Today we are continuing our look back at the best of the best when it comes to Christmas specials and today’s entrant comes from the quiet, mountain, town of South Park. South Park burst onto the scene in 1997 and basically transformed the Comedy Central network from the get-go. The show about four foul-mouthed kids who seem to live amongst the most over reactive collection of adults in the world was an instant hit and creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker suddenly found themselves amongst celebrities and the like. The show had a very distinct style to it as it was animated on computers, but in such a way that it resembled stop-motion paper dolls like the original short that spawned the series. It was so convincing that I recall many a friend at the time that would insist that’s how the show was animated, or it was only the first season that was, but in truth it was almost all of it as only the pilot contained some true stop-motion.
“Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo” is the first of several Christmas episodes the show would air and it’s still the show’s best. It tackles a relatable and sometimes overlooked aspect of Christmas which is how do the Jewish kids feel? This part of the special came from Stone, who is Jewish and had to deal with seeing all of his non-Jewish friends receive presents from Santa as a kid. Since it’s also South Park, it subverts some Christmas tropes and adds a healthy amount of gross-out humor to the mix to make it something not broadcast network friendly. We’ll get more into it as we go through it, but it’s interesting that you could basically swap Mr. Hankey for something inoffensive and the special would work for any network, provided the swearing was also dropped. This episode is also a musical, which is something the creators would obviously return to time and again both with South Park and outside of it. I realize that Tuesday’s special revolved around a fart and this one will center its plot on a poop. I suppose I could have planned it out better, but maybe they should be paired?
The episode begins without the usual intro and instead presents the children of South Park elementary all singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” which is a direct call-back to the short that started it all: The Spirit of Christmas. The kids are onstage in their school auditorium and we’re witnessing a rehearsal for a school Christmas pageant. The singing stops and Stan (Parker) comes out on stage and requests, “Lights please,” and he quotes Luke (002:08-14) in an obvious reference to Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Stan’s version doesn’t go on for as long as Linus and ends with “And now South Park Elementary presents the birth of Jesus!”
Stan takes his leave as the curtains open on a manger scene. Wendy (Mary Kay Bergman) is playing the role of Mary while Kyle (Stone) is playing Joseph and a bunch of other kids are on the stage with them including Cartman and Kenny, who is apparently an angel (fitting). Wendy is portraying Mary in labor while Kyle is basically ready to receive the little savior. She does some panting before a pop noise is heard and a crude little doll is sent shooting into Kyle’s hands. He holds the doll up like one might hold a prized fish they just caught while Cartman “oo’s” and Kenny says something unintelligible from his perch. Mr. Garrison (Parker), the director of this play, shouts “Wait! Wait! Wait!” cutting the scene short. Garrison criticizes Kyle for holding baby Jesus by the head and he also critiques the realism of Wendy’s labor pains.
As they get ready to try it again, Kyle’s mom Sheila (Bergman) shows up. She demands to know just what Mr. Garrison thinks he’s doing. He explains he’s trying to direct the Christmas play, but points out her son was holding “baby Jesus fetus” by the head. Sheila is incensed that Garrison would stage a nativity scene for a school play and demands to know why he would cast her son, who is Jewish, in the role of Joseph. Garrison responds in a derogatory fashion concerned she’s about to lay that “Chanukah crap” on him which gets her even more flustered. As she explains that her son is Jewish, we cut briefly to Kyle looking ashamed and the other kids looking at him confused while Stan even asks “Dude, why are you Jewish on Christmas?” Garrison then gets back on his megaphone and asks Kyle if there is anything he can do in the play not related to Jesus. His mom suggests The Dreidel Song while Kyle proposes the Mr. Hankey song, which goes something like this: Mr. Hankey the Christmas poo / he loves me and I love you…
The other kids interrupt him to question what a Christmas poo is and the song doesn’t go over well. Sheila is mad at Kyle for singing such a song (who taught it to him if not her or her husband?) while Mr. Garrison sees this as an opportunity for a zinger and tells her “That’s what you get for raising your kid to be a Pagan.” That’s the last straw for Sheila who tells Garrison she’s going to talk to the mayor about him. As she takes off, Garrison chases after her asking “Was it the Pagan remark?” seemingly realizing he pushed her too far.
