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Thursday, October 4th, 2012

'South Park' Recap: "Raising the Bar"

On this week’s South Park, Kyle agonizes over how our standards have gotten so low, Token becomes a maniacal reality television show producer, Honey Boo Boo has her heart replaced with a pig’s, Michelle Obama beats up Cartman, and James Cameron literally raises the bar (thanks to his trusty Deepsea Challenger). The concept was fun enough, and yet “Raising the Bar” ended up falling somewhat flat despite some great jokes and a little bit of navel gazing, mainly due to repetitiveness and the fact that Kyle didn’t actually seem to care.

On a trip to “Wall*Mart” the boys notice that not only are most of the people in the store obese, but that they’re all riding around on Rascal Mobility Scooters. Kyle scolds Cartman for his unhealthy ways. Cartman does some soul searching, admits that he’s fat, and gains a few pounds so that he can get his own Rascal. Because of course. Because he gets to be lazy, and can go to the front of the line, and can take his demands and grievances to court about the injustice of being unable to use the toilets at Best Buy.

In an attempt to do something to get Cartman and the town to wake up to the obesity issue, Kyle and Token make a documentary. But Token takes a page from Ben Stiller’s character in Reality Bites and turns the sober subject into another reality show. If Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is truly something that we will watch, why not a show about fat Cartman riding around on a scooter?

Kyle wonders how shamelessness has gotten to this point, and then confesses to Stan that “maybe it was us. Maybe we lowered the bar a long time ago and now we’re all trapped in the stink of it.” And in that very particular way that only South Park can, they manage to turn the spotlight of criticism back on themselves and appear to be somewhat genuine about it. It’s not terribly funny, but it’s effective at making the viewer feel dark in a way that poking fun of the Honey Boo Boos of the world will never do. That’s why it’s important that they use it so sparingly. We don’t need “You’re Getting Old” every week.

“Raising the Bar” managed to weave in an impressive bunch of references including Adele’s anti body-shaming stance (though they could have easily subbed in Christina Aguilera or Lady Gaga and it would have been just as timely) and poor Randy Newman’s declining career, however they relied a little too heavily on just having characters repeat the same things to hammer in the theme: we’ve lost all sense of shame, and the bar has been lowered. And though it might seem a little odd to question the sincerity of a character, we’ve seen what Kyle is like when he really cares about something, and Cartman’s looming obesity was not one of those things. It didn’t matter in the end, since his focus turns to society in general, but it felt a little forced at the outset. Also I don’t think any of us actually want to live in a world where Kyle isn’t constantly calling Cartman a fat ass.

Eventually James Cameron saves the day, Michelle Obama stops the insane “sketti” fight between Cartman and Honey Boo Boo, and everyone seems to wake up. Is it a preview of what’s to come? Are Matt and Trey telling us that they’re only going to get better? Probably not, but let’s try to hold them to it anyway.

Lindsey Bahr has always wanted to compare Kyle Broflovski to Lelania Pierce.