“You’re Not Yelping”
It’s often difficult to review newer episodes of South Park. With so many subtle social commentaries interwoven throughout each episode, it often feels as though you’re back in high school, analyzing texts in English class. Undeniably, it’s a fun excursion in deconstructing media, yet it can be extremely difficult to try and truly garner the intended message of the shows writers. This weeks episode, “You’re Not Yelping”, left me sighing for two reasons: one was a sigh of relief, as I didn’t have to work as hard to anatomize every little detail, while the second was a sigh of disappointment, because the episode just wasn’t that great when compared to the seasons previous excursions.
While season 19 has proven to successfully focus entirely on highlighting the smugness of todays social justice warriors, “You’re Not Yelping” serves as the seasons weakest criticism thus far. Instead of opting for cleverly understated quips to convey a seething hatred of political correctness and self-satisfaction, this week’s episode instead chose to scream shallow criticisms directly at the audiences faces. This weeks target: Yelp reviewers who over assume their own critical influence in order to positively skew their dining experience, all while believing that their opinions are important enough to contribute positive change to the world.
Continuing with the seasons cohesive story line, we see that SoDoSoPa has been abandoned, with South Park’s patrons flocking to the Whole Foods-centric CtPaTown (or ShiTpaTown — but we’ll get to that in a moment). It is here that we find Gerald Broflovski has maintained his inherent hybrid-driving smarm from season 10’s “Smug Alert!”, resorting to becoming a psuedo-professional Yelp reviewer. He sits alone in his home office, as he wears a scarf and smokes a pipe, thinking of himself as the Hemmingway of Yelp reviews, writing hyperbolic sonnets with lines such as, “In finality, I would say my experience at Applebee’s was sublime, and my treatment near that of a gladiator most decorated.” While Gerald feels that his reviews are contributing to a greater good in educating potential diners, Cartman — on the other hand — instead chooses to blatantly abuse his power as a Yelp reviewer to blackmail restaurateurs into giving him free food.
In the final scene of the previous episode, “The City Part Of Town”, we were shown a montage, in which characters — both familiar and unfamiliar — walked through the newly established Whole Foods. In particular, a seemingly Mexican family was shown, looking visibly frightened by the absurd happenings around them, to which Cartman pondered aloud, “Are the Mexicans actually staying?” Well, the answer to that is yes. While this may have seemed like some random extras existing within the forever expanding South Park universe, it’s commendable to note that this family actually returns as an important anchor in “You’re Not Yelping”. The new family in town have opened a new restaurant, appropriately titled, “Nueva Familia”, where their son (and bus boy), David, is the target of Cartman’s racial fuelled bigotry.
The greatest strength of season 19 has proven to be its continuity, and it is little details like this that should be commended. For the past few seasons, South Park has felt like something of a poorly prepared college student, cramming the night before a final. However, it seems that this season has found Stone and Parker investing a little bit more effort into studying this time around, as there definitely seems to have been a skeletal foundation from the very first episode. Heck, it is this greater attention to details that have made this season just that little bit more magnificent, as I bet a large majority of the audience didn’t even notice the little things, such as the framed Yelp reviews on Gerald’s wall that served to add to his pretentious air.
But, there was one major flaw this week that just left me scratching my head entirely, and I can’t figure out the potential reasoning behind this decision. The newly gentrified CtPaTown was created as a reference to City Wok, which is of course mispronounced as “Shitty Wok” (and consequentially, “Shitty Part of Town”). However, in this episode, we see that CtPaTown has been explicitly renamed on the districts sign as “Shi Tpa Town”, which goes to undermine the very factor that makes these cultural mispronunciations so funny in the first place. It would be akin to renaming City Wok to “Shitty Wok”. It’s just not as funny. Regardless, I’m curious as to whether this core reshaping of the towns geographical map has been a consequence of yesteryear’s “The Stick of Truth” video game, which forced the creators to establish a concrete map of South Park, with Parker noting, “It’s kind of cemented it in my head now…I’m sure it’ll happen even more…It’s good for me to finally know where everything is.” This couldn’t help but leave me to ponder that perhaps the establishment of Shi Tpa Town (and SoDoSoPa) will work to compliment the upcoming game, “Fractured But Whole”, but I digress.