Wendy, in another callback to a classic Christmas special, points out to the other kids that it’s snowing outside. This is intended as a joke since this is South Park where it snows constantly. The kids react like it’s something special though and all run outside where Wendy suggests they catch snowflakes on their tongue because it’s, you know, fun! The kids do as they’re told while a facsimile of the music from A Charlie Brown Christmas is played from the same scene of the kids trying to catch snowflakes on their tongue in that one. The kids seem pretty happy about the whole thing, all except Kenny who has the misfortune of a bird defecating on his face. Cartman then takes exception to Kyle participating in the snow eating declaring that Jews can’t eat Christmas snow. Kyle disagrees, but surprisingly, Stan sides with Cartman and seems to think it’s against the law. Conveniently enough, Officer Barbrady (Parker) is out front directing traffic and Kyle calls out to him asking if it’s against the law for Jews to eat Christmas snow. Barbrady replies “Yes,” but in such a way that indicates he’s confused or unsure forcing Kyle to accept this likely untrue regulation on snow consumption.
Stan then reminds the others that they need to get to the mall so they can tell Santa what they want for Christmas. Cartman is quick to point out that Kyle can’t come since he doesn’t get presents from Santa. Kyle tries to throw Chanukah back at him by claiming he gets presents for 8 days, but Cartman dismisses the boast with “Yeah, but it’s probably just a dreidel or something lame.” Kyle then tells them he has Mr. Hankey and the boys finally ask what’s the deal with this Christmas poo? Kyle explains that Mr. Hankey comes out of the toilet on Christmas Eve and gives presents to all the kids who have a lot of fiber in their diet. Best of all, he doesn’t care about religion! The boys are understandably skeptical, but Kyle says they’ll be sorry when he’s the one riding in Santa’s sleigh with Mr. Hankey. Cartman shoots back “You’re not gonna ride on Santa’s sleigh ‘cus you’re a Jew, Kyle!”
Stan tells him they’ll see him later leaving Kyle all alone to sing about his feelings. He goes into “I’m a Lonely Jew on Christmas” which is actually a sweet song: “Chanukah is nice but why is it/ that Santa passes over my house every year?” It’s punctuated with some light humor through Kyle juxtaposing Christmas norms, like singing “Silent Night”, comparing it with Jewish songs sung in Hebrew so they sound ridiculous to non-Jews. He also gets in some bleeped profanity when he asks “What the fuck is up with lighting all these fucking candles – tell me please!” While he sings and strolls through the park, there’s lots of Christmas details in the background to drive the point of his loneliness home. It’s a song with comedic elements in a crass comedy cartoon, but it would take little effort to make this work for a much more benign Christmas special. It’s surprisingly earnest.
That evening, an angry mob has gathered outside City Hall and the mayor is addressing the crowd. It would seem a group of folks are angry about the nativity scene on City Hall grounds and demands it be removed on the basis of separation of church and state. Sheila also chimes in about the school Christmas play and how it isn’t being sensitive to the Jewish community which causes Mr. Garrison to fire back, “You are the Jewish community!” Cartman refers to Kyle’s mom as “Super Bitch” at this point and Kyle screams back at him to not call his mother a bitch which is something that will pay off later. The Christians demand that if the nativity is taken down then they need to take down all of the non-religious Christmas symbols like Santa and Frosty and the hippies demand there be an end to the cutting down of Christmas trees. After every demand is made, the mob shouts in agreement, until we get to Stan’s Uncle Jimbo who uses the opportunity to complain about flap-top coffee lids. The mob is silent after he registers his complaint, but then ends up cheering him anyway after thinking it over for a moment.
The mayor expresses a desire to reach a compromise and asks if anyone in the crowd has a suggestion for a new non-offensive Christmas icon. Kyle responds with his suggestion of Mr. Hankey once more. The mayor is obviously confused, but Kyle runs with it jumping back into the Mr. Hankey song despite his parents trying to shush him. He gets only a little further into the song this time than he did before with the song getting interrupted this time by Cartman covering his mouth and explaining to the mayor that Kyle is “a disturbed little boy.” The mayor seems to take this explanation at face value and simply vows to find a non-offensive way to celebrate Christmas this year. She then asks if there are any more questions and Mr. Garrison offers one up, “Can we get rid of all the Mexicans?” When the mayor, in an exhausted voice indicating Garrison must bring this up frequently, tells him they cannot do that he responds in Peanuts fashion with, “Rats!” There is so much Charlie Brown in this one.
