(SPOILERS AHEAD, so proceed with caution, South Park fans!)
Season 17, Episode 10: “The Hobbit”
Written & Directed by: Trey Parker
So here we are, at the finish line of South Park‘s roller-coaster 17th season. These 10 episodes have shown Trey Parker and company at their best (“World War Zimmerman”) but also pretty close to their worst (“Goth Kids”), and overall, I almost feel a sense of relief. It’s difficult to imagine the pressure on Parker’s shoulders, having to conceptualize, write, direct, and voice a half-hour of television every week, and this season’s rockiest moments have demonstrated that strain.
But I digress. With “The Hobbit,” Parker follows the “Console Wars” trilogy with a more down-to-Earth episode, focused on vanity, self-worth, and the idiocy of Kanye West. It was well-paced, culturally relevant, and surprisingly touching. The only thing missing were laughs.
We open with the fourth grade cheerleaders in the gym, doing roll call. We meet Lisa Burger, the token fat cheerleader who struggles to overcome her shyness and show enthusiasm. Wendy says she has a “bad self-image” and encourages Lisa to ask out her secret crush, Butters. Lisa approaches Butters in lunchroom, awkwardly asking if he wants to go to a movie. Butters’ response is amazing: “No thanks, Lisa,” he says. “I really appreciate the offer, but you’re too fat for me. See ya, Lisa!” (Cartman says the weight isn’t an issue – it’s the fact that she “looks like she got hit in the face with a shovel.”)
Wendy angrily confronts Butters, who reveals a Kim Kardashian shrine in his locker. “Kim Kardashian is thin,” he notes enthusiastically, “and she just had a baby!” But Wendy doesn’t buy the hype: She tells Butters that his fantasy lover is a product of Photoshop and that, in real life, she “has the body of a Hobbit.” Emotionally devastated, Butters goes to see Mr. Mackey about the bullying, and Wendy is called in for a taste of her own medicien. “Have you ever stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe, you’re jeal’?”, Mackey asks. “There’s a very fine line between being a feminist and being a hater.”
Mr. Garrison brings in a guest speaker, “Aquaman,” to explain why Kardashian isn’t a hobbit. But it’s actually Kanye West, reprising his “Gay Fish” role from Season 13. Kanye is pissed – which, of course, is his natural state. Kanye admits that Kim does have a friend named Gandalf, who’s a wizard, but she’s NOT A HOBBIT. (He does, however, have to call her a few times on her cell to confirm exactly how she isn’t a hobbit. He finds out she does smoke a “personal oral humidifier,” not a pipe.)
Frustrated with Butters’ backward views of female beauty, Wendy Photoshops an image of Lisa Burger to demonstrate how young girls are manipulated into having an unrealistic standard of physical appearance. Instead, her art project has the opposite reaction: Butters is blown away by how beautiful Lisa could be, and he immediately runs off to ask her out based on this alternate-reality sexiness. But he gets beat to the punch by Clyde, who goes around school showing off how Lisa she is on his iPhone (even though she’s still fat in real life). (Even Jimmy “wouldn’t mind tappin’ that ass.”)
“Lisa Burger is not hot – she’s fat and ugly!” says Wendy, who is still “jealy.” Ironically, Wendy is sent to Mr. Mackey again – for calling a little girl “fat and ugly.” Mackey says he’s forced to call “The Jealy School,” but unfortunately, they’re all booked up at the moment.
Meanwhile, the TIME PERSON OF THE YEAR AWARD goes to Pope Francis (as it is in real life). When His Holiness goes up to accept the award, he’s (wait for it!) interrupted by Kanye. (A bit of a dated joke, really.) Mr. Fishsticks gives another Kim-Hobbit speech, angrily ranting at the audience (and the world). Turns out, Kim is actually in a new movie called The Hobbit – wait, no, she’s not in it, but it’s based on Kim’s reality show, which is about short people living in a fantasy world. All of the Kim-Kanye-Hobbit stuff really feels like a stretch — the more we move away from Wendy’s A-story, the snoozier the episode gets.
Back at school, all the guys cheer rowdily for Lisa Burger at the pep rally. The other girls want Wendy to Photoshop their pictures to improve their image, but Wendy tells them to have more self-worth. Lisa tells them to “go down to the gym and work” to improve their looks. So they do…by Photoshopping their bodies at the gym. After a flat “work-out” montage, the boys then scroll through iPhone photos of their new-and-improved ladies.
At this point, Wendy is the only girl in school without a fancy new fake-look, so Stan wants her to Photoshop herself. (Oh, yeah, I forgot they’re “dating.”) Wendy goes on a rant, talking about her own physical imperfections (and everybody else’s), but — naturally — gets caught and called in to Mackey’s office for being “jelly.”
This leads us to another awkward Kanye bit, with a parody of the ridiculous “Bound 2″ video. Once again, Kanye rants about Kim and the whole hobbit thing (My girl ain’t no hobbit / Please, God, tell me I’m not engaged to no hobbit”), but this whole scene feels like a major missed opportunity. If any music video is tailor-made for the subversive South Park treatment, it’s this one (maybe a shot of Kim-as-hobbit sprawled out on the motorcycle?). But not much happens. (Really, they got beat out by Seth Rogen and James Franco, anyway — no topping that one.)
The cheerleaders all despise Wendy now — they “don’t want to cheer with a hater.” But Wendy (who very much reinforces her status as the female “voice of reason” version of Kyle in this episode) isn’t content to stand by and watch her peers destroy their self-worth.
“The problem with having fake pictures of yourself is that you start to believe in your own bullshit,” she says, launching a protest against Photoshop.”Little girls are aspiring to have bodies they can’t possibly have,” she says on the news, though the anchor asks if Wendy is just a “jelly” “hater.”
And because, why not, heeeeeere’s Kanye. Asleep in her bedroom, Wendy is startled by the rapper, who reads her a bedtime story about a hobbit — one who sounds an awful lot like his fiancee. This hobbit only wanted to be “pretty like Beyonce,” and because of the magic of Photoshop, she could be “looked up to and loved,” even if she could act, sing, or even “be a decent human being” like Beyonce. The “Jelly Monster” (Wendy) attacked the hobbit, making sure everybody knew the truth about her lack of beauty and talent. Kanye cries at his own story.
Back at school, Wendy sits, defeated, in the computer lab. Feeling ever more like a hobbit herself, she Photoshops her own image and e-mails it to her classmates.
Now for some random thoughts and my favorite (and least favorite) moments of the night…
Things I enjoyed: the childlike brutality of Butters’ callousness, coupled with the wide-eyed friendliness of his honesty; Kanye’s climactic bedtime story, which ties a decent-enough bow around the Kimye-Hobbit stuff; hearing Mr. Mackey say “jelly” (the first 90 times); the slightly heartbreaking conclusion, with Wendy — resigned to her future as a sex object — clicking the mouse.
Things I didn’t enjoy: the rest of the Kimye stuff (especially “Bound 2″), the lack of core characters, and the lack of any real stand-out quotes or visuals. All in all, this felt like an OK but unremarkable coda to a frustrating season. I’ll remain a South Park fan until they stop airing the show, but I do think a change in the format and schedule would help breathe some new life into this legendary series.