For 22 seasons, South Park has had a playful but respectful relationship with The Simpsons. And why not? Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone know The Simpsons paved the way for all irreverent animated satires of suburban America. Their most recent episode didn’t seem either playful nor respectful. It seemed like a full-blown siege on a show that has, in the last year, and partly of their own doing, fallen on hard times.
Let’s start with the title: “The Problem with a Poo.” It’s a play on The Problem with Apu, the title of last year’s documentary, which accused longtime Simpsons immigrant Apu of being a symbol of casual, accepted racism, perpetuating a stereotype via a white voice actor – Hank Azaria.
But the episode saved their Simpsons dig for the final 30 seconds. The titular poo was, of course, Mr. Hankey, here a stand-in for Brett Kavanaugh. But the new, controversial Chief Justice wasn’t the only target; Parker and Stone rolled him and the successfully “cancelled” Roseanne Barr together to make one literal piece of crap.
Come the ending, Parker and Stone switched targets yet again. Stan asks his father Randy where the newly disgraced Mr. Hankey will go next. “He’ll have to go to a place that accepts racist, awful beings like him,” Randy replies. “There are still places out there who don’t care about bigotry and hate.”
The scene then instantly cuts to Springfield, where Mr. Hankey is greeted by Apu. “Welcome, my friend,” Apu tells him. “Please, rest your weary feet and make yourself at home.” This was followed by the hashtag #cancelthesimpsons appearing right before the end credits.
The capper caused quite a stir, especially amongst those who are for ending The Simpsons rather than rehabbing it with a non-white Apu.
Then again, was it really all that savage?
It’s true: Parker and Stone are obviously among the biggest Simpsons fans, packing in Simpsons references over the decades. They even constructed an entire episode in semi-annoyed awe of their prolific creativity in Season 6 called “Simpsons Already Did It.”
Then there was Season 10’s “Cartoon Wars II,” their two-part take-down of Family Guy that earmarks a minute for a gentle Simpsons dig: Cartman meets a kid who looks like Bart Simpson, who rattles off a list of evils — none of which touch the worst/best of Eric Cartman. I mean, has Bart ever gotten one of his tormentor’s parents’ killed then cooked their carcasses into chili and had him eat it, then invited Radiohead to come and make fun of him? Not even close.
But this “Problem with a Poo” joke is scathing. Still, that’s how Trey Parker and Matt Stone roll. They’re essentially self-aware trolls, and witty ones, too. Even the final #cancelthesimpsons hashtag is a twist on a running joke this season: Each episode thus far has ended with the hashtag “#cancelsouthpark.”
They probably don’t want the show that made the world ready for their show should be canceled. It’s likely they just couldn’t resist giving their gods a well-deserved jab. Then again, saying “The Simpsons already did it” really mostly applies to Seasons 3 through 8, not 9 through 30, doesn’t it? In fact, maybe this is the start of a feud.