SOUTH PARK: 'Last Of The Meheecans'
'Last Of The Meheecans' may not carry on last week's unexpectedly affecting story, but it does continue what is looking like something of a revival for South Park. Like many of the series' best episodes, it has plenty of clever, subversive points to make, but is first and foremost incredibly funny, as well as featuring Cartman taking a game way too far, a hummable tune, plus one of those inspired Randy Marsh non-sequiturs that have made the character so beloved.
It is also testament to what an inspired addition to the series Butters has been. I complained that last week's Community landed in an uncomfortable middle-ground where the group taking out all their anger on one good-hearted man came across as mean rather than funny because they didn't take it far enough. Butters is a perfect example of how to do that sort of comedy right: a near-angelically naive little boy, punished in the most ridiculous and over-the-top ways for his attempts to be the best friend to the world he can.
It's also useful for Trey Parker and Matt Stone to have a completely blank slate of a character, whose personality is defined so much by his imagination and how he sees the world around him that he can fit into just about any situation. Even Stan, who until the past two episodes was probably the least defined of the show's lead characters, is too wry and knowing to be turned into an unintentional Mexican revolutionary. By the series' distinctive logic, however, it makes perfect sense that Butters would continue playing 'Texans vs Mexicans' even after getting hopelessly lost and then 'adopted' by a couple who mistake him for a real Mexican boy, because nothing fills him with dread quite like the idea of letting someone down - even if it means doing all their housework and eventually leading a mass migration into Mexico.
For some reason, it never occurred to me until I watched 'Last Of The Meheecans' (given my affinity for terrible puns, I laughed very hard when that title appeared on-screen) how epic a lot of these South Park episodes are. There are the fantasy episodes like the Imaginationland trilogy, of course, but what I'm really talking about are ones like these, which mainly revolve around the boys interacting with more grounded concerns such as immigration and American national pride. The Simpsons have gone on holiday to various countries, but I can't think of any series other than South Park which uses scope quite so effectively to make its points. Futurama occasionally visits different planets, but mostly just to mix the environments up a bit or in service of a gag, making it feel like the characters are just moving between different sets. South Park feels much bigger, because when its characters cross borders, it is rare that there isn't some strong guiding purpose behind it.
Last night's episode spanned Colorado, Texas and Mexico and even though many of the locations looked pretty similar, the themes being tackled gave it a real sense of scale. South Park's world feels much bigger than Futurama's universe, to me at least. As is quite often the case on the programme, 'Last Of The Meheecans' started small, with the boys playing a game of border defence and not noticing that Butters hadn't made it home ("Butters is one of those people that you can never remember if he was there or not."), before escalating that idea into a story about the dehumanising American view of border-hopping Mexicans ("Window... window... Windex... Windex!") and then escalating once again into how much America relies on immigrant work to be able to see itself as a land of opportunity and prosperity.
I suppose a little more could have been to show how much America would miss the immigrant labour once it is gone, but that clearly wasn't the episode's main concern (and I think is a point the series has made before, anyway) and Randy's glorious Darth Vader 'NOOOOOOO!' at his leaf-covered lawn made the point succinctly and hysterically enough that it didn't need to be revisited.
No matter how intelligent an episode's ideas, South Park is first and foremost a comedy and therefore should be judged on how many laughs it gets. (I'd say that the previous two episodes were exceptions, though, because they were clearly aiming to do something different to normal). 'Last Of The Meheecans' could have felt preachy - the points were clever, but the way in which they were made was often very on-the-nose - had it not been so regularly hilarious. From Butters... sorry, 'Mantequilla' (which I gather is, of course, the Spanish word for butter) enjoying a Life Of Brian moment, standing naked by an open window as he realises he has accidentally become a people's champion, through to the set-piece showdown between Butters and Cartman at the Mexican border - nice bit of foreshadowing with the piñata, by the way - this was an episode which had lofty goals in its comedy as well as its story, and hit just about all of them.
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