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Dec. 15 – South Park – “Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo”

Original air date December 17, 1997.

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?

You’re unlikely to confuse any of the children of South Park with Linus.

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!”

Messiahs are so ugly when first born

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.

The show could have just said portrayed Sheila as being too uptight, but she’s right to object to a nativity scene for a school play. Plus, she seemed willing to overlook it if her son was cast as someone else up until Mr. Garrison sassed his way out of any compromise.

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…

This episode is the start of Cartman ripping on Kyle for being Jewish, something that seemed hilariously ludicrous back then, but feels a bit different these days.

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.

Kyle is going to need confirmation from the law on this one.

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.

Kyle’s first attempt at explaining The Legend of Mr. Hankey to his friends.

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!”

This episode mostly plays things straight with Kyle as a sympathetic figure. There’s just lots of poop jokes.

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.

Mob scenes like this were not uncommon in the early days of South Park.

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.

It’s a little surprising to see Cartman be the one to stop Kyle from further embarrassing himself.

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.

Time to face the wrath of dad, Kyle.

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.”

He’s real!

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.

The perfect Christmas card.

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.

Kyle is so committed to Mr. Hankey that he doesn’t even react to all of the shit stains the little fellow leaves everywhere.

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 joke here is that no one should care about mistletoe, but I think I’m with this guy.

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!”

What’s in the box?!

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.

The woman on the right really doesn’t like camels.

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.

Everyone seems to love Cartman’s song, except Kyle.

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.

Oh, and Mr. Hankey really doesn’t like it as well.

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!”

I’m Mr. Mackey, mmmkay.

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.

If the scene in the bathroom didn’t gross you out, now the poop is getting into the mouth region.

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.

If you ever want to be institutionalized, chasing around your counselor with a log of poop in your hands is probably a quick way to do so.

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.

Bye, Kyle! Happy Chanukah!

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!”

They’re all convinced this play will be amazing, an absurd expectation of any 3rd grade play.

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.

Once again, Kenny is forced to stare death right in the eyes.

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.

Big surprise – the play sucks!

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.

There was a lot riding on that play, and those kids failed.

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.

This is the wholesome, holiday, content you came here for, right?!

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.

So Kyle’s box of shit has just been hanging around backstage this whole time?

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:

Sometimes in order for a message to be received you just need to hear it from a poop.

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.

Now Kyle gets to experience what Charlie Brown did.

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!”

Watch out, Kyle, he’s coming in for a kiss!

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 …

Don’t worry, there’s always time for a Santa moon shot!

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.

Congratulations Kenny, you finally made it!

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.

Apologies to Jesus.

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.

Ugh, that’s the one shot in this one that makes me ill. Future appearances by Mr. Hankey would have to escalate what took place here and they get pretty gross.

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:

Dec. 15 – Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

It’s December 15 which means it’s time for another retro throwback and I bet you’re surprised to see the green guy here. Since I dubbed Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! as the best ever Christmas special not just once, but twice, you may have expected it to appear on this year’s edition in…

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Dec. 15 – Animaniacs – “A Christmas Plotz”

It’s rare when you encounter a cartoon series that has back-to-back episodes dedicated to Christmas, but that happened with the first season of Animaniacs. If you’re not familiar with the show, Animaniacs is essentially the spiritual successor to Tiny Toon Adventures as another Steven Spielberg presented cartoon series. It, even more so than Tiny Toons,…

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Dec. 7 – Woodland Critter Christmas

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“It’s Critter Christmas, dude, it sucks ass”

This episode of South Park feels so infamous that I don’t feel the need to include South Park in the title of the post. South Park’s most recent Christmas special, now 13 years old mind you, is a rather notorious episode. It’s so farcical that it feels silly even by the standards of the show, and if you’re at all familiar with South Park you know how ridiculous it can get. After centering most of its Christmas episodes around a magical, talking poop, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone probably felt like there was little left for them to do with South Park. In the year before this episode, they sent the boys to Canada for a Wizard of Oz parody that felt a little off, as far as Christmas episodes go. It was the special before that, “Red Sleigh Down,” that felt like a conclusion to the stories they had been telling centered around the holiday. In some respects, it’s a bit surprising they didn’t stop there, but maybe since the show originated as a Christmas special they felt compelled to keep returning to the subject. And it suddenly makes sense that the framing device for this episode is a boy telling a story about Christmas. A woodland, critter Christmas, if you will.

