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So here it is; the conclusion to the eerily familiar cliff-hanger of South Park’s 200th episode. Will we ever find out who Cartman’s Farther really is, or is it just another cruel trick played by Trey Parker and Matt Stone?
To be blunt, yes we do. Even more surprising is, that of all the directions the mischievous writers could have chosen to take this irritating little mystery, the revelation turns out to be as unexpected as it is hilarious. I had braced myself for another terrible Terrance and Phillip fartathon or maybe just an unsatisfying ‘it’s chef’ scenario, but without spoiling it, the actual result left me grinning like a masturbating chimp and laughing like any woman who’s ever seen me naked. There’s a stroke of genius in the reveal and everything about it was groin-grippingly brilliant. If the whole episode had followed Cartman’s quest for the truth, it would have almost certainly gone down as one of my favourite of all time. Characters we haven’t seen for years return like long lost Uncles (the kind that don’t bounce you too gingerly on their knee) and it’s strange how happy I was to see their return.
The Geneticist Dr Mephisto and his strange pet/friend Kevin are back and they are still putting an unnaturally large number of asses onto lab animals. In fact, almost all the old faces are their, albeit in often fleeting glimpses and these references to the past make the viewer strangely nostalgic even amongst the increasingly ridiculous circus like extravaganza. The majority of the jokes have links to past episodes and long time fans are rewarded with a depth not usually present in the episodic world of South Park.
That being said, 201 does not simply focus on Cartman’s crisis of identity and this is where the episode crumbles, very nearly to pieces. The first installment of this two-part episode, revolves largely around Tom Cruise’s army of litigious celebrities tired of the mockery and ridicule that the show has subjected them to over the years. The only way they will be appeased is by meeting their demands to present the Profit Mohammed before them so they can steal his anti-ridicule power (which Mr Cruise has deduced he must posses). Now, for whatever reason, this latest episode bleeps out nearly every reference to the Muslim profit, even his name. The situation plays out much as you’d expect, but with a giant black ‘censored’ box shifting around in a decidedly un-hilarious fashion. This really comes to a teeth grinding crescendo at the conclusion of the episode with the mandatory ‘you know, I learned something today’ speech which is completely bleeped out, all two or three minutes of it. I should draw attention to the fact, that when I say ‘bleeped’ I mean an ear piercing tone sounds at a frequency that makes Barbra Streisand’s voice sound like the flutter of Angel’s wings.
Clearly, the network had put some restrictions in place and these segments act as a middle finger to the legal department, but it just felt so deeply unnecessary and more importantly, painfully unfunny. We have been here before and the previous episode had pretty much covered this piece of social commentary. I understand that Matt Parker and Trey Stone have justifiably big egos, but to perform an ‘if we can’t do what we want, then we’ll ruin the episode’ kind of stunt, was just (for want of a better word) pathetic.
I don’t know, watch for yourself and see if you agree. I may very well be way off the mark and have misinterpreted their intent, but personally if the half of the episode that followed Cartman’s exploits hadn’t been so brilliantly executed, then it would have been almost a complete write-off. However, bleeping and repetitious themes aside, there is a lot to be said for having a retrospective glance back at some of the forgotten heroes of early South Park. Mr Hat, Mephisto and even Pip are all there and 201 is valuable even if only as a benchmark or page break in the evolution of a show, that when it’s not performing ideological point-scoring with the network, is utterly brilliant and in a league of its own.