This South Park review contains spoilers.
Yaoi is a specific kind of fandom. Generally speaking, all art is subjective and should be consumed and celebrated however an audience chooses. Yet, I still recall my impressionable, middle school self being shocked to learn what so many Gundam Wing fans really thought about those characters online. And I think it’s safe to say that Trey Parker and Matt Stone had the same reaction about all those Tweek/Craig shippers who watch South Park.
Oh, you didn’t know it was a thing? Look it up. Ever since Tweek and Craig squared off in a fight ostensibly titled “Tweek vs. Craig,” a certain segment of South Park fans have been imagining their more intimate bedroom rematches via artwork, fan fiction, and so many other avenues. And essentially, last night’s episode of South Park, “Tweek x Craig,” is about Matt and Trey grappling with this bizarrely amusing section of fan culture that takes supposedly straight male characters and realizes their true gay yearnings (think about all those side-eyes between Kirk and Spock).
After the Asian students reveal their various bits of Yaoi art for Tweek and Craig at school (which I’m going to guess is real fan art), the cat is out of the bag, Tweek and Craig are now viewed as a star-crossed romantic pairing, whether they like it or not. Early on, Stan freaks out if this means that any of them can be “turned” gay by their fans? The answer is yes, you fictional darling.
At first glance, what I like about “Tweek x Craig” is how much more standalone it appears compared to the last five episodes. Rather than tackling a topic dominating the headlines of the week, Matt and Trey are more exploring a bemusing cultural side street that they both are flabbergasted by but supportive of, nonetheless. Why the hell should fans not make Tweek and Craig a South Park Elementary version of Romeo and Juliet?
But so much of this episode is derived from the one joke about Yaoi—that two characters who are not gay are basically forced to be so by fans who don’t care about their actual personalities—that it ultimately reaches the high point of its hilarity early when we first skew toward a CW show with a love ballad montage, in this case Peter Gabriel’s “The Book of Love.”
But really what elevates “Tweek x Craig” above being a one-joke half-hour with middling success isthat season 19 is so serialized. Continuing to prove that South Park can learn new tricks no matter its age, this season took the ideas of connecting half hours from last year and has run with it by making every previous episode choice matter. Because PC Principal took a job in episode one of this year, and Randy became a PC Bro, the best segment of the episode again resides on Randy Marsh continuing to grow (and fail hard) at being the enlightened progressive who sips lattes at SoDoSoPa.
When Randy learns that students are claiming that Tweek and Craig are gay, he whispers in stunned disbelief, “Our town has only had a Wholes Food for three weeks, and we already have our first gay kids. So cool.” Sure, Randy.
What then occurs is a sweetly oblivious journey of well-meaning racism as Randy tries to appear cool by accepting that “Asians” choose who to make gay. And reaching all the way to the Chinese president only leads to Randy concluding that the Japanese have the right to make people gay because of the “Rape of Don King” in China during World War II.
Slowly turning the town of South Park into a liberal bastion of modern Millennial and social media values has opened a whole new side of not just the town folks, but of Matt and Trey’s humor. Yeah, the residents are still bigoted shit-kickers, but now their hearts are in the right place.
Seriously, consider for a moment how far the show has come in treating the LGBTQ community since Stan’s gay dog ran away to live with Big Gay Al. While that episode was considered progressive and daring for the 1990s—it even was nominated by GLAAD for special recognition in 1998—the sensibilities of that half-hour would be consider antiquated and even offensive by the PC Principals of today.
Yet despite gently mocking the inanity of Yaoi culture here, Matt and Trey delicately show a more sophisticated understanding of acceptance and LGBTQ rights. When Cartman said that he had to change in the season 19 premiere, he wasn’t just having his cake and eating it too. The series really has traveled many social mountains when Cartman, of all characters, can express, “Just because I don’t understand something doesn’t mean I can’t support it.”
The liberal tolerance of the Obama Years have reached even this once ostensibly quiet little redneck town, and they too can understand love is love—even if they ignorantly are too well meaning as they try to give it some money.
The only outdated bit of potential bigotry comes from Craig’s father—whose own reluctance to accept that his son is gay is treated with relative sensitivity and pathos for a show that has imaginary Cupids pee into his mouth—and he still comes to unconditionally love his son, whatever his sexual orientation might be. Of course, Craig isn’t technically gay, but don’t ruin the moment!
And perhaps best of all is the completely random non-sequitur of Cartman falling in love with “Cupid-Me,” his imaginary Greek god who visits him at night. If the rest of season 19 takes anything from this episode, it needs to be about how Cartman might have developed schizophrenia… or at the very least is in a confusing relationship with his own imaginary friend.
Overall, “Tweek x Craig” is a bit sporadic, and its central joke mocking Yaoi is perhaps too one-note. But all of the random and unexpected side avenues it explores—from Randy’s complete failure as a PC Bro to just calling back in montage that Butters has a Canadian girlfriend (and who is the mayor’s loved one who died?!)—makes it strangely amusing and even a little bit sweet.
The town of South Park is really growing up, isn’t it? I’m so proud that I just want to give it some money. Can I just give the series some money? Here’s some money.