Thursday, 27 October 2011

Television - South Park 'Broadway Bro Down' review

Given how Matt Stone and Trey Parker have a show running on Broadway right now, there was a certain inevitability that the topic would crop up on South Park eventually. 'Broadway Bro Down' could be seen as twenty minutes of build-up to a single joke, but that joke was magnificent in its rapid delivery and timing, and a pitch-perfect pay-off for what was easily the funniest episode of what has been a sensational return to form for the programme since returning for its winter run.

What was particularly unexpected was how heartfelt the episode was beneath all the dirty jokes: no question that it was mainly about musicals brainwashing women into giving blowjobs and Randy subsequently staging the blowjobbiest (word) musical of all time, the regally named Splooge-Drenched Blowjob Queen, but it concluded on the rather more delicate note of he and Sharon, who had been at each other's throats not so long ago in Ass Burgers, realising that a successful marriage requires a bit of give and take on both sides. A budding young romance also ended with a deliciously ironic death, which was perhaps a little less touching but all the more hilarious.
Randy Marsh episodes are usually the ones where South Park gets to act out its gleefully buffoonish side, as befits a man with a Homer Simpson-esque penchant for adopting new projects or jobs on an obsessive whim. Randy's 'composition' for his musical was perhaps the greatest of many highlights, with Matt and Trey showing off their expertise in the format and fusing it with their trademark brand of boundlessly enthusiastic filth in much the same way that produced the South Park movie. It might not have been as easily quotable as 'Uncle F**ker' or the extended 'Kyle's Mom's A B**ch' from that movie, but was as hummably depraved as either. Book Of Mormon hasn't reached the UK and who knows if it will, given how we don't have much in the way of a Mormon population over here, but fingers crossed that Matt and Trey are big enough names to bring it over regardless. I would love to see what they can do with a stage to fill and I'm sure I can find some girl to accompany me for the promised... ancillary benefits.

Being English, there was apparently a whole strand of humour related to an American football player called Tim Tebow which went completely over my head. It's a testament to how packed 'Broadway Bro Down' was with gags that I didn't even notice that I was missing anything, as so much else was going on elsewhere. I'm not even sure where the Tebow stuff would have fit in, between the montage of Randy and Sharon's mutually beneficial trip to New York, the hilarious Bro-off between Randy and Stephen Sondheim in a Hooters car park - I loved how no-one batted an eyelid that Elton John was one of the bros writing musicals to manipulate girls into giving more blowjobs, as though his homosexuality were nothing but a cunning disguise - and the fantastic climax (pun intended) which tied every one of the episode's plot strands together in a brilliantly dark piece of dramatic irony.

That irony came at the expense of Larry Feegan, the long-suffering son of vegan parents, who finally finds a way out of his meat-deprived agony through the encouragement of Shelley, Stan's older sister. It has been a long time since Shelley has done anything other than hang around in the background and her character was greatly softened from the violent bully I remember her as, but the memory of her old character made it all the sweeter how she, in his words, drew Larry out of his shell. This might sound like a loaded compliment - it isn't - but South Park is brilliant at hitting easy targets. Veganism is a pretty common stomping ground for comedy, but this episode committed to parodying the fallacies in its arguments (Larry's parents claim that a vegan diet can prevent drowning, for one) with such gusto that the joke felt fresh. Same goes for the Darth Vader gag back in Last Of The Meheecans, another familiar gag which the series sold brilliantly through comic energy alone.

Regardless, seeing Larry offering Shelley a flower on her doorstep or serenading her on his ukelele were charming, as was her inviting him inside to play videogames, making the grim ending all the more hilarious. Kudos to South Park for drawing such emotional sincerity out of a one-shot character and one we haven't seen in years. Considering the episode ended with an hilarious pitch for Book Of Mormon, it was pretty forthright in making the point that small moments of honesty will trump big, spectacular gestures every time.

Larry's little song to Shelley on his ukelele was a sweeter, more intimate parallel to the big, manipulative musicals being staged elsewhere, blossoming real affection between the two. Randy, meanwhile, took Sharon to the Broadway shows for all the wrong reasons, but it was only when he was honest with her that they came closer as a couple. In other words, big treats are great, but mean nothing unless backed up with sincere intentions. You know South Park is back to its best when it can make that point through a series of musical numbers designed to make women 'famish for blowjobs'.


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