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The little boy in the red poof-ball hat and his new “friends.”

The episode opens with a narrator, a narrator who will stick with us throughout the episode and is very obviously Trey Parker (like most of the voices on the show). The episode sets up South Park as a quiet little mountain town getting ready for Christmas, and we’re taken to the forest where the little critters are busy getting ready for Christmas too. It’s over the top in its sweetness, complete with a sappy song, but the episode does a good job of playing things off as sincere. The episode even gets its own title card with all of the critters as they sing their little song about Christmas being almost here. The narrator introduces all of the critters and they all have simple names which is just the name of the animal with an “e” sound added to the end, e.g. – Rabbitty the rabbit, Beary the bear, etc. The scene is evocative of “Frosty the Snowman” when the animals in that special decorate the forrest for Christmas. South Park takes it one step further by making these critters able to speak and they also all wear a festive scarf, sweater, or hat. It’s also probably inspired by the Chucklewood Critters, and if you aren’t familiar with that series then tune in a bit closer to Christmas for something on them.

A little boy in a red poof-ball hat happens upon the scene of the critters decorating their tree. The boy is Stan, and he’s kind of surprised to see animals behaving this way, but also couldn’t really care less. The critters need a star for their tree, but they can’t make one themselves, and they implore Stan to give them a hand. Stan is our unwilling participant in this story as he’ll need to be pushed along, often times trying to ignore the will of the narrator or being outwardly defiant towards him. Since making a star isn’t too bad, Stan obliges then goes home. The critters are appreciative and celebrate Stan (I should say, Stanny) as their new best friend while Stan walks away probably hoping to never see them again.

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Evil Satanic powers at work.

That night, the critters surprise Stan by visiting him in his room. They wake him up in the middle of the night with some “exciting” news:  Porcupiney is pregnant! There’s a catch though, she’s been impregnated immaculately and the critters believe she will give birth to their savior. A savior of their very own! They need Stan’s help though to build a manger for Porcupiney, and Stan reluctantly helps. He leaves the warmth of his bed to drowsily assemble a pretty decent looking manger, only for a mountain lion to show up and frighten he and the critters. It is then revealed to Stan that this happens every year:  a critter gets pregnant, and a mountain lion kills the critter before the birth can take place. The critters need Stan’s help to slay the mountain lion. Once again, Stan reluctantly helps out the critters and seeks out the mountain lion. He finds the creature in a cave and is able to get the beast to chase him up a mountain that looks suspiciously like Mt. Crumpet. There he is able to dodge the lion’s charge sending her plummeting to her demise in a scene reminiscent of Mufasa’s death from The Lion King. Once the lion strikes earth, its cubs emerge sad and dismayed to see their mother dead. Stan pleads ignorance, as the talking cubs question why he killed their mom and seem resigned to their orphaned state. Stan, speechless, slumps back to the critters.

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Well, we were all expecting the episode to take a dark turn at some point, but few probably predicted this.

The critters learn of the mountain lion’s demise and are elated. Now their savior can be born – Heil Satan! What?! Stan is beside himself to hear the critters praise the dark one, and is speechless as they sacrifice Rabbitty to the devil and take part in a blood orgy. The camera lingers long enough for us to see most of the details of the blood orgy as the critters pleasure themselves around the manger in a scene no one probably ever expected to see in a cartoon.

