Going into a South Park episode titled “The Hobbit,” I like many wondered why Matt Stone and Trey Parker would risk repeating themselves in a fantasy subject matter (though Tolkien) after the epically satisfying Black Friday/Game of Thrones trilogy that concluded last week. Ah, to be foolish. Tonight’s standalone episode wasn’t just another fantasy parody; it was the series’ most biting social satire of the whole season. For South Park’s season finale, the boys took a backseat so Matt and Trey could get off their chest a rant against the tool used for getting much more off chests: Photoshop. When introduced early to the South Park Cows’ Cheerleading Squad, we see all the old standbys, led by the ever so prim and proper Wendy as Cheer Captain, plus new character Lisa Burger. Slightly overweight, pimpled and wearing glasses, Lisa obviously has low self-esteem and is Wendy’s pity project. When everyone makes fun of Lisa for having a crush on Butters, Wendy suggests that Lisa go ask Butters out to a movie. Thinking we might be gearing up for a Mean Girls spoof of some sort, I sit back to grab the proverbial popcorn when it all goes spiraling out of control once Butters completely and totally shuts down Lisa in the following scene with staggering misogyny. Let’s recap: Butters looks down on someone else. No, no! He doesn’t just condescend to her; he gives her the shrug by saying, “No thanks, Lisa. I really appreciate the offer, but you’re too fat for me.” ….BUTTERS! And that is when this episode becomes great. Wendy is justifiably outraged on Lisa’s behalf and confronts Butters in front of his locker where he reveals that he has higher standards for himself, and those standards are the ones dictated by Kim Kardashian’s magazine spread. Infuriated by his stupid inability to realize how inhumanely photoshopped those images are, Wendy says what apparently everyone is thinking over at South Park Studios: “Kim Kardashian is a short, overweight woman who manipulates her image and makes average girls feel horrible about themselves…Look it up stupid; in real life Kim Kardashian has the body of a Hobbit!” And so, it begins. The rest of the episode deals heavily with the blatant stupidity of a culture that worships impossible-to-be-real images of girls and women heavily photoshopped through the fashion and men magazine pop culture filter, and also the social watchdogs who decry the practice. When Wendy tries to teach Butters a lesson by photoshopping Lisa Burger to look like Kim Kardashian, she unintentionally sets Butters and the whole school in a lustful chase after the newly most popular “It girl.” And when the rest of the 4th grade girls also hit the gym…to photoshop their images as a series of sex kitten jail baiters, all the guys are gaga for their latest Instagram and Facebook photos, showing them to the bros while ignoring the actual girl on their arm. Wendy is infuriated, but is it because she is “gel?” Matt and Trey raise an intriguingly cynical counterargument to their own thesis, one that posits the only people complaining about this practice are self-righteous feminists who are just jealous of the popular women’s good looks. As Mr. Mackie points out in a series of increasingly bizarre (and hilarious) counselor sessions with Wendy, there is a thin line between being “a feminist and a hater.” Indeed, the show’s apathetic approach to Wendy’s exasperated Katherine Ross impersonation would suggest that the series says, “Why fight it?” …But yet, when Wendy does give in to the 21st century Stepford mentality at the end by changing her Facebook profile to one that “sexes” her up through the miracle of Photoshop, it is not really played for laughs. With the anguished long pause before she finally clicks away her soul, emotionally underscored by the tear in her eye, the sequence is not really played comically or smugly maudlin. More it suggests a sad commentary about how there is no hope for this society, as she closes out the season by surrendering to vapidity and sexism before walking out of the computer lab to the classic “Silent Credits” TV tropes (if only for a moment). It is a testament to South Park that after 17 seasons, they can still tell the perfect 30-minute joke that is set-up in the first moment and doesn’t deliver its final point until the closing seconds—and it can still somehow feel profound. Or at the very least, thoughtful. The series’ ability to structure nearly every episode with narrative-based comedy and irony is what still makes it the king of animated comedy. However, it wasn’t all quite so earnest as that moment. No, in fact it had one of the best running jokes that, again, built and built to the most epic crescendo by bringing back the gay fish Kanye West! Returned from the bottom of the sea, where he apparently was getting to the bottom of Aquaman, Kanye even admits to being a recovering gay fish when he comes to defend his ladylove, Kim “The Hobbit” Kardashian. I even wondered if they would mention him when they first revealed the titular character of the evening was indeed Kanye’s fiancé, and do they ever. Seriously, if Kanye felt compelled to respond to “Fishsticks,” I cannot wait to see how he fails to keep his fingers from blasting off at this. [Related article: Our review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug] The episode hammers home again and again that Kim Kardashian is a Hobbit, because while we never see her, all of Kanye’s multiple defenses of her only hurt her defense. For example, she only blows smoke rings from her pipe to hide the wrinkles around her mouth. Also, she could not appear at Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Awards, because she is gearing up for her new movie Friday, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It’s not like that! Peter Jackson only loosely based it on her life when she joined a band of dwarves to slay a dragon! Kanye’s super-cereal, you guys! It is a brutally vicious mockery of a woman who they clearly view as a talentless, insultingly dull shell of a celebrity. As Kanye points out, she may not be able to sing like Beyoncé, or dance like Beyoncé, or act like Beyoncé, or be a genuinely decent human being like Beyoncé…but, what was I saying? By bringing back the gay fish and mercilessly satirizing our Photoshop-obsessed sexting culture, this episode had both the wit and the cultural zeitgeist to deliver a superb South Park episode, more than worthy to stand with the best of this season, which also includes “World War Zimmerman” and the “Black Friday” Trilogy. But how does this season’s new format stack up overall? Honestly, it was kind of nice to have 10 episodes instead of the typical seven. This allowed the chance for Matt and Trey to delve in the full milieu of the current media landscape with leaving no stone unturned. Still, I truly would prefer a return to the old standard, if only because I loathe the idea of waiting nine-plus months for a new episode of South Park. Den of Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars How did you feel about the season? 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