Splitsider

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

South Park Recap: "Reverse Cowgirl"

In the Season 16 premiere of South Park, “Reverse Cowgirl,” Clyde Donovan leaves the toilet seat up and accidentally causes his mother’s death. What started out as an unreasonable and near psychotic obsession with having the toilet seat down, ends up being validated when Betsy Donovan falls in, makes the mistake of flushing, and dies when all of her insides are torn out because of the pressure. It’s fairly disturbing, even for South Park.

Because the men and women of the town can’t agree on a standard for toilet seat etiquette (“It isn’t a woman’s responsibility to see that the seat is down, it’s a man responsibility to put it down, it’s not that hard”), the Toilet Safety Administration (TSA) is called in to regulate things, and the situation spirals out of control. It starts with government issued seat belts, and a fine if you don’t wear one. Then the TSA introduces agent-enforced screenings at public restrooms (“You can’t even take a crap at IHOP without a 40 minute line”). Finally, they assign 3 agents to each citizen’s personal bathroom, and a security camera that is “monitored by one person in a discreet location.” At the beginning of the episode, Cartman declared that “toilet time is the last bastion of American freedom.” Not anymore.

Though the construction of the episode was as intricate as ever, the bulk of it wasn’t terribly funny. Cartman has some great moments, including his terrorist actions to fight the system, and his tireless attempts to turn Clyde’s situation into gossip, but on the whole the episode seemed slower than usual. It lingered on scenes and gags that ultimately fell flat – the men and women bickering at Betsy Donovan’s funeral, the many images of people on the toilet, and the lengthy shot of the security camera monitor masturbating noisily while scrolling through different feeds of people in their bathroom just don’t catch the way they were probably intended. Even the B-story of Clyde and Kyle dealing with a slimey lawyer who convinces them to sue the inventor of the toilet through a “sue-ance” also seemed to be going nowhere for the majority of the episode.

So is the toilet seat just a matter of etiquette? An irreconcilable and gendered preference? A dangerous design flaw? Ultimately “Reverse Cowgirl” is about the absurdity of our eagerness to establish fault and to place blame. The boys want to fix the problem by suing someone. The government wants solve it through excessive regulation. Both fail. The government intervention is ineffective and unpleasant, and the lawsuit is just a lot of expensive smoke and mirrors. Even Betsy Donovan’s spirit has it all wrong – she still blames Clyde for leaving the seat up. In the end, the spirit of Sir John Harrington shows up to tell the town that it’s our own fault for misusing the toilet. We’re all sitting on it the wrong way, hence the title of the episode “Reverse Cowgirl.”

Surprisingly, the slow pace and failed jokes were all made worthwhile with that final punchline, which brilliantly references an effective stand-alone joke from earlier in the episode when Butters is embarrassed after finding out that he’s the only one on his class who sits facing the flusher with “that nice little ledge for your chocolate milk and comic books.” “Reverse Cowgirl” isn’t an essential episode – the poop jokes didn’t really take, and the politics even felt weirdly stale (the TSA? Why now?) – but it does make a strong case that a single, well-executed joke can manage to leave you smiling at the end of the episode, reminding us why South Park is still worth watching.

Lindsey Bahr is a writer living in Chicago.

  • http://reednwrite.tumblr.com J.D. Reed

    Maybe it's because there haven't been any fresh South Parks in a while but I was surprisingly entertained by this episode. It was the most focused and 'on game' episode I've seen in a long time, maybe since last year's mid-season finale "You're Getting Old." They started to get a bit off rails with the TSA bit but I gotta say,toilet humor and all, I think almost every joke hit in this episode.

  • http://twitter.com/joshung Joshua Ungerleider

    I think the first episode of the season always feels the most dated.

    One thing I love about South Park isn't the "they're saying what people think" as much as they can pick out the complete nonsense that people have strong feelings about. I have seen arguments last much longer than they should about who should put the seat down well before this episode air. I liked the bickering at the funeral, because it depicts how much people treat this as a much bigger issue than it really is.

  • FubarGuy

    I'm still amazed that this show can make me cringe. The TSA overlord guy in the Control Room fapping away – ewwwww. And that it went on just a little too long made it even more disturbing. Love it.