We’re then taken to Kyle’s house which is all decorated for Chanukah in a way a celebrator of Christmas might decorate their house which is honestly something I’ve never personally encountered. Inside, Kyle’s dad (Stone) is reprimanding Kyle for bringing up Mr. Hankey in public. I still have no idea how Kyle came to know of this Christmas tradition of Mr. Hankey, but it sounds like it wasn’t from mom and dad. As Kyle’s dad lays into him, Sheila just floats around behind him agreeing with everything he says while little brother Ike (Jesse Howell) manages to set himself on fire by knocking over the menorah. Kyle’s dad then sends him to bed and tells him he won’t be opening his Chanukah present tonight which Kyle mumbles a response of “It’s probably just another stupid dreidel anyway.” When his dad raises his voice demanding to know what he just said, Kyle just yells back “Ike’s on fire.”
Kyle heads upstairs to brush his teeth while his parents deal with Ike. As he brushes in front of the mirror, a haunting voice calls out “Kyle” from the toilet. Kyle tries to convince himself he’s just hearing things, but it doesn’t work as we finally get introduced to Mr. Hankey (Parker). He pops out of the toilet with a “Hidey Ho!” and he is literally a log of poop. He has big, inviting, eyes and two stick arms that end with white mittens. He has a tiny Santa Claus hat on his head and basically a permanent smile. He’s adorable, but also a piece of shit. It’s a real conflict of emotions looking at him.
Kyle tells Mr. Hankey to go away as he hops out of the toilet and onto the vanity. It’s important to note that Mr. Hankey doesn’t fly, he just bounces around, and everywhere he lands he leaves behind a skid mark. Kyle tells him that his dad told him he isn’t real, but that just eggs Mr. Hankey on. He decides to sing Kyle a song to prove he’s real, and as he sings he bounces all over the bathroom and even writes “NOEL” on the vanity mirror with…himself. Kyle keeps trying to shush him because he fears getting in trouble, but it’s too late as his dad is already pounding on the door demanding to know what’s going on in there. When he finally is able to barge in he finds Kyle standing in the middle of the room clutching Mr. Hankey in his hand. Only Mr. Hankey is no longer a magic Christmas poo, just regular poo, and Kyle shakes him and orders him to dance, but the only response he gets is Hankey’s “head” just lists to one side.
We cut to Kyle in bed while his dad yells at him. He tells Kyle to go to sleep and think about his poor mother who has to clean that bathroom up. From offscreen, we hear Kyle’s mom shout, “What! What! What?!” to the notion that it will fall on her to clean the poop in the bathroom. Kyle’s dad shuts the door, and then Mr. Hankey returns. From where? I don’t know, but he pops up from behind the bed with his “Hidey Ho!” Kyle demands to know where Mr. Hankey went earlier, but he ignores the question and just politely reprimands Kyle for not wearing socks to bed. Kyle then tells him no one believes in him and Mr. Hankey just gives an “Aww shucks.” Kyle proposes that Mr. Hankey come with him to school tomorrow and Mr. Hankey thinks that’s a great idea. He vows to show Kyle’s friends the true meaning of Christmas!
The next day, the mayor is out on Main Street as she tries to find all of the offensive Christmas decorations and get rid of them. The other people around her set to work taking down wreaths and a Santa display when Jimbo asks if mistletoe is offensive? The mayor asks the mob and when one guy raises his hand she instructs Jimbo to lose the mistletoe. At the bus stop, Stan tells Kenny and Cartman that he knows what he’s getting for Christmas, some Jon Elway doll. When they ask how he could know that he says because he checked his parents’ closet. Cartman then chimes in that he knows what he’s getting for Christmas because he looked in his mom’s closet: the Ultra Vibe Pleasure 2000. When the others ask what that is, Cartman just says “I don’t know, but it sounds pretty sweet!”
