Tuned In

South Park Watch: Shut Up, Billy Mays!

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[Update: I deleted the embedded video here because it was causing some browsers to crash, and playing unprompted on my own browser, which annoys the crap out of me. But you can see it, other clips—and the full episode—at the South Park Studios website. Apologies.]

While we’re on the subject of product placement this morning, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Chipotle did not pay for their prominent role in last night’s return episode of South Park. Although when you think about it, “So good you’ll endure blood-stained underwear for it” does have a certain pizzazz.

The fast-food riff played out better, I thought, than the main storyline of the episode, which took off on the much-noted celebrity Summer of Death this year. This may partly be my personal bias here; of the major categories of South Park episodes, I’d rank my general preferences as follows:

* Nontopical stories focused on the four kids
* Satires of news events, often quickly turned around within days
* Parodies/mocking of celebrities and pop culture

There are exceptions to all of these, of course: South Park’s excellent Tom Cruise episode fell in the latter category, for instance. So, I guess, did its classic send-up of Family Guy, although that depended in part on the story’s overlap with category #1. And last year’s Jonas Brothers episode was strong because it was more about a social phenomenon (selling sex to young girls) than making fun of famous people for its own sake.

But in general South Park’s celebrity-centric episodes are the show at its weakest, in part because they take more-obvious shots at already well-parodied stars, and in part because they embody their own critique: if these celebs are so overexposed, Trey and Matt, why not find something better to build an episode around?

So “Dead Celebrities” main plot didn’t do much for me. There wasn’t much more point to it than pointing out that a lot of famous people died this summer; the fact that Billy Mays was meant to be annoying didn’t change the fact that the joke was beaten to death; and one or two people have already pointed out that Michael Jackson seemed a mite confused about his identity. And seriously: a Sixth Sense parody? In 2009? Would that be the 10th Anniversary Memorial Parody?

That said, the Chipotle running gag—especially Kyle’s increasing frustration that no one else seemed disturbed by the bloody phenomenon—did kill (“Not everyone can be The Boy With the Golden Butthole!”); and the child-pageant finale was very wrong but very funny.

In any case, I’m not concerned about South Park yet; it often comes back from hiatus with a pop-topical story it was saving up over the break, then follows with a stronger, more-character-focused second episode. And I don’t know, maybe I was just cranky because I wished I had a burrito. Anyone want to stick up for “Dead Celebrities”?