Friday, 21 October 2011

Television - South Park 'Bass To Mouth' review

As you may have noticed, I have been busy with the London Film Festival this week, so apologies for this review turning up a day late. With my time is at a premium right now - this is probably the only time I will ever be pleased to go a week without Community and Parks & Rec - it is the same reason for Word of the week going on temporary hiatus, to return next week.

Anyhow, South Park continued its upturn in quality with another hilarious, thought-provoking episode, pulling a neat about-turn by starting off as what appeared to be a morality tale about school bullying, but quickly turned into a guinea pig's mission, as decreed by the ghostly Frog King, to defeat his gossip-spreading evil brother, named Wikileaks. Cartman also got thrown under a bus and Mr. Mackey was propelled down the school corridor by a jet stream of laxative-induced diarrhoea.

Just another day in South Park Elementary, really.
When I described this episode as 'thought provoking', it has to be said that it couldn't have been more obvious about the point it wanted to make. A rodent named Wikileaks, with Julian Assange's haircut, spreading damaging gossip on the internet? You don't need an English degree to work that one out. Nevertheless, there was a bit more going on beneath the surface than was obvious on first viewing - the site that Wikileaks the guinea pig had created was more similar to showbiz gossip sites than the real Wikileaks. (This could get confusing, so the guinea pig will henceforth be referred to as 'Wikipig' and the website by its normal name). The suggestion seemed to be that, while Assange claims that Wikileaks is doing a vital public service by bringing classified documents into the public domain, it and showbiz sites are essentially catering to the same instincts to traffic gossip among their audience.

Just as Assange was furious when some of his public details were leaked, Stan (in a slightly out of character move) was initially supportive of the website until it turned its attention onto him. In other words, the morality behind these sites only extends so far as it is other people being targeted. Assange may delight in his ability to cause trouble with the documents he indiscriminately leaks, but when the magnifying glass is turned on him, it turns into a whole different picture. Other than Bradley Manning's incarceration, we'll likely never know the real life fallout of the documents Wikileaks published, but while it is important that governments should be held to account for the often disgraceful actions they take in our name - I'll be seeing an LFF film about that soon, named Rebellion - is it any better when everything is allowed to go public? There needs to be some sort of balance.

On a similar note, while I don't want to go down the woefully misguided road of Mario Lopez's self-pity project H8r (ugh, that title), is it really right that we accept the extent to which gossip sites and tabloids dig into the private lives of people in the public eye, purely for our titillation? If you have put yourself out there, then there is certainly an extent to which you have to accept taking criticism and being held accountable for your actions, but those sites' free reign to spread unfounded rumour or evidence achieved through overly-intrusive means surely has to be regulated to prevent it causing untold damage, as per the Murdoch empire's phone hacking of the Milly Dowler victims.

The episode, named after a sexual act that may or may not have been performed by a ghostly fish, raised those questions in a manner typical of the series, intersecting them with the bullying plot in the hilarious moment when Cartman was literally thrown under a bus for his part in orchestrating a scheme that started out with the simple aim of stopping another boy committing suicide after word spreads of him soiling himself in class. The escalating situation, in which Cartman drew the school staff into his twisted way of thinking that inevitably caused infinitely more trouble than it solved, was a clever way of showing how people react to being faced with the consequences of their actions.

Cartman, as usual, had endless excuses to shift the blame away from his being the one responsible for the first boy's death - even for South Park, a sinister idea dealt with in a remarkably offhanded way - while the staff used the fact that Cartman was the one who started the ridiculous plan as an excuse to justify killing him (!) to save their own skin. The episode didn't quite make as smooth a connection between that and the Wikileaks plot as it might have, although the links were there once given a bit of thought.

Mostly though, this was another hilarious half-hour for the season, possibly the funniest that has been aired since its return three weeks ago. The Lemmiwinks idea might have been done before, but was long enough ago that the concept felt fresh and there were plenty of great gags to go back to the well for. Who could possibly refuse another visit from the Frog King? The sheer absurdity of the whole situation was a delight from start to finish, while Cartman drawing the staff into his twisted mindset also yielded a great number of wonderful sight gags, like him screwing up his eyes, deep in thought, as he came up with yet another plan to make people ingest industrial quantities of laxatives - all of which paid off with the image of Mr. Mackey taking the brunt of the punishment. Only South Park can so effortlessly combine the experimental with the excremental.


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