Stan returns to his home, seemingly resigned to the fact that he played a part in the soon to occur birth of the antichrist. He wants no part in what’s to come, but our persistent narrator gets Stan to get off of his butt and head back to the forest. When Stan attempts to take down the manger he built, the critters are forced to use their evil, Satanic powers on him shooting him with lasers and summoning demonic flames. Stan is forced to run and the narrator clues him in to the fact that three mountain lions still live that can maybe stop this. When Stan returns to the cubs he’s mocked by the trio as they’re quick to point out they can’t do anything to stop the critters. Then Stan has an idea – he can take the cubs to an abortion clinic. There they can learn how to perform an abortion and perhaps prevent the birth of the antichrist from ever occurring! Stan does just that and we get perhaps the weirdest montage to ever appear in a Christmas special as the cubs happily mess around in an abortion clinic while patients giggle and the doctor is happy to show them all he knows.

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Santa’s here and he isn’t messing around.

Armed wth this new found knowledge, Stan and the cubs return to the critters only to find out they’re too late. The antichrist has been born! The antichrist needs a human host though, and since Stan was raised Catholic he’s been baptized and thus can’t serve in that role. They had tried asking him earlier and were dismayed to know their old buddy couldn’t be of further use, but unknown to Stan the critters had happened upon his best friend Kyle. Kyle is Jewish, and therefore he has not been baptized. When Stan and the cubs find the antichrist born, they also find Kyle tied down to a stone altar of sorts. A red star bleeds in the night sky to mark the occasion, which also alerts Santa Claus of the danger. Santa arrives as the critters are preparing to put their savior in Kyle. Santa is rather displeased in the role Stan has played up to this point, and seems all together annoyed he has to deal with this situation. He produces a shotgun and immediately starts laying waste to the critters, their Satanic powers doing little to stop him.

With the critters destroyed all that is left is for the antichrist to die. Since it lacks a host, Santa informs the boys they don’t need to do anything, it’ll die on its own. That’s when Kyle springs into action. He wants the antichrist inside of him so he can make the world a better place for the Jews!

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Ever see a mountain lion cub perform an abortion on a nine year old boy? You have now.

We’re immediately brought to a classroom scene as Kyle shouts for Cartman to cease reading his story. Apparently this whole time Cartman was essentially our narrator as he reads a Christmas story to Mr. Garrison’s fourth grade class. Kyle doesn’t want Cartman to continue since it’s become obvious the whole story served as a means for Cartman to mock him for being Jewish. Mr. Garrison tells Cartman he can’t continue because Kyle’s mom will raise Hell if he allows him to make fun of Kyle for being Jewish. Cartman reluctantly leaves his stool at the front of the class while the rest of the kids in class plead with him to say what happens, with Stan asking him if he has a merry Christmas. Kyle theorizes on where the story goes with Cartman insisting he has it all wrong. When the other kids plead with Kyle to let Cartman finish the story he angrily relents and Cartman returns to the head of the class.

When the setting shifts back into the story, we find Kyle is now the antichrist, only it doesn’t feel so good. He immediately comes to regret his decision, while Santa informs him that he has to kill him now. Stan has a different idea though, and tells the lion cubs to use the knowledge they gained at the abortion clinic to fetch the antichrist out of Kyle’s ass. They get right to work, and sure enough, they yank the yapping little creature out of Kyle’s rectum. Santa then smashes it with a sledgehammer and the skies return to their normal appearance. Santa, now not so sour about what took place, tells Stan he deserves a special Christmas present for all he has been through. Stan asks Santa to restore the life of the mountain lion, which he does. Everyone is happy as the camera slowly pulls back on a shot of the snow-covered town. Then it cuts quickly to Kyle in a hospital bed and the narrator informs us that he got AIDS and died two weeks later.

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The critters returned years later as some of the chief villains of the Imaginationland trilogy.

“Woodland Critter Christmas” is an uncomfortably hilarious episode of South Park, and it’s not surprising they have declined to attempt a true Christmas special ever since. It’s one of the few episodes I can remember where everyone I knew was talking about it after it aired, “Did you see that episode of South Park with the woodland critters?” It takes the mold of a generic Christmas special and subverts it expertly. Most episodes that tried to do something like this probably would have abandoned the narrator after the first act, feeling the joke was done, but South Park keeps it up for the entire duration of the episode. The fact that the critters turn out to be a bunch of devil worshippers is not entirely surprising, since anyone familiar with the show knows there’s more to them than meets the eye when first encountered, but the angle is pursued in such an uncompromising fashion that it’s hard to believe. And it then takes things one step further by, in a Christmas special, using abortion as a tool to stop the antichrist and save the world. I remember being home for the holidays and making my little sister watch this episode on Christmas Eve because she hadn’t seen it. My dad watched with us up until the Satan reveal and then went to bed, remarking stuff like this is why America is so screwed up. I had never seen him react in such a way to anything before, and I haven’t since.

