South Park: “Franchise Prequel” Season 21 Episode 4 Review

Photo Credit:

Hidden deep within “Franchise Prequel” is a simplistic, but nonetheless reasonably effective commentary on the whole “fake news” conundrum and its relation with Facebook. But you have to really look for it, because the rest of the episode is South Park selling out to the very thing the episode is trying to parody. For those blissfully unaware, there’s a video game coming out next week titled South Park: The Fractured But Whole, which uses the show’s sprawling cast to riff on the superhero craze by way of an RPG. This episode, as the title suggests, serves as a prequel to the game’s story. In other words, the thing the game is a tie-in for became a tie-in itself for the game. “Franchise Prequel” is a beyond shameless 22-minute commercial for the $60 game.

And yet, the episode hopes to parody everything Marvel and DC have done on both the big and small screen. Instead, it ever so slightly exaggerates the two companies’ business models and then does the same exact thing itself. Whether the game itself is just as hollow is anyone’s guess until next week, but it’s hard to see this episode as anything other than the free prequel comic that comes with a lot of superhero movies these days.

Look, South Park‘s superhero episodes have been strong over the years, with Cartman taking on the role of the Coon and, even better, Butters assuming the villain role as Professor Chaos. So strong that they made a whole video game following a similar formula. The ideas are flat-out great in most cases, to the point where even the sight of Butters in that silly tinfoil helmet is enough to get an audible giggle out of me. But most of this portion of “Franchise Prequel” doesn’t really consist of jokes, just comparisons between the kids’ alter egos with Marvel’s notorious, almost arrogant phases of films and TV series. Instead of a clever commentary, the episode just feels like it’s here to sell more games next week.

When the show isn’t forcing a tie-in with The Fractured But Hole, it has Mark Zuckerberg on a rampage throughout the city inexplicably talking like a character in a fighting game on the Sega Genesis, complete with poorly dubbed lines. This appears to be a riff on the Facebook mogul’s recent awkward VR demonstration that pretty shamelessly took has cartoon avatar to hurricane-torn Puerto Rico, but South Park‘s writing of Zuckerberg is beyond the point of recognition.* It’s just bizarre and blatantly unfunny.

Faring a bit better are the jabs at Netflix and their newfound ability to put out truly terrible shows (Marvel’s own Iron Fist among them). But it’s hard to laugh at a terrible episode of television vaguely making fun of another platform’s terrible shows (for the record, so long as Netflix keeps Dear White People and BoJack Horseman going, they’ve got a net positive in my book). It’s the pot calling the kettle black if I’ve ever seen it.

The episode ends with the boys declaring civil war on each other (you know, like in Captain America: Civil War). This will apparently lead right into the plot of next week’s game. But, if the game were to speak for itself, and truly satire the Marvel formula, wouldn’t leaping right into a civil war be funnier than devising a prequel leading up to it? Isn’t that just playing into the formula rather than spoofing it? If this is the type of humor we can expect from the game, which I was honestly excited for (its predecessor, The Stick of Truth, was a hilarious wonder), then this extended ad for it did quite the opposite of its job. Even more detrimental, it stopped season 21 dead. Grade: D-

By Matt Dougherty

*Note: This review previously didn’t include references to Zuckerberg’s VR demonstration, which were added in to reflect the score after a reader comment pointed it out.

One Response to South Park: “Franchise Prequel” Season 21 Episode 4 Review

  1. Robert says:

    Zuckerbergs voice is mocking his virtual reality thing he recently did in Puerto Rico, not sure what the style thing was about

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *