Wow, an episode revolving around the Catholic Church and its members that doesn’t touch upon Christianity or God for that matter? I feel like I’ve stumbled into a different timeline.
Anyways the whole premise of this episode is that the pastor finds himself at the tip of some sick jokes made by the church-goers (particularly Randy Marsh who gets in on it enthusiastically). Tired about the whole ordeal, he gets a visit from Butters who empathizes with his plight and decides to befriend him. After one long cringe-inducing montage, it turns out that his relationship with the pastor places the two in an incredibly awkward light in front of their peers. To make matters worse, the other members of the Catholic Church decide to kidnap some of the boys with some peculiar plans in mind (I won’t even say it since its fucking disgusting to even recall it).
I don’t know if this says much, but its safe to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Personally, I found it to be relatively dull and lackluster. The vast majority of the jokes fell flat, apart from maybe about one or two instances where I found myself unable to suppress a chuckle. Randy’s unsubtle jabs at Catholic priests mainly only amount to unfunny pedophilia jokes, and the pastor’s relationship with Butters is given a downright serious tone to it, without a lick of irony in sight. But, that isn’t to say I found nothing of note in this to begin with.
Empathy is a key message of this episode and Butters is the perfect person to demonstrate it. He, after all, has endured abuse from his family members (especially his Grandmother if you remember her from a past season), been neglected by his friends for being a supposed loser archetype, broke up with his long distance girlfriend (whom he never even shared an intimate kiss with mind you) under bad terms, and is at the tail end of many obnoxious jokes. Cartman has possibly been the worse at this, using Butter’s naivete to manipulate him for his own desires. He’s basically the butt monkey of the South Park universe, second only to Kenny who usually gets killed in most episodes. So, it makes plenty of sense why Butters would choose to befriend the priest, knowing that he too feels a sense of loneliness, ridicule and solitude. Despite the somewhat awkward sight of witnessing some fully-grown man hanging out with a middle schooler, it’s understandable why some may find it slightly touching in a way. Butters and the pastor are both victims of verbal and (especially with regards to the former) physical abuse after all.
So, this episode tries to satirize one element of our society, and its how Catholic priests are often viewed having a fascination for minors. It is also with this that we see the mean-spirited nature of South Park’s inhabitants rear its ugly head. In the opening minutes of the episode, instead of quietly listening to the pastor’s sermons, the church-goers tease him with Randy leading the charge. The episode follows through on this by showing the ways the other Catholic priests act.
While this episode is one of the weaker ones with regards to how humorous its satirical humor comes across as, there was an aspect that really enamored my frail little mind and it was the idea of church being used as this hub that gave meaning to everybody’s Sunday mornings. After the pastor shuts down the church to recoup his sanity, the church-goers are faced with an impending feeling of emptiness. They find themselves bored out of their minds, wondering what they could even do during the mornings every week. They’ve ritualistically gone to church every Sunday to the point where its embedded in their hearts as an integral component of their lives. I relate to this message a lot, being a frequent church goer myself in the past. There’s an evangelical church in my street back in Thailand, and during my high school days I used to attend it every Sunday morning. Not to be educated by the wise words of the Lord or the sermons of the pastor, but to make friends, Park reinvigorate my weary mind with some singing and drink some of that delicious orange punch they had after every session. It basically became somewhat of a habit for me, and I couldn’t even imagine missing just one Sunday of it. The scene where Randy sits at the bar, depressed out of his mind and pondering about life in general, speaks volumes of this. When we’ve grown accustomed to something for years, only to have that ripped right away from us, it feels as if something is missing within our lives. For Randy and many other South Park inhabitants, this is what the Church did for them. It provided them with a purpose that they’d wake up to every Sunday morning.
Fortunately, while I’m not particularly impressed with the quality of this episode, I am pleased that the creators seem to be finally taking this series back to its roots. Hopefully, just hopefully, we don’t get introduced to some half-assed storyline of some sorts, like we did the previous two seasons. South is best as an episodic serial, where each individual episode would have their own satirical commentary, rather than trying to tie everything together throughout. It makes for classier jokes, better writing, and lends us with more things to satirize. And that is the beauty of this show as a whole.