Kyle then shows up carrying a shoe box which prompts Stan to ask what’s inside. He tells him it’s a surprise, which naturally gets the boys even more interested as they gather around Kyle. He relents, but cautions his friends not to scare him. The lid is removed and inside is a dried out looking turd that was once Mr. Hankey. Stan cries out “Sick dude!” while Cartman angrily asks if this is some kind of Jewish tradition? Kenny is even offended and it sounds like he says something along the lines of “That is the sickest thing I have ever seen.” Kyle insists he’s alive and starts shaking the box back and forth demanding the poop dance, but it does no such thing.
We’re then taken to a focus group where a researcher tells a small group of people he’s going to read off some things and measure how offended each person is by them. He begins with “Christ” and a couple of people are offended as indicated by a headband they’re wearing. He lists some benign stuff like “Sand” and “Camel” and one little old lady on the end seems to be mildly offended by some of these. It climaxes with the researcher saying “Stupid wop dago” which offends everyone. It’s kind of a lame segment.
We’re back at the school and Mr. Garrison is disappointed when the Christmas tree is removed from the play. He then concedes he’s having a hard time coming up with a play that conforms to the mayor’s new orders. He asks the kids if any of them know a non-offensive Christmas song they could do and Cartman suggests “Kyle’s Mom is a Stupid Bitch,” which obviously offends Kyle, but not Mr. Garrison who has a strong dislike for the woman. Cartman goes into his jaunty tune which is both catchy and funny. Cartman is at his best when he’s just a little shit. His behavior would escalate into anti-Semitic, super villain, levels and would lose most of its charm so I like watching these older episodes sometimes where he’s just a more conventional asshole.
As Cartman goes through his song everyone starts clapping and tapping their feet. Mr. Garrison is really enjoying it, but Kyle is not. As his anger rises, Mr. Hankey comes back to life and pops out of his box to see what’s going on. He’s not impressed with Cartman’s song since it is very mean-spirited. He proposes that someone needs to teach him a lesson. He allows Cartman to do his big finish, but once the song is over Mr. Hankey lunges for him despite Kyle apparently not being onboard with this idea. The second he does, he goes back to being just an ordinary piece of poo that strikes Cartman on the cheek. Everyone is stunned and Mr. Garrison breaks the silence by demanding to know if Kyle just threw “doo-doo” at Cartman? Kyle doesn’t know what to say, but he’s caught shit-handed as he looks at his mittens while Cartman just screams “You sick bastard!”
In our next scene, we’re introduced to a new character: Mr. Mackey (Parker), the school guidance counselor. Kyle has been sent to him since he has some clear issues that need to be addressed. Mr. Mackey, with his “mmmkay” cadence, which is a bit of a rip-off of Beavis and Butt-Head’s Mr. Van Driessen, basically walks through how he assesses the situation describing Kyle as a fecalpheliac. When Kyle asks for an explanation on what a fecalpheliac is, Mr. Mackey tells him it’s someone obsessed with “mooky stinks.” Kyle repeats the phrase mooky stinks in a surprised tone indicating he’s never heard the expression before, but Mackey ignores him and points out that Kyle is Jewish. He theorizes that this must be a hard time of year for Kyle, and when Kyle admits that it is he asks him if it makes him mad? When he says it does he interjects, “Mad enough to KILL, Kyle?!” which Kyle insists is not the case.
Mackey then describes Kyle’s condition and he does so with unkind terms and even refers to Kyle’s brain as a “sick little mind,” basically the kind of language a school counselor would want to avoid. While he continues to insult Kyle, Mr. Hankey reappears once more only this time it’s in Mackey’s cup of coffee. Mr. Hankey is sporting a shower cap and scrubbing his back with a toothbrush while he hums his “Hidey Ho” song from earlier. Kyle is obviously disgusted by this and seems unsure of what to do. Eventually, Mackey finishes ridiculing Kyle by telling him he’s going to prescribe Prozac for him finally looking down at his mug (which he’s been sipping from this whole time). We then see Mackey’s point-of-view as a turd floats around in his cup. He shouts and calls Kyle a sick little monkey as he tosses the cup aside.
