South Park: “Sponsored Content” Season 19 Episode 8 Review

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Apparently, war is coming. As this legendary season of South Park enters its endgame, we get another home run of an episode.

It all starts with PC Principal slipping and saying he’s going to break whoever runs the school newspaper’s legs for using the word “retard” in the paper. He’s pointed to Jimmy, who can’t use his legs and is also the embodiment of journalistic integrity in the school. For just a moment, he appears flustered. PC Principal just told a kid who can only walk with the help of crutches that he’s going to break his legs. South Park starts to end season 19 by tearing apart the very fabric of the new character that made this season so brilliant.

For Jimmy, who just wants his school newspaper to be genuinely informing without the sacrifice of his writers’ voices, it only makes sense for him to leave the word “retard” in the paper. But PC Principal wants to approve the paper before its distributed around school, which would be like Obama approving every day’s New York Times. Freedom of the press wouldn’t be able to exist.

So Jimmy starts delivering it to peoples’ homes. The town loves its simplicity. We get the outstanding scene where Butters’ father describes going through Internet publications today, and how he can never tell what’s an ad or a story, let alone photo galleries. This is where the episode very smartly plants the seed for advertising as a form of mind control.

Things get more complicated when Geico tries to get Jimmy to write articles about car insurance. But that’s sponsored content, something Jimmy vows to never take part in. Barbrady saves him and takes him to a secret location where tests are run to see whether he can recognize ads from news. He’s then shown Leslie, the mysterious girl teased at the end of last week’s episode. She asks him if he’s happy, which triggers him to realize she’s a living, breathing advertisement. Is South Park gearing up to show a war on ads?

Meanwhile, PC Principal and his frat bros can’t seem to escape the fact that they’re only PC because it gets them laid. That is, besides their leader, who’s later seen in an ad pushing Leslie in a swing. Is he an ad as well? What does that mean for PC bro culture as a whole? It’s a genuinely good cliffhanger.

“Sponsored Content” didn’t answer all the questions it posed, but it also didn’t have to. Something is coming, as characters say in foreboding ways all throughout the episode. At the moment, South Park is trying to link advertising with PC culture. We see the truths of this in everyday society. But the show has a chance to expose to its audience how fake and superficial it all really is. The links have yet to be made, but the groundwork is there. I have to admit, this is probably the most excited I’ve been about South Park ever. Grade: A

Some Other Notes:

  • As the ideas in this episode started to reveal themselves, I was reminded of Jon Stewart’s closing speech on The Daily Show. The one about detecting bullshit. South Park has been uncovering our bullshit all season, that’s why I called it “legendary” at the top of the review. Now it’s time to see where they think all that bullshit stems from.
  • The show still hasn’t said the words “Donald” or “Trump” all season, but Mr. Garrison is the perfect placeholder for him. At the presidential debate, he says nothing about politics and just insults Hillary Clinton’s physical features. If only it were fiction.
  • There are some movie references throughout, but the broad scope of this satire is what makes it work so well.
  • No episode next week because of Thanksgiving. It’s going to be a long two weeks.

By Matt Dougherty

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