South Park: “Put It Down” Season 21 Episode 2 Review

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“Why does he keep making things worse?!” Tweek’s pleas with President Trump/Garrison’s tweets regarding North Korea echo a lot of us right now, but it’s notable that it’s Tweek doing the freaking out. It’s like South Park saying “yes, this is terrible, but let’s not sensationalize it.” In terms of satire, “Put It Down” played pretty close to an episode of American Horror Story: Cult, with Tweek in Sarah Paulson’s role and Craig in Alison Pill’s. The point of most of the episode is also similar, acting as a portrait of extreme liberal hysteria. South Park and AHS are likely among the first shows that were able to construct their entire seasons around a Trump victory, and it’s not too surprising that they’re handling their respective critiques in similar ways.

And yet, there’s a genuine sweetness present in “Put It Down,” radiating off of Tweek and Craig’s relationship. I’m not sure when exactly the show decided they were actually gay, and not just pretending after the neo-classic episode “Tweek x Craig” from season 19, but juxtaposed to the toxicity enveloping Cartman and Heidi, the pair offer a thoughtful, if oversimplified, lesson in communicating about and dealing with a partner’s fears. Craig makes a mature choice in how to deal with his boyfriend, while at the same time, Cartman takes his selfishness to a new level when he threatens to commit suicide after Heidi tries to break up with him, which then snowballs into Cartman running a whole campaign raising suicide awareness and begging people to tell him they don’t want him to die. After season 20 delivered a somewhat neutered Cartman, season 21 has returned to the status quo of this narcissist doing anything and everything for his own personal gain.

Cartman’s campaign runs directly against the school pre-planned Distracted Driving Awareness week. Turns out, South Park is facing an epidemic of drivers checking the president’s twitter account and accidentally running over innocent children. The deaths of the children—and there are many—are gruesome just for the sake of it, failing to add any genuine commentary on our current culture or garner a laugh after the first shocking incident.

Then, it kind of feels like there’s a scene missing. Yes, Craig letting Tweek vent feels earned. They then go on to sing a song to the school’s full auditorium about how Trump needs to put down his phone. The shift here is jarring. Without any widespread realization, as ridiculous as it may be, that it’s not the drivers killing the kids, its the lunatic of a president posting such distracting tweets, the episode’s overarching story is robbed of a genuine arc. That doesn’t take away from Tweek and Craig’s growth, but the episode’s at large.

However, the song is kind of amazing. A lyrical call to action just begging Trump to put down his phone, and with constant people around town acting in this fake music video, learning they’re president and then doing as they’re “supposed to” and putting down the phone, it’s impossible not to laugh with the show—and how it’s gotten to the point where a Comedy Central show is writing joyful sing-a-longs that feel genuinely aimed at the Commander in Chief.

So while “Put It Down” doesn’t quite nail the surprisingly subtle takedown found in the season premiere, it more or less continues the season on the right path. The return of the individual episode structure is working right now, as the show doesn’t feel stuck in certain storylines like it did last year. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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