One of South Park's strengths is its ability to be topical within a six-day window, as creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and their team spend only 144 hours on each episode, from conception to broadcast. With well-intentioned drum-beaters "occupying" the downtown parks of major cities everywhere and caviar-snorters appalled that success is now a stigma, an oh-so-exploitable news story fell into South Park's lap, and the show went for it. Sort of.
"1%" was advertised as the "Occupy [insert location here] episode" but it took an unexpected turn into the deranged mind of Eric Cartman. It was one of those episodes that starts off with a strong idea before careening into something completely different, but that's how South Park rolls, man. Whether that was planned or not, I don't know. If you've seen Comedy Central's recent South Park: 6 Days to Air documentary, you know that each episode of the animated comedy experiences several transformations during its growth. What's proposed on Friday often looks awfully different by the time the final version of the show airs on Wednesday. And I get the feeling this episode underwent a lot of shifts in direction over the course of the week but ended up catering to one of Trey and Matt's strengths: thinking on their feet and making shit up.
Things started off heavy on the 99% end of things, with Cartman recording one of the worst scores ever in a standardized physical fitness test administered by Colorado schools. Because his score was so bad (he registered the cholesterol level of a 70-year-old man and fell into the bottom 1%), the school's overall score dropped so much that all the students were forced to take P.E. during recess. The kids got mad at Cartman, bonded together as the 99%, and began to torment Cartman by going after his stuffed animals, including his best friend Clyde Frog. There were a few painfully forced jokes, including one about an occupy movement taking place in a Red Robin bathroom as Butters dropped a deuce, plus some stuff about "class warfare" between fourth and fifth graders. But overall, it seemed there was a solid foundation for an episode that would parody the OWS movement. But that never really happened.
Part of the way through, the episode refocused its attention on Eric Cartman and his stuffed animals getting knocked off, at which point "1%" lucked into an oddly entertaining, and somewhat poignant, storyline about Cartman growing up. We saw shades of the recent classic "You're Getting Old" as Cartman responded to his mother and peers telling him to mature by landing himself right in the middle of a stuffed-animal murder spree. Cartman's paranoia grew as he witnessed each of his childhood favorites being destroyed (Clyde Frog was nailed to a tree, Muscleman Mark was boiled like a bunny, etc.), but he couldn't put his finger on a suspect.
It was terrifying and creepy, but only the appetizer to the episode's main course. Cartman arrived just in time to see one of his final toys have its head blown off; then he turned around and saw Polly Prissy Pants, the culprit behind all the mayhem, sitting all villain-like in a giant chair and holding a gun. Of course it wasn't the Triple P, but Cartman's schizophrenic delusion, who orchestrated the entire deal, in response to everyone telling him to grow up. With tear-filled eyes, Cartman took the gun and unloaded several rounds into Polly Prissy Pants' head. Maturation complete.
As an episode overall, "1%" was all over the place and seemed like a product of last-minute changes, ditching its initial premise in favor of something Trey and Matt latched onto late in the production cycle. But sometimes the best ideas happen on the fly. Not a classic episode, but an interesting one to discuss nonetheless.
... What did you think of "1%"? Did it feel patchwork to you too?
... Do you wish South Park had done an entire episode dedicated to the Occupy Wall Street movement and saved Cartman's stuffed-toy slaughter for another episode? (I do.)
... Do you think Clyde Frog is gone forever!? He can't be, can he?
... Did you agree with the notion that "black people can't be blamed for anything," or did that not make sense to you at all?
... Are the South Park kids growing into teenagers or something?