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This special, and all of the others, can be found on the Christmas Time in South Park DVD released in 2007.

Because the episode is so uncomfortable for some, I can understand if this isn’t exactly a beloved holiday classic. My very own sister thought it was pretty hilarious, but also doesn’t really enjoy watching it again. And to some extent, the episode doesn’t really hold up well with repeated viewings. Most of the humor is derived from the surprises that crop up and they’re obviously not surprising any longer. I still think it holds up as an absurd Christmas special. Maybe not a classic, but a lot of the shocking imagery still makes me laugh in an “I can’t believe they did this” kind of way, even though the show has probably done far worse since.

“Woodland Critter Christmas” is likely to receive numerous airings all month long on Comedy Central and wherever South Park is syndicated. The episode can also be found on the DVD set for South Park Season 8 and on the DVD release Christmas Time in South Park, which may be out of print at this point, but is still pretty easy and cheap to acquire. That set is pretty great if you just want all of the South Park Christmas specials, of which there are seven, in one convenient package.


#8 – South Park: Mr. Hanky, The Christmas Poo

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“Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo” (1997)

You can always count on South Park for something perverse, and it doesn’t get much more perverse than a talking piece of Christmas shit. South Park has made quite a few holiday specials, and no holiday has received more attention than Christmas. South Park’s Christmas specials contain some of the usual suspects like Jesus and Santa Claus, but creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker apparently felt they needed their own Christmas mascot so they created Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo.

Mr. Hankey is the star of the show’s very first Christmas special which aired during the first season. Mr. Hankey is presented as a benevolent spirit of the holidays who packs more Christmas cheer into his tiny, little body than any man, woman, or child. Mr. Hankey is the star of the episode, but the plot centers around Kyle who feels left out at Christmas because he’s apparently the only Jewish kid in town. His mother flips out at Mr. Garrison for casting Kyle as Joseph in the school Christmas pageant which snowballs on Garrison as everyone apparently has a problem with some aspect of Christmas. The Jews want to ditch the nativity, the Christians want Santa out, the hippies want to stop the slaughter of trees, and so on.

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Mr. Hankey in Mr. Mackey’s coffee is probably the best gag in the entire episode, or worst, depending on your point of view.

Meanwhile, Kyle views Mr. Hankey as the solution to the town’s problem because he brings presents to all good girls and boys (so long as they eat their fiber), regardless of religion. It’s just that few in town are willing to embrace a piece of crap as a new Christmas mascot. Kyle starts seeing Mr. Hankey everywhere as a personified dookie with a Santa hat, which leads to some disgusting but hilarious gags, while everyone else just sees a regular old mookie-stink. Kyle ends up getting committed, only for the kids to find out Chef believes in Mr. Hankey, and the special actually wraps up in a pretty typical Christmas special sort of way, when you ignore the talking poop.

It’s funny, it’s ridiculous, but South Park actually does a pretty nice job of highlighting how non-Christian kids must feel at Christmas time. There’s a heart here, which is part of the humor as Parker and Stone prove to the viewer that we too can love a piece of poo. “Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo” can be found on the season one box set of South Park and also the “Christmas Time in South Park” DVD, which I reviewed previously. The special, along with every other South Park Christmas special, is almost certainly guaranteed to air on Comedy Central this year so check your local listings if you want to catch it. And lastly, every episode of South Park is available to stream on hulu if you want to watch it that way.


