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'South Park' Recap: "Obama Wins!"

South Park has created four Presidential election episodes in its 16 seasons. In 2000, “Trapper Keeper” staged an election and a recount in Ike’s kindergarten class. In 2004, “Douche and Turd” had the students of South Park Elementary vote between two mascots – Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich. And in 2008, “About Last Night” showed a post-concession speech McCain teaming up with Barack, Michelle, and leather catsuit clad Sarah Palin to steal a valuable diamond. “About Last Night” was notably finished prior to the election, making scenes like this particularly impressive.

This year, South Park predicted the future again with “Obama Wins!” Though it was a pretty good way to get buzz, it wasn’t an attempt at voyeurism. The episode blurred the lines enough that it wouldn’t have mattered if Obama had lost. READ MORE

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'South Park' Recap: "A Nightmare on Facetime"

Poor, delusional Randy. On this week’s South Park, he buys a Blockbuster for $10,000; its initially unclear if he purchased a store or the entire company. And after showering his family with gifts in celebration of their certain fortune, Randy packs everyone up in the car to drive to his new store, down the winding mountain roads, with ominous background music that immediately evokes the score for The Shining. When they arrive, the store is abandoned and blighted, but he forces his family to stay and work for him, because “the average person still wants to rent a movie they can hold in their hands!” READ MORE

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'South Park' Recap: "Going Native"

Butters has the rage. We’ve seen it before. You can’t be that nice and positive and not have a breaking point. When Butters loses it, we usually get Professor Chaos, and a series of endearingly flawed and inconsequential attempts to cause, well, chaos. In “Going Native” Butters really does lose it: he beats a kid up for having diabetes. Game on. READ MORE

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'South Park' Recap: "Insecurity"

On this week’s South Park, we’re forced to take a peek into Gerald and Sheila’s sex life. They both apparently enjoy a UPS man fantasy. Gerland has a costume and everything, and when Ike walks in on them, he jumps to the conclusion that he’s just caught his mother cheating on his dad with the UPS man. Ike draws a picture to show Kyle what he saw, and while Kyle is consulting with his friends, Randy overhears and decides it is his responsibility to inform the men of the town to beware of the UPS man.

“Insecurity” isn’t going to be considered a new classic anytime soon. Centered on Randy Marsh and Stephen Scotch’s attempts to rally the men of the town to protect their wives from the threat (or lure) of the UPS man, with a B plot involving Cartman setting up a home security system, it had the designs of a solid episode. We even saw a little hint of South Park Republicanism when Kyle tries to convince his parents that it’s better to do things yourself rather than rely on the convenience of having other people do things for you. The stories merge with the invention of “In-Security,” a security system that goes off when individuals feel threatened. It’s a good concept that works for the first gag, but is repeated a dozen times to diminishing returns. Ultimately the parts never came together in the way that so many episodes of South Park manage to pull off. READ MORE

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'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. READ MORE

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'South Park' Recap: "Sarcastaball"

South Park’s mid-season premiere opened with a professional football game. For about 30 seconds it seemed like they’d done the impossible. Had they turned around a replacement refs episode in like 40 hours? The answer? Not really. But they did manage to sneak in a scene where one ref calls a touchdown, the other calls a safety, and the side judge rules that it was actually a field goal. It was a lucky week to do a football episode, and South Park did the best thing possible: they acknowledged the real life situation within the context of the story that they had likely intended to tell all along. They didn’t dwell on the refs and the calls and it worked. They used the joke, and they moved on. South Park is masterful at restraint when it wants to be.

“Sarcastaball” is actually about concussions, our obsession with talking about the safety and mental health of the players, whether children or professionals, and what we actually think we might be able to do about making the game safer. In a fit of rage after hearing that South Park Elementary has banned kickoffs, Randy Marsh takes a stand at a PTA meeting, but he’s so exacerbated that he can only be sarcastic. During his rant about the “genius new rule,” he proposes a game where the kids wear tin foil helmets, bras, and basically hug and compliment each other while running a balloon down the field. He names it Sarcastaball. The school administrators go for it, and everything begins to spiral out of control. You know the drill by this point. Randy even becomes the Sarcastaball coach of the Denver Broncos. READ MORE

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South Park Recap: "Cartman Finds Love"

There’s a new girl at South Park Elementary. All the guys are excited, but when Cartman finds out she’s black, he makes it his mission to pair her up with Token. It’s a fairly vile premise that somehow digs its way out of its own racism partly because it’s Cartman and more easily dismissable, but mostly because they run with it so unapologetically that “Cartman Finds Love” turns into a somewhat sweet, and funny episode.

Cartman is so determined to set up Nichole with Token, that after he finds out she has a crush on Kyle, he starts a rumor that he and Kyle are in a relationship. Then he locks Nichole and Token in the boys locker room with a deli platter, board games, sparkling grape juice, and massage oil, and the rest is relationship history. It’s the kind of devious, leave-no-prisoners matchmaking that even Emma Woodhouse would be impressed with. (Is now a good time to ask if Jane Austen references allowed in South Park reviews?) READ MORE

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South Park Recap: "I Should Have Never Gone Ziplining"

So South Park went live action. And Stan is apparently the best looking of the group. But we’ll get back to that later.

