South Park “Obama Wins” Review

Spoilers for South Park below

Much like with 2008’s presidential election, South Park takes on the 2012 election results the day afterward. Cartman has flown to all the swing states to steals ballots and help the Chinese rig the election in Obama’s favour in exchange for some mysterious reward.

While it’s impressive that South Park‘s quick production times enable the series to be much more topical than its competition over on FOX, it’s not always used to the show’s advantage. I think, sometimes in their mad rush to be first, Parker & Stone often end up looking like they haven’t actually given the issues much thought before rushing into their offices and booting up Flash. It’s not a crippling problem that plagues South Park every week; far from it, but there are times that I can’t help but feel it’s the animation equivalent of internet commenters with nothing to say other than “FIRST.”

“Obama Wins” is more about the sale of LucasFilm, and by extension Star Wars to Disney rather than the election. Star Wars drives the entire plot, it is the motivation for most of the character’s actions and in the end it’s about the only thing anyone really cares about. The presidential election plot is mostly just a by-product of a fight to control Star Wars, which just reinforces my feeling that this story didn’t even really need to involve politics, because the Disney/Star Wars thread is clearly the dominant one.

Despite feeling rushed, the episode does have its extremely funny moments. I loved Butters, having intentionally swallowed an almond and had an allergic reaction, spilling the beans to the other kids unintelligibly through swollen lips, which is then “translated” by Kenny and occasionally Jimmy. Mickey Mouse also makes an appearance, of course, and his interactions with Cartman are priceless, and of course we have unending General Tsao’s chicken jokes. “Obama Wins” also earned big points with me for having Morgan Freeman come out of nowhere to explain the plot whenever it gets confusing. I love that guy.

Obama comes to collect the ballots from Cartman

The political stuff is decidedly more lacklustre. This episode doesn’t really have much to say on the issues raised in the election itself or really which candidate should have won. It’s quite obvious that the episode was written in such a way that most of it could be completed before the election, and then have the winner slotted in later. I don’t hold that against it, necessarily; it’s only practical. However, this is made painfully obvious by the fact that in most of the scenes that don’t involve Obama directly avoid calling him by name just in case it happened to be Romney instead

Also, why on Earth is South Park Obama coloured so oddly? Like I know that Obama’s skin isn’t super super dark like Lance Reddick’s is, but on South Park the man’s nearly grey. I’ve always found that a little strange. Unless Obama is a secret Cardassian. Let’s see that birth certificate, shall we?

The only real political message “Obama Wins” has to its name is Kyle’s efforts to uphold the democratic process, regardless of whether or not the winner is the candidate he wanted. It’s a noble sentiment, for sure, and one that might have been better served with more time to breathe on its own. It’s abandoned by the end of the episode in the name of laughs, a move I can’t say I really oppose.

“Obama Wins” is a pretty solid episode overall, but I think it’s hurt somewhat by the fact that it’s pretty transparently trying to telescope two big news stories into one. It seems to me that they had ideas for two episodes, but realized that since it was the season finale they really only had one episode to work with, and so crammed them together before either one became old news. To paraphrase Matt & Trey’s own words from an earlier DVD commentary “South Park episodes don’t work as well when you try to put two hats on it.” Both the election process and the Star Wars acquisition could have very easily stood on their own. As it is now, I think putting the two of them together was pretty artfully done under the circumstances, but both stories needed some more fleshing-out to be truly great.