E-scooters are bad, mmkay?
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
Even though South Park sticks to that September-November timeframe nowadays, it’s only occasionally that the series goes through the trouble of crafting a full-blown Halloween episode. Sometimes the result is an instant classic (2012’s “A Nightmare on Facetime” comes to mind) and other times you wind up with “Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers.” This year’s Halloween special leans more towards the former, luckily. It’s just too bad that slow build-up limited what was possible with “The Scoots.”
With all the current fads just begging to be spoofed by South Park, I’m not sure the e-scooter was anywhere near the top of the list, but that’s the direction the series went this week. The town’s e-scooter invasion made for some humorous moments early on (mostly involving Mr. Mackey’s growing rage at the scooters and the accident-prone hipsters who ride them) but it wasn’t long before the e-scooter gag became just one more dead horse for the writers to beat. I will grant, though, that the e-scooter humor might connect better with city dwellers who have to co-exist with them on a daily basis. I live in one of those parts of the South where public transportation barely exists, so your mileage may vary.
Part of what disappointed me this week is that this episode seemed to have all the ingredients to lampoon the massive craze that is Fortnite, from the battle royale setup to the fact that several kids were dressed up as Fortnite characters. And you could probably argue that the eventual Halloween free-for-all was vaguely Fortnite-ish, but it does seem like more could have been done on that front if the story had progressed to Halloween night a little sooner.
What set this episode apart early on was its unusual focus on Kenny. It’s strange to think how rarely South Park puts Kenny in the spotlight anymore. The show has drifted away from the core Stan/Kyle/Cartman/Kenny quartet in general, but Kenny in particular so often seems to get the short end of the stick. So seeing him play a starring role, and in an episode that took such an earnest look at the struggles of being poor in a thoroughly middle class town, was a welcome treat. The fact that this episode is narrated by an adult Kenny only added to the effect.
In general, this episode was hindered by a slow buildup to the main event. But once Halloween night did arrive and it became clear that this episode was basically doing a full-blown survival horror/zombie movie spoof, everything clicked. The idea of scooters being a sentient, malevolent presence in the town never really took off, but the notion of hundreds of kids using them to stockpile candy and bleed the town’s adults dry definitely worked. Having Mr. Mackey at the center of it all just added to the fun. Mackey is never more entertaining than when he’s flustered and upset.
Along with the basic zombie movie motif, there were several fun horror movie tropes and references to feast on this week. I’m not sure if Mackie’s midnight e-scooter raid was parodying anything in particular, but the stark, silhouetted approach made for a visually memorable addition. You have to wonder if the extra week break made that sequence possible.
There’s also the terrific Friday the 13th reference, with Mackey telling the costumed security guard, “Jason, I’m a counselor. You can trust me.” That’s to say nothing of the countless costume cameos, including everything from Pickle Rick to Stormtrooper Finn to the aforementioned Fortnite suits.
It was also fun to see the nods to previous episodes from this season. As hoped, Randy is still living out his dream growing marijuana on Tegridy Farms. There was also the billboard for Mr. Hankey’s now-canceled Christmas show. This light approach to continuity seems to hit the sweet spot for the series. The heavily serialized approach of Season 20 wore out its welcome after a while, but it is nice to see occasional callbacks and get a sense that there’s a loose buildup from the start of the season to the finish.