#4 Best in TV Animation: South Park

imageViewers have been going down to South Park for nearly 20 years. That’s pretty incredible considering its humble origins, and if it weren’t for The Simpsons, we would likely all be marveling even more at the show’s longevity. More so than any other series featured on this list, South Park has demonstrated a willingness to change with the times in natural, almost seamless, ways. Originally the show focused on its four main characters:  Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman. These four eight-year-olds got into trouble, cursed like sailors, and often found themselves being confused about the world around them. Even though it’s a comedy, it sometimes felt like a more authentic coming-of-age series than most programs that aim to be just that. Being constantly puzzled by the actions of the adults around them while more or less trying to act like them often reminds me of how I was at that age, when profanity was a new and exciting tool to make use of. Over the years, South Park has taken on a more satirical tone often poking fun at current events, politics, and celebrity culture. Throughout all of this, it’s remained one of the funniest programs on television.

By now most people are aware of the origins of the show. College students Trey Parker and Matt Stone experimented with a crude form of stop-motion animation that utilized paper characters as opposed to puppets or clay and created a short work depicting a fight between Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus. This short would be remade with Jesus taking the place of Frosty and would eventually lead to Comedy Central making them an offer to produce their own series. Ditching the pain-staking stop-motion process for computer animation that mimicked it helped to create the show’s signature look. The look of the program back in 1997 when it debuted could probably be classified as crude, but has improved by leaps since though the show has never abandoned its signature style. Improvements in technology mean Parker and Stone can now create great looking content in as little time as a few days. This quick turn-around makes South Park unique in the world of animation, and in non-live television in general, in that fairly recent events can be satirized rather quickly.

The show often looks to pop culture for its humor.

The show often looks to pop culture for its humor.

Part of the charm of South Park is that not only has the style changed with the times but characters have grown and changed throughout the years as well. Cartman is the most obvious as he’s gone from an annoying little twerp to a true sociopath with some homicidal tendencies. Randy Marsh has gone form a well-meaning father to become more of a narcissist with some (admittedly cliche by animation standards) moronic tendencies. Mr. Garrison has gone from a closeted homosexual, to transgender woman, and back again (I think?). Characters that initially existed for shock value, such as Big Gay Al when it was still rare to see homosexuals on television, have been discarded before they ceased to be funny any longer.

Perhaps most remarkable is how South Park has primarily remained a two-man show. Sure, Parker and Stone now oversee their own studio with a full staff but the two of them still write virtually all of the material for the show and do 90% of the voice work. It’s somewhat surprising they’ve been able to resist the urge to simply hand the show off to some underlings while sitting back to collect checks. Most shows that last this long see full turnover in their writing staff. Larry David didn’t last half as long with Seinfeld, for comparison.

While the show has become more intelligent, there's still plenty of gross humor to be found.

While the show has become more intelligent, there’s still plenty of gross humor to be found.

This isn’t all to say that South Park is a perfect show. There have been plenty of moments where the show seemed to be running low on creative ideas. In its lowest moments, some may have considered what the show would look like with new voices contributing content but Parker and Stone have shown an ability to bounce back. The show has yet to truly hit rock bottom, but it’s probably safe to say its best years have past. So much of the program relies on shock value and after so many years there’s little the show can do to shock its viewers. When Cartman first sought revenge against Scott Tenorman by tricking the boy into eating his own parents I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. Now seeing the character casually murder someone brings a much smaller reaction. Characters have been vomiting and defecating on each other for so long that the gags are neither truly funny or gross at this point. And of course the show’s longest running gag of Kenny dying each episode has long since been abandoned when that ceased to be funny.

When the show is firing on all cylinders though, it still proves to be very funny. Last year’s season premiere which lampooned the NFL and crowd-funding sites was poignant with its observational humor and seems almost funnier now in light of recent events with the NFL and Roger Goodell, in particular. The show has been so good for so long that viewers just have great expectations. When South Park sets out to poke fun at the latest celebrity scandal it almost needs to go for the less obvious joke. To liven up the last two seasons the show has opted to adopt a more serialized format with plot lines lasting multiple episodes and callbacks being inserted. It’s a change I don’t think many saw coming, but it’s one that has worked to make even the lesser episodes feel more important.

