Saturday, November 17, 2007

"That didn't sparkle with her...did it?": South Park, Season 11

South Park ended its 11th season on Wednesday with a wonderfully devilish episode, rich in parody as well as heart. When South Park is able operate on this level of limitless irony and farce, there really is no stopping it. Regardless of the odd machinations of the plot--which does leave some loose ends come episode’s finish--“The List” is probably the most successful episode of a season filled with mostly home runs.

Starting off as a simple grade school story of awkward adolescence, “The List” switches gears halfway through, morphing into a raucous political thriller. As a bonus, we get to see Stan and his heart breaker Wendy together again through most of the episode’s action. I’m not entirely sure if Trey is parodying the genre in general or a specific film, but “The List” hits all the right notes nonetheless.

When a list ranking every boy from cutest to ugliest is rumored to exist by Butters, Cartman and the boys make it their mission to find it. Kyle points out the inconsequential truth about such a list, but is mostly ignored. When the list is finally recovered over two attempts (the first try suffered due to a lack of the knowledge that girls don’t have testicles), Kyle is revealed to be the ugliest boy in the class. The realization that the class girls find him the least attractive of all troubles Kyle deeply (with, of course, no help from Eric), so Stan takes it upon himself to figure out exactly how this happened.

Against his better judgment, Stan commissions Wendy to help find out if this vote can be changed. She assures him the the girl's lists making is taken very seriously. We get a glimpse of just how serious when we are shown the List Making Committee, in a brilliantly realized and hilariously go for broke scene. When Wendy asks to re-open the cutest boys list, she is told that she would need to find significant evidence warranting further investigation. Yeah, I like this too.

Meanwhile, Kyle is becoming more and more of an outsider, as the student body seems to be adhering to the specific rankings that the list put forth. Butters runs around the school like a giddy little jackass with a "#11" shirt; Clyde, after being ranked #1, sports a Letterman jacket and prowls the halls spitting lines at the girls, promising them new shoes; Kyle is forced to hang out with the "ugly kids," becoming increasingly angry and isolated in the process. Kyle spends most of the episode isolated from the core group of characters which worked really well. His ill-fated spiritual journey with Abraham Lincoln (an ugly person who turned out fine, we're told) is one of the high points of the episode. The futility of the venture quite easily pinpoints adolescent woes and anxieties, and the almost necessary inevitability of them.

While Wendy and Stan dig deeper into the making of the list, they discover plenty of malfeasance and dishonesty, all the while becoming closer in the process. The episode starts to go over the top here, and that's just where you want it to go. They discover that the vote was in fact rigged! And that the list was a fake! Kyle was just a fall guy. This conspiracy went all the way up to the head of the committee, Bebe. Apparently this was all done so Clyde would get all of the girls in on it new shoes. She reveals as much while holding a gun on the roof top of the school, where the climax of the episode plays out. Kyle is there to burn down the school, while and Wendy and Stan are there to tell him that the rankings were false. When the cops take Bebe away (yes), Stan, Wendy and Kyle BURN the real list. Kyle never knows just where he was in the actual rankings.

I'm having a hard time conveying just how good this episode was. As a finale, "The List" is Emmy worthy. Even more than that, though, "The List" takes a mostly shrugged off subject and deals with it in an even handed, unique, and entertaining way. Trey has shown a lot of focus and control in Season 11. He still has the balls to go for the over the top ideas, but he has the hands to guide them in the most satisfying directions.

It's been a real treat covering South Park this season. If you enjoyed it as well, I'll see you next time around for sure.


Bianca Reagan said...

What exactly is this "mostly shrugged off subject"? Lists?

Daniel said...

No. Not lists.

Isolation and ridicule as a youth. Most "shrug it off" as being part of life, I feel. I like the way the show examined it. As much as a half-hour cartoon can, anyway.

But, no.

Not lists.

Bianca Reagan said...

Oh, I see. Good point.

I thought the show was also examining the concept of "lists" in general, and the lack of substance that goes into making them. Like the recent People's Sexiest Man Alive, or the AFI 100, or even the Fortune 500. Those aren't all based on facts; they are determined by the whims of whoever is running the committee. Yet people put so much stock into them, like awards shows. They can make or break a person's career or their life, but the lists are somewhat meaningless.

But yes, social isolation. Maybe I was looking way too deeply at it.

Daniel said...

Clearly I was looking way too deeply at it. Which is probably your point. Good times, nonetheless.