Back in the auditorium, Mr. Garrison is explaining how they have to take down the Christmas lights because they offend people with Epilepsy. He asks Kenny to go unplug the lights and we see they have an outlet overloaded with them and water is dripping down onto it and has formed a puddle. Some ominous strings come in as Kenny walks over suggesting death is imminent, but he just pulls the plugs out without incident and the suspenseful music vanishes. Once done, Mackey comes running in as Kyle is apparently chasing him with the remains of Mr. Hankey in his hands insisting that he’s real. Mackey pauses to angrily shout at Stan that he needs to do something about his friend before he hurts somebody. This seems like a pretty crazy thing to expect an 8 year old to take care of.
Stan does as he’s told, and he, Cartman, and Kenny take Kyle to a nearby mental institution. When he tells the woman working the front desk that they need to commit their friend Kyle the woman asks why. Kyle describes himself as a clinically depressed fecalpheliac on Prozac in response which is apparently enough for the woman. She confirms he has no allergies then calls out “Jacket” and some orderlies rush in, wrap Kyle in a straitjacket, and usher him out in the span of about 5 seconds. As Kyle disappears into the back, Cartman calls out (sincerely?), “Bye, Kyle. Happy Chanukah!”
It’s now time for the Christmas play and Mr. Garrison is making sure all of the kids have their leotards on. There’s a rather large crowd of people for an elementary school play, but they’re all pretty invested in this play now to make sure there’s no offensive imagery. The crowd is excited for the play to come and Sheila insists it will be great as a result of their meddling, though she’s sad Kyle isn’t there. We cut quickly to Kyle who’s in a padded room just singing The Dreidel Song over and over to himself indicating that maybe he is crazy? Back at the play, they’re ready to start until someone points out a star hanging above the stage as offensive to non-Christians. When Jimbo replies with a “Aww, come on,” the man shouts back not to force their beliefs on him. Randy, Jimbo’s brother and Stan’s dad, chimes in that he’s in agreement with the random guy and the star needs to come down.
Mr. Garrison once again turns to Kenny. As Kenny gets ready to ascend a rickety looking ladder to remove the star, Garrison reminds him to avoid the shark tank they have for the third act of the play and the ominous strings come in again. Do I need to remind the reader that, up until now, Kenny has died in every episode? I guess I should since I don’t think they do that anymore. As Kenny attends to this task, the MC welcomes Chef (Isaac Hayes) onto the stage to sing a non-offensive Christmas song. As Chef sings, Kenny has to reach for the star and it looks like he’s going to fall, but ends up removing the star without incident. As for Chef, the gag here is his song is fairly explicit as it’s about making love down by the fire and it’s a holiday version of his “I’m Gonna Make Love to You, Woman” song he’s sung before, but since he doesn’t reference Jesus or Santa, everyone is seemingly cool with it.
With Chef’s song over and Kenny out of peril the play can begin. The MC introduces the composer and lyricist for the play: Philip Glass. The play begins and the kids are all in gray leotards just sort of milling about on stage while Glass plays at his synthesizer. The lyrics for this performance are: “As I turn and look into the sun/ the rays burn my eyes/ How like a turtle the sun looks.” Sheila starts complaining about how horrible the play is while the priest declares it the most God-awful piece of crap he’s ever seen. Mr. Garrison blames them for making the play this way which causes the priest to get defensive and blame the Jews. Kyle’s dad points out they didn’t demand they remove Santa while another person cries out “All you bastards ruined Christmas,” which sets off a brawl.
The kids just watch this scene unfold feeling pretty crappy about it. Chef comes over and asks Stan and Cartman where Kyle is and they tell him they had to commit him. When Chef asks why, Cartman explains it’s because Kyle kept seeing some little Christmas poop everywhere he went. When Chef responds, “You mean Mr. Hankey?” Stan says “Uh oh,” in realization that maybe his friend isn’t crazy after all.