This week, South Park satirized the Dateline-esque newsshow by adopting its format and sticking with it throughout the entire episode. A deep voiced narrator leads us through the day the boys decided to go ziplining with frequent standard-issue reality show cuts back to the boys in an interview room reacting to what just happened, tense musical interludes teasing action and tragedy, and graphic representations of stomachs and brains to lend a cheesy scientific bent to the account of the day. And the show gets everything about that awful format right. From the totally unnecessary cuts to the interview room where we listen to an aggravated character essentially repeat what we just saw (“And we were like ‘others?’ We have to do this with other people?”) to the gratuitous details of the “storm brewing” in Cartman’s stomach thanks to a combustible combination of fast food and Diet Double Dew. READ MORE

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South Park Recap: "Butterballs"

Season 16 has not been especially even for South Park so far. It was hard not to hope that somehow last season’s standouts would translate into an entire lineup of great episodes, but  five episodes in, it’s clear that that has not been the case. They haven’t even been especially timely, which can often make up for an episode that isn’t all that funny on its own. So it was refreshing that after four only passingly topical episodes, South Park decided to take on bullying, Kony2012, and the Weinsteins.

The kids notice that Butters is being bullied by someone, and instead of taking the time to figure out who the bully is, the kids and school administrators rally to end bullying. Things escalate rather quickly. A bullying expert is brought in to talk to the kids. Stan directs an awareness film with a “make bullying kill itself” message. Hollywood gets involved. Butters attacks Dr. Oz. And Stan ends up jerking off and naked in San Diego. READ MORE

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South Park Recap: "Jewpacabra"

Cartman is easily the most unsympathetic character on South Park. Anti-semetic, racist, exclusionist, and classist, he makes truly offensive comments and mocks other characters relentlessly. Many of his remarks go unchallenged. Kyle and Stan roll their eyes and tell him to shut up every once in a while,  but it’s clear that no one takes him too seriously. So although it’s not an uncommon thread for South Park, it is always fun to see Cartman’s own confidence in his beliefs shaken — sort of like watching Barney lose his cool on How I Met Your Mother. In this week’s episode, Cartman experiences a tranquilizer gun induced Passover dream and sort of converts to Judaism by the conclusion. That’s why it was especially disappointing that “Jewpacabra” was a terrible episode. READ MORE

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South Park Recap: "Faith Hilling"

On this week’s episode of South Park, the boys become obsessed with meme culture. Though it’s a little early to be making any grand pronouncements about the strength of the season as a whole, “Faith Hilling” is certainly the best we’ve seen so far. It’s funny, pertinent, full of quotable lines, and reminds just how insane the Internet can make us.

Faith Hilling, we discover, is a meme where you pull the chest of your shirt out with both hands to look like breasts while someone takes a photo of you. Like Tebowing and Planking before it, Faith Hilling is the latest and greatest thing. Everyone on the Internet is doing it. I don’t think that Faith Hilling exists in real life, but I also once thought ORLY was just a funny thing my friends said, so there’s that. Anyway, after the boys arrange an elaborate Faith Hilling at a GOP Presidential Debate, they face some unexpected public scorn when they discover in the newspaper (THE NEWSPAPER!) that “Faith Hilling is So 2000-Late.” Even Newt Gingrich is quoted in the article as saying that “Faith Hilling is pretty stale. If they’d have crashed the Republican Debate by Taylor Swifting, that would have been impressive.” READ MORE

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South Park Recap: "Cash for Gold"

After last week’s gross-out episode, South Park went dark with “Cash for Gold,” managing to take on capitalism, consumerism, and the exploitative evils of the semi-precious jewelry industry. Cartman starts his own business selling crappy jewelry to old people, Stan screams at a sweatshop worker in India for preying on his grandfather, and an HSN-style jewelry salesman kills himself in the middle of a broadcast, splattering blood all over the faux rubies on the spinning display case as the department store muzak continues.

It all starts when Stan’s grandfather gives him a gold, diamond, and turquoise bolo tie that he proudly tells his horrified family that he bought for $6K. After attempting to sell it at a number of Cash for Gold stores and finding that his two best offers are either $15 or a 7-layer burrito, Stan decides to get to the bottom of why his grandfather was tricked into buying such a piece of junk. Essentially, it all goes back to the show “Jewelry Bonanza with Dean” on the J&G Shopping Network, where Dean manipulates his senile audience into buying his cheesy jewelry. READ MORE

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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. READ MORE

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In Defense of 1941

Unpopular Opinions is a new weekly column in which a writer takes a stand against popular opinion, whether it's asserting the true merit of a supposedly guilty pleasure or dissenting against the universally lauded.

By now we know that Steven Spielberg is not an untouchable director. In 40 years of filmmaking, of course there are going to be some flops. But the World War II comedy 1941 (1979) remains one of his more famous disasters. Briefly, 1941 follows a large group of characters through one hysterical day in and around Los Angeles just after Pearl Harbor as everyone prepares for a possible Japanese attack. To say that it was hated is a gross understatement. Critics balked, audiences fled, studio execs were scolded, babies cried, a rain forest was destroyed, and Nathan Rabin wrote about it. It harbors a stigma that has become bigger than the movie itself, like Waterworld or Cutthroat Island — not esteemed company. 1941 didn’t completely flop at the box office, it just didn’t compare to Jaws or Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It made money, but it didn’t achieve the blockbuster heights that Spielberg had established himself as capable of reaching. Still, 1941's reputation for being a bloated, loud, messy, unfunny disaster of a movie holds firm.

But 1941 deserves another chance. Our cultural consensus of its comedic failure has been too tied up in our expectations of what a Spielberg movie is supposed to be. Freed from the burden of Spielberg’s name and reputation for making romantic adventures, 1941 is due for a cult classic revival. READ MORE