(SPOILERS AHEAD, so proceed with caution, South Park fans!)
Season 17, Episode Six: “Ginger Cow”
Written & Directed by: Trey Parker
Among South Park’s many outlandish premises, the set-up for “Ginger Cow” is undoubtedly one of the wackiest. After debating with Kyle about the existence of the title’s mythic red-haired cattle, Cartman sets up a ridiculous prank — with strange results. After dressing up a regular cow with a red wig and spots, the animal is declared a sign from God, eventually unifying the warring Christians, Jews, and Muslims — and leading to world peace.
It’s a pretty convoluted idea on paper, but to Trey Parker’s credit, the episode’s manic free-fall plot actually leads to some clever twists (though a few too many fart jokes). Too many ideas here to cram into 22 minutes — but at least most of those ideas were interesting.
We open in the school cafeteria, as Cartman asks for a second of everyone’s time. “I owe Kyle a big apology,” he says, explaining that he’s actually found the Ginger Cow. He takes the entire class out to a field, where — sure enough — we see a pale, red-afroed beast grazing in the grass. Kyle is angry, suggesting that Cartman is pranking them all. “I’m sure that that is going to have Earth-shattering consequences,” Cartman jokes.
Then all hell (and heaven) breaks loose: Turns out this is a sacred cow — and the sign of Armageddon. Dumbfounded by this news, news reporters across the world kill themselves in a demented montage (including one hilarious shot of an Asian man plunging a knife into his stomach). (No other show does bad-taste racial caricatures with such glee.)
Back at school, Kyle is called to Mr. Mackey’s office, where he sees a roomful of Israelities who “need a translator,” even though they speak perfect English. The Jews note that “the fate of the world is at stake” and that the Cow signals the beginning of the apocalypse. Back at the grazing field, the Jews arrive to a hotbed of religious turmoil, with Mulim and Christian leaders already attempting to claim the beast. (“Oh my holy schmear!”, one Jew exclaims.) Naturally, this leads the warring religious groups to meet at a conference room in the Airport Hilton (So that’s what those rooms are for!), where they argue over the terms of the Armageddon (nuclear weapon use, prisoners, decapitation — all your normal apocalyptic war stuff).
Amazingly, though, they realize the prophecy of the Ginger Cow (which, amazingly, is a part of all three religions) could actually unify the world — if the is sacrificed for the sake of world peace. (This is one of those moments that seems a bit rushed, pace-wise: A bit more exposition here could have yielded some serious laughs.)
Realizing his prank as somewhat miraculous, Cartman uses this to his advantage: Being the righteous, selfless boy that he is, Kyle realizes he can’t tell anyone about the prank — if he does, chaos will ensue. So, naturally, Cartman makes Kyle his personal slave — or, essentially, his fart-eater: Throughout the rest of the episode, Cartman frequently makes his rival ingest his farts in public. (Listen, I’m not above a good fart joke — but Parker really drills this one into the ground.) Also, because he’s an asshole (and kind of unlikable asshole in this episode), he also tortures Kyle in various ways — stealing his lunches and forcing him to tell his mom that “her tits belong at a morgue.”
Over in Israel, the Jews and Muslims celebrate their new union. In one of the episode’s funniest bits, the two groups unveil their new symbol — the Van Halen logo. “EPIC!”, yells a random Muslim, as the band (fronted by David Lee Roth — not Hagar, mind you) launches into a blistering set.
Worried about the mental health of his friend, Stan approaches Kyle and asks him “why (he) likes Cartman’s farts so much.” Kyle maintains that his bizarre behavior is for the benefit of the entire world. Back at school, Kyle — with his freshly shaved head (recommended by a God-like vision) — tells his friends that what he’s doing (sucking farts) is for them. Stan and company think his new Ghandi attitude (“putting everyone else’s needs above their own”) is making him a dick. Suspicious about all this prophecy business, Stan decides to take action.
Cartman and “(his) best friend, Fart Boy” arrive on-stage in Israel, talking about the Ginger Cow revelation. An on-stage news report cuts to Stan, who promises “the truth about the Red Cow.” After Kyle tells him the truth about the prank and his self-sacrifice, Stan switches gears, agreeing that the Red Cow was a “miracle.” Not a wise choice: The prophecy, as it turns out, isn’t about a miraculous cow that drops from thin air — it’s about a “fat boy with a small penis would decorate a cow to look ginger.” Kyle tries to plead with the leaders of the world, telling them that — in fact — the prophecy actually came to fruition. Cartman, meanwhile, says the prophecy can’t be true becuase he has “a big dick.”
As the various religions re-ignite their ancient struggle, a depressed Kyle receives some “dessert” from Cartman in the form of a whipped cream-fart surprise.
This episode explores a lot of interesting ideas: the absurdity of religious prophecy, self-sacrifice, and the essential nature of faith. It also explores farting. That kind of dichotomy is part of the essential South Park charm — but the ratio felt a little skewed, wasting precious minutes on Cartman’s ass that could have been used to flesh out some of the deeper ideas. Regardless, it was a charmingly weird — and often hilarious — mess.
Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…
During the Van Halen-led Israel partying, Parker utilizes real footage of people celebrating in the streets — it’s always really creepy and surreal when they do this.
“Why do you endure all the farts, Kyle? What you are doing is the coolest thing ever. You should, like, shave your head and get all peaceful about it.” — God (or a vision or something), speaking to Kyle
Cartman calls Kyle to ask him what kind of food he should eat (because, of course, Kyle will be the one eating the farts).
“Let’s see what I can muster up here,” Cartman says and then farts directly into Kyle’s mouth.
(The absolute worst attempt at an Anderson Cooper impression on the news — but they clearly weren’t actually trying.)
“Dude, look how fuckin’ awesome I am for starving — check it out!” — Stan, talking about Kyle’s douchey new persona