We head into a commercial break, only it’s a fake commercial for a Mr. Hankey play set. A live-action mom walks in on her two kids who are bored causing her to pull out the Mr. Hankey Construction Set. The announcer, Trey Parker, explains you select your “best” Mr. Hankey from the toilet with the included net and go from there. The boy proudly proclaims he made a mariachi Mr. Hankey while the girl makes a Mrs. Hankey. The boy suggests they put the fez hat on him while the girl just says to her mom “I wish daddy were still alive.” This causes the bouncy soundtrack to drop for a moment before resuming again as Parker returns as the pitch man. The fake commercial depicts Mr. Hankey as a clay construction and the kids are covered in Mr. Hankey’s signature skid marks. It’s pretty damn gross. The commercial ends with the mom asking what happened to Mr. Hankey and we pan to see a baby in a high chair who has apparently ate Mr. Hankey. The kids and mom all laugh innocently while the girl declares she loves her mom.
Back at the auditorium, the battle wages as the kids are despondent that they didn’t believe their friend. Chef reasons there’s still time to set things right and the kids one by one all declare that they believe in Mr. Hankey. The magic of their belief summons Mr. Hankey with a “Hidey Ho!” Suddenly, they all can see him and this is where Cartman utters his catchphrase “Screw you guys, I’m going home. Talking poo is where I draw the line.” Chef gives Mr. Hankey a brief rundown of the situation. This looks like a job for Mr. Hankey! He shouts for everyone to stop fighting which works because if a living piece of shit tells you to do something you listen! The mayor demands to know what the hell that “thing” is as everyone looks to the poo for guidance, and Mr. Hankey delivers:
Come on gang, don’t fight. You people have focused so hard on the things wrong with Christmas that you’ve forgotten what’s so right about it. Don’t you see? This is the one time of year we’re supposed to forget all the bad stuff, stop worrying and being sad about the state of the world, and for just one day say “Oh the heck with it. Let’s sing and dance and bake cookies!”
A hush falls over the crowd leading to a slow clap. It starts with Kyle’s dad and soon everyone joins in with applause. Stan then surveys the situation with a “Dude, this is pretty fucked up right here,” which will be a running joke in Christmas specials to come from South Park.
We cut back to Kyle in his padded cell. He’s singing his lonely Jew song again until Mr. Hankey appears through the barred window. Kyle declares he’s still insane at the sight of the Christmas poo and starts singing The Dreidel Song again to cure himself. Mr. Hankey insists to Kyle that he’s real and this time he brought some friends to prove it. Somehow, Kyle is able to get himself up high enough to see through the bars to find the whole town of South Park gathered outside the hospital. They respond in unison, “Merry Christmas Kyle Broflovski!”
An overjoyed Kyle is allowed to leave and goes out to join in the revelry. People are holding candles and sporting festive attire once more seemingly casting aside all of the silly regulations imposed by the mayor. Kyle takes his rightful position between Stan and a returning Cartman as the whole crowd sings the Mr. Hankey song which goes:
Mr. Hankey, the Christmas poo / He loves me, I love you / Therefore vicariously he loves you / Even if you’re a Jew! / Sometimes he’s nutty, Sometimes he’s corny / He can be brown or greenish-brown / But if you eat fiber on Christmas Eve / He might come to your town / Mr. Hankey the Christmas poo …
Mr. Hankey chimes in at that point to tell everyone it’s time for him to be on his way. He jumps into the night sky as Santa Claus flies by, past the moon, with a “Howdy ho ho ho!” to pick him up. As he leaves, Cartman cries out to Mr. Hankey that he always believed in him and to bring him lots of presents. Stan then says to Kyle, “You know, I learned something today. I learned that Jewish people are okay and that Chanukah can be cool too!” Kyle then remarks that something feels missing and the other boys agree each saying basically the same thing. Everything goes quiet as all four look in Kenny’s direction. There’s a drum roll and the words “The End” appear over them causing Kenny to cry out “Woohoo!” The credits roll, but are interrupted as we head to a public access building. Inside, Jesus (voiced by Stone, who is a character on the show and hosts a talk show) is all by himself at a birthday party singing “Happy Birthday” to himself. He blows out the candles and the room goes dark. It’s a funny way to acknowledge that in the universe of the show, Jesus is real and alive so most of the debate surrounding how to celebrate Christmas shouldn’t exist.