Cartman has been oddly inconsistent with his malevolence this season, as he goes out of his way to exert his seemingly non-existent reviewing powers over David — both at his restaurant and at school — consistently threatening to give his family’s restaurant one star if he refuses to say “I ride my tiny bicicletta to school.” And while that high degree of racism is mildly amusing the first time, it’s dry and ineffective by the forth time that Cartman demands it in the episode. Much like the gluten-free PBR of last season, this just acts as another example of South Park’s recent penchant for reiterating what were only mediocre jokes to begin with. On a somewhat unrelated note, this blatant racism also had me wondering as to the whereabouts of PC Principal — who we know would’ve literally kicked the shit out of Cartman for such insensitive comments. Having said that, Cartman’s negative review of “Nueva Familia” wasn’t entirely inspired by an unquenchable thirst for power, as he complains that, “The morning after [he] ate it, [he] went to the bathroom and [his] poop was all solid…like…no water.” The insinuation that what is to be considered an irregular bowel movement for Cartman is just hilarious, however.
Despite my criticisms, this is not to suggest that “You’re Not Yelping” fails to deliver laughs, because it has some of the seasons most hilarious moments thus far. As the towns many restauranteurs become frustrated at trying to accommodate the often absurd requests of the growing number of Yelp reviewers, one restaurant owner stands in defiance: Whistlin’ Willy. And holy shit, does this scene deliver the laughs. For the uninformed, Whistlin Willy’s is South Park’s take on the shitty-food-yet-fun-experience-for-kids Chuck E. Cheese. As I noted during “The City Part of Town”, the juxtaposition game this season is on point, as I was in a fit of hysterics watching Whistlin’ Willy growing wildly exasperated, as he kicked out all of his Yelp diners while aggressively stuttering lines such as, “You’re not a food critic, Dennis. You’re a fucking mechanic!” The only thing the scene lacked was a child bursting into tears at the torrent of profanity expelling from this beloved child mascot.
In light of Whistlin’ Willy’s revolt, the other restauranteurs of South Park are inspired to band together, refusing service to all Yelp reviewers. And, oh how the mighty fall, as Cartman finds himself depressed, as he is stripped of his seemingly questionable power. It’s funny to note that in this dark time, Cartman disregards all common niceities, openly walking into the Stotch household, where he seeks counsel from Butters. Once again, it’s the little things like this that can really alleviate some of the greater problems that a mediocre episode might have. Using Butters bed as a psychologists couch, Cartman resolves to recapture this outwardly imaginable authority, by sending letters to the “poser” Yelp reviewers of South Park, in a call to arms to rectify the nonsensical injustice that has descended upon these culinary critics. One of these recipients is the beloved Sargeant Harrison Yates, who treats his Yelp reviews with the same severity that he would treat a homocide case. Upon, receiving his letter from Cartman, his forever concerned wife Maggie asks if he requires her support in such a trying time. Of course, he shoots this down, “No, they’re just asking for me,” reiterating the deluded sense of self-importance surrounding these reviewers. The meeting goes incredibly awry however, as an unexpected mob of thousands appears before the Cartman household. Eric has never been one to shy away from delivering inspirational public speeches, calling from his bedroom window for the Yelp reviewers to follow his lead, as he alludes to appointing himself as the one and true Yelp critic. However, the self-entitled narcissism of the reviewers becomes glaringly obvious, as every member in the crowd envisions the “leader” in Cartman’s speech to be themselves.
