The fall run of South Park season 16 kicked off with specifically targeted satirical jabs at the NFL and Honey Boo Boo, but starting with last week’s “Insecurity,” the show has focused the majority of its humor on human nature as opposed to pop culture.
Of course, as with any South Park episode, there are plenty of pop culture references to be found in episode 3, “Going Native,” but the premise and most of the jokes are centered on a group of Hawaiian tourists who wrongly consider themselves to be natives.
Unlike many South Park episodes, “Going Native” is driven by Butters, who inexplicably unleashes his pent-up rage at friends and classmates. His parents sit him down and, rather than ground him (as is their modus operandi), they explain that his anger is due to that fact that he has yet to discover who he really is or where he’s from. They then reveal that he’s a native Hawaiian and must return to the homeland of his ancestors to confront his newly-discovered emotions.
Butters brings his one true friend, Kenny, on his journey of self-discovery and meets his fellow “natives,” who are obviously just tourists, at the airport. The “natives” – but really just tourists – take Butters to his sacred ancestral grounds where he must take part in a ceremonial ritual to rid him of his anger once and for all.
Most of the jokes of the episode revolve around these “natives,” who wear Hawaiian shirts, rely heavily on their Mahalo rewards points, and are all Caucasian. In true South Park fashion, these things are never pointed out to the natives by any of the other characters, who are either too oblivious or simply don’t care enough to bring it up.
The ridiculousness hits a high point when other tourists, or “howlies” as the so-called “natives” refer to them, disrupt the ceremony and invade their sacred land, starting a war between the “natives” and the United States Coast Guard. The outcast, rogue band of natives battling their own kind for what they believe to be a just cause closely resembles the premise of ABC’s new fall show Last Resort. There’s also more than a passing resemblance to the Oscar-winning film The Descendants (2011) starring George Clooney.
Overall, topical humor is sparse in this episode. It appears to be one of the “banked” shows that Trey Parker and Matt Stone typically reserve for when they don’t have any great ideas mid-season. Sometimes, their week-by-week production schedule serves them well, enabling them to tackle virtually any newsworthy topic, but other times, such as in “Going Native,” it proves that the funny well can run dry, which forces them to put out sub-par material.
That’s not to say that there aren’t laughs to be had in “Going Native.” A sight gag involving the ghost of Elvis, some classic Butters one-liners, and the reveal that Butters’ anger was really just jealousy toward Ben Affleck for the critical success of Argo and for being married to Jennifer Lopez (though he’s not so jealous when he realizes Affleck’s actually married to Jennifer Garner) definitely save the episode from being a complete disappointment.
Even the running gag involving the wannabe natives is pretty funny (though probably also annoying to actual natives), but it has trouble carrying the entire episode. When you beat a joke for so long, it eventually loses its punch.
Even though the episode won’t rank as one of South Park’s best, if you are a fan, you’ll still get a kick out of it, so it’s still definitely worth checking out and you can do that at southparkstudios.com.
Be sure to catch new episodes of South Park on Comedy Central every Wednesday @10pm.