And that’s the end of the very first South Park Christmas episode. Or is it the second following The Spirit of Christmas? Actually, there were two versions of that short so maybe it’s the third? Ahh, who cares? This was the first one broadcast on Comedy Central and it holds up well. Kyle feeling like an outcast at Christmas is understandable since his family is literally the only Jewish family in the whole town. His friends are 8 and lack empathy so he gets zero support from them while the adults in his life seem ill-equipped to talk with him about it.
Because Kyle is seemingly all alone at Christmas, he turns to his imagination: Mr. Hankey. From there it’s a bit of a conventional plot of “Is Mr. Hankey imaginary or truly real?” leading to awkward moments for Kyle where he thinks he’s in a position to prove the character is real, only to be letdown. The obvious twist here is that Mr. Hankey isn’t some traditional spirit of Christmas, but animated poop. Mr. Hankey feels like a challenge imposed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone to make a piece of shit likeable. And it’s also just funny to see a very wholesome character presented in what many would describe as an obscene manner. Mr. Hankey gets to track poo all over Kyle’s bathroom, slam into Cartman’s face, bathe in Mr. Mackey’s coffee, and finally plant a wet one on Kyle’s cheek. Each time the visual is disgusting since the smear he leaves behind on everything he touches is rather convincing looking. Each time I see this I think I’ve become desensitized to all of the poop scenes, then we get that shot of the turd floating in the coffee and I get a little sick to my stomach.
The other aspect of this special that works so well is it’s very balanced amongst the major players from the show’s first season. We get just the right amount from characters like Mr. Garrison and Chef while Cartman is great in his role of “little shit.” And it’s a bit surprising because we get introduced to new characters in both Mr. Hankey and Mr. Mackey. Mr. Hankey would be boring if he weren’t literal poop since he’s so sweet and kind. Though I do feel it’s a bit of a cheat to have him try to hurt a child in Cartman, even if he was acting like a jerk, just to make it appear like Kyle threw poop at Cartman. Mr. Mackey is a hit in his brief exposure in this one as his mannerisms are almost immediately funny to go along with a ridiculous and unique character design. I do feel like his character was tweaked in later episodes to be more aloof and less mean-spirited since he really rips into Kyle when describing how insane he feels the kid is. The town itself is also a character and I do miss these “small town” vibes the show had in the early seasons. It felt like South Park was insulated from the world, where as if this episode were made today they would probably have Fox News show up to the play and lampoon divisive, political, commentators throughout the episode for it’s “War on Christmas” style plot.
As was customary at the time, Stan learns a lesson in the end and spells that out for us and it’s the most benign take-away one could find here which is that “Jews are okay.” Though it felt more benign in 1997, these days maybe it’s more important to say that out loud given the overall rise of anti-Semitism in parts of the world. As for the episode’s real message, it’s the usual “Matt and Trey see something they think is stupid and dismiss it.” In this case, that message is mostly fine as they’re taking aim at the phony “War on Christmas.” They think it’s dumb and I tend to agree with them and it’s a premise that’s easy to have fun with. That approach in later years doesn’t land as well, but it works with this episode.
“Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo” is a true holiday classic at this point. It’s been around for 25 years now to the point where a talking poop isn’t quite so shocking anymore. The songs are almost as well known as the gags at this point, though we have yet to move so far beyond the satire present to hear the Mr. Hankey song played on Christmas radio stations. And I don’t think we’ll ever quite get there, but if not for the profanity, I’d be comfortable showing this one to my young kids because it has a solid message and teaches kids about being sensitive to their non-Christmas celebrating friends and classmates. My son is nearly the same age as the kids of South Park and it is challenging to try and explain to him why Santa Claus would come to his house, but not the homes of some of his friends. And those reasons can vary, and I don’t even know if it’s a question I have an answer for as I sit and type this.
If you want to watch this one this year then you need only pay attention to what Comedy Central is broadcasting this month. If you don’t have cable, this is streaming on HBO Max and is available to purchase digitally in various places. It’s also available on DVD as part of the first season of South Park and was featured on the DVD Christmas Time in South Park, an essential DVD if you’re as into Christmas specials as I am.
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
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