This season has seen South Park dissect the implicit smugness that arises from both political correctness and gentrification, which are both topics worthy of cultural discussion. However, “You’re Not Yelping” attempts to harpoon a very precise controversial contemporary topic in the most meandering of ways when placed in the comparative context of this seasons previous episodes. Yelp is undeniably a controversial force in our social justice warrior society, but it feels as though the now infamous website could have been satirically destroyed in a more clever way. Within the past year alone, Yelp has been embroiled in a number of contentious disputes which would have made for far more interesting angles. Perhaps the greatest controversy surrounding Yelp has been their alleged extortion practices, by which Yelp have been reported to have had contacted businesses with negative reviews in an attempt to help “manage” these criticisms. When this offer is declined, Yelp hides behind their “algorithm”, as these restaurants pages get flooded with negative reviews, as opposed to displaying positive ones. Beyond this, Yelp has spurred a number of external controversies beyond their own questionable practices. Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana openly embraced the states “religious freedom” law, and openly admitted that it would discriminate against LGBT people. Botto Bistro in Richmond, California has been running an anti-Yelp campaign to purposefully achieve a one-star rating in protest of Yelp’s pressure to advertise their practice of placing ads above search results. The Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York posted a policy warning that guests who left negative Yelp reviews would have $500 deducted from their deposit. With all this raw material to dismember, it just seemed a little lackluster of South Park to tackle one of the most shallow issues surrounding the controversial website.
Continuing with the episode itself, the cohort of Yelp reviewers take to Cartman’s speech by ambushing Whistlin’ Willy’s in a fashion which draws some stark parallels to ISIS. The mob destroys the establishment, before screaming war cries similar to that of the extremist organisation as they “behead” the beloved children's food mascot by removing Whistlin’ Willy’s infamous mask. With Yelp reviewers restored of their powers, Cartman reasserts his authority over David, by storming the schools hallways to the rebellious guitar riffage of “Bad to the Bone” — a subtle allusion to Cartman’s days as a Dog The Bounty Hunter inspired hall monitor. The parallels between the rioting Yelp reviewers and ISIS are made wholly explicit, as literal footage of the terrorist organisation are interpolated with scenes of South Park being held under siege. While I’ve always been a fan of the shows use of splicing real world footage, it’s now been present in every episode this season, diluting the comedic impact that this trope gag once had. It’s simply another example of South Park running a funny idea into the ground.
In an attempt to stop the violence, David calls out the Yelp leader to meet him mono-a-mono under the assumption that he would be meeting Cartman. Instead, the entire collective mob of South Park’s Yelp reviewers appears, where they all descend into personal hyperbolic diatribes about their self-imposed authority, “We took the challenge to go from the towns food critics to the towns spiritual leaders.” Upon realising that the rabbling horde are nothing but self-deluded individuals, Kyle and David devise a plan, by which the Yelp reviewers are personally designated with a golden badge which symbolises their position as the one and true elite food critic of town. The ceremony itself isn’t without its comedic charm, as one of the mayors aides rings a symbolic bell, while Father Maxi lazily bemoans an ancient Latin hymn. With the Yelp reviewers all easily identifiable by their new badges, the restauranteurs of South Park provide the critics with an exemplary dining experience (read: shitting, pissing and cumming in their food). This is all summated in one of South Park’s most hilarious musical numbers in some time, titled “Boogers and Cum”, with such great lines as, “Boogers and cum, piss in your potatoes/boogers and cum, some guy shit on your tomatoes.”
“You’re Not Yelping” isn’t a bad episode of South Park by any means, as it succeeds in delivering some highly entertaining laughs that undeniably tickle the funny bone. While season 19 has proven that it can be simultaneously clever and hilarious through well thought out plot lines and a keen attention to detail, this weeks episode simply failed to hone in on the refined antics that made previous episodes so delightful. Instead of being daring, it refuses to take any real risks by relying on recycled jokes. The entire premise of self-centered Yelp reviewers only serves to offer a hollow take on a social topic that is of questionable importance in the first place, which fails in the context of this season. Despite one inconsistency within the naming of CtPaTown, it’s hard to not be impressed by the dedication to continuity, and I’m curious to see how the arc of this season will progress.