other storyline does a sound job of highlighting the absurdity of the narratives some of those far right sites try to push. The board game club feels reminiscent of the show’s best episodes in which the boys and girls are adversarial. Only the lines blur in this episode because the girls prove to be pretty damn good at board games and after some initial skepticism, most of the boys accept this. It leads to some great Cartman stuff without it going completely Cartman. I’ve talked a lot about when the show goes with big Cartman storylines, they tend to fall apart. This low-key Cartman has all of the character’s best tendencies on display but it fits smoothly into the episode and is key to converging the Board Girls and Heather storylines in the final act.
Since the episode description says it’s a “season opener” for PC Babies after “Season Finale” ended the Tegridy Farms portion of the season, it’s possible this is just the beginning for Heather Swanson, as we see her walking off with Cartman in defeat after the Board Girls pull a stunning upset on the table tops. So we’ll have to reserve some judgement to see how South Park develops the Heather Swanson storyline in the coming weeks. Despite the reasonably well-constructed plot around it, “Board Girls” doesn’t inspire too much hope they’ll handle Heather vs. Strong Woman well enough quiet the PC Babies, me included.