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Thursday, October 20th, 2011

South Park Recap: "Bass to Mouth"

“Bass to Mouth” started out so strongly. It positioned itself to be a bizarre commentary on Gossip Girl, celebrity email hacking, and school bullying which seemed simple enough and full of satire ready material. Unfortunately the groundwork dissolved in the messy second half, leaving us with a mediocre episode that seemed to last far longer than its 22 minutes. And the teachers kill Cartman. Well, almost.

The conceit is great, however untimely. Someone is posting gossip about the elementary school kids to a site called Eavesdropper with headlines that look a little bit like Drudge Report meets TMZ. The first juicy story? A 4th grader shits his pants. Pete Melman. His mom has to bring him new underwear and everything. The school finds out almost instantly thanks to Eavesdropper, which even includes an audio file of the nurses’ phone call to the mother.

Cartman is all over it. “What should we call him when we see him? Poopy Pants Pete? Mush Pants Melman?” Unfortunately, the school administrators are too. In a smart, but shocking (but I guess not since South Park probably gets a pass on everything at this point) turn, the episode shifts its focus to bullying. The teachers bring up the cautionary tale of Cory — a kid who killed himself as a result of the ridicule and torment “spearheaded” by Cartman.

Resistant at first, (“You’re asking me to ignore that so that he can have a normal life? The truth is he was dead the second he crapped his pants”) after some backroom promises are made, Cartman agrees to initiate a campaign to turn public opinion around for Pete Melman. So he gives Jenny Simon a laxative filled cupcake so that she shits her pants in the middle of class.

Kyle’s the lone critic of Eavesdropper till the site turns on Stan. After an impassioned speech with podium and everything Stan and the rest of the aggrieved kids take off to find the gossip monger. Annnnd it’s a rodent. A rodent with a blonde Julian Assange coif named Wikileaks. That’s where things fall apart. Although it’s tempting to ask whether or not they were even trying with this one, the laziness might have been excused if the episode had ended on a stronger note. Unfortunately, it devolved into further absurdity.

Lemmiwinks returns with his guardian ghosts and a brand new folksy theme song, and is charged with the task of killing Wikileaks — his brother. (How hard would it have been to just name him WikiLINKS?) Some of the one liners are legitimately funny, especially Cata Fish trying to explain his way out of a suspected sexual assault case in another thinly veiled Assange reference, but the episode lingers for a long time on the Lemmiwinks storyline where the jokes are few and the pace is slow.

The idea that an elementary school would need a website to send gossip to is dumb — the kids take care of that on their own just fine. Trey Parker even hints at knowing this in the first scene: while all the kids are huddled around their iPhones, Butters takes off down the hall screaming the news about Pete Melman for all to hear. But the concept was there, and this should have been a better episode. The behind the scenes dealings of Cartman and the teachers trying to do some damage control juxtaposed with Kyle, Stan, and the rest of the students dealing with Eavesdropper on the front lines provided an interesting construction. And although the unexpected reference to an ACTUAL suicide combined with the teachers literally throwing Cartman under a bus signaled a shift from mere irreverence to some seriously dark stuff, the humor was still there.

Ultimately, “Bass to Mouth” took half an episode to set up a pretty weak punchline and then forced us to continue enduring that punchline for the remainder, resting too heavily on the presumed ability of a little Lemmiwinks induced nostalgia to salvage the joke. Bringing back characters and gimmicks from earlier seasons works occasionally and flatters a longstanding audience. In this case though, it was a stretch.

Lindsey has written for The Atlantic and contributes to The Junior Varsity. She lives in Chicago.

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