By far, the show's greatest source of humor rests in its celebrity "guest" stars.

By far, the show’s greatest source of humor rests in its celebrity “guest” stars.

It remains to be seen how long the show will run for. Recently the season orders have been cut in half as Parker and Stone find it too daunting to create a full season’s worth of programs. Prior to that, the show had operated with two-part seasons occurring in the spring and fall so that Parker and Stone could have more material to work with. Clearly, it’s become more of a challenge for them to keep the show fresh but both insist that South Park is a part of them and the end is not yet in sight. This can only be considered a good thing for those enjoying satirical humor with their animation. The show has progressed from being about some potty-mouthed kids with an accident prone friend to something that’s actually pretty intelligent and cleverly produced (though the show is not above the occasional dumb or crude joke). And unlike most shows on this list, there’s still room for it to grow. Maybe in ten years we’ll be talking about South Park as the greatest animated comedy of all-time. Who could have predicted that back in 1997?


Christmas Time in South Park

Christmas Time in South Park (2007)

Christmas Time in South Park (2007)

South Park famously began as a video Christmas card, so it should come as no surprise that the television series (which just concluded its 17th season) has spawned many Christmas specials of its own.  Series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone actually haven’t done a new one since 2004’s Woodland Critter Christmas, but still have output seven Christmas specials which have been conveniently compiled for the DVD release Christmas Time in South Park.  The first run of Christmas specials for the show actually felt connected to one another as they all explored the spirit of Christmas:  what is it?  What does Christmas mean?  Of course, this being South Park, don’t expect a lot of feel-good and overly sentimental holiday themes as is found in most Christmas specials, though surprisingly some of these episodes echo their tamer counterparts and some even have a good heart at the center of the story.

Lets talk about these episodes, and specifically, the DVD release of Christmas Time in South Park.  The DVD case and menus echo those Little Golden Book releases you may remember from your childhood.  The menus are animated and the characters will berate you for taking too long to select a feature.  The cursor of your DVD player, naturally, is represented by a smear of Mr. Hankey leavings.  All seven Christmas specials are featured in chronological order.  Unfortunately, all seven are also censored like their season release counterparts (for South Park’s older episodes, uncensored versions do not exist as no one anticipated there being a huge market for full seasons of TV shows) which means you’ll be hearing beeps whenever the characters utter a colorful phrase.  Also missing, is the short that started it all:  The Spirit of Christmas.  This seems like a huge and careless omission to me.  Why go through the effort of putting out a compilation of Christmas specials and leave out the very first one? My only guess is that the studio felt that The Spirit of Christmas was too strong a selling point for releases like South Park:  The Hits and its inclusion would harm other DVD sales.  Quite possibly, it was just forgotten as this DVD was slapped together quickly to cash-in on the holiday season.

The first Christmas special, and the one that introduced Mr. Hankey to the world.

The first Christmas special, and the one that introduced Mr. Hankey to the world.

At least there are still seven, mostly excellent, Christmas episodes for your viewing pleasure.  The first being Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo.  This was South Park’s first Christmas special and apparently Parker and Stone wanted to create a new Christmas icon for the world they created so they turned to a talking piece of shit.  Parker and Stone hold nothing back when it comes to Mr. Hankey.  He’s disgusting, and they don’t want you to forget that so we get bits of him leaving poo trails everywhere he goes and even bathing in Mr. Mackey’s coffee, while he sips it.  The framework of the episode is Kyle feeling excluded from all of the Christmas excitement on account of him being Jewish.  Simultaneously, Kyle’s mother (the Jewish community) is upset about the inclusion of the nativity in a school Christmas play.  Her complaining to the mayor sets off a chain reaction where in response the devout Catholics in town demand to see Santa removed from the play, hippies want to get rid of Christmas trees, epileptics demand the removal of Christmas lights, and the virgins (presumably) want to get rid of mistletoe.  The show is clearly poking fun at all of the people that get uptight over Christmas, and Mr. Hankey is called on to save the day.  That the town needs to listen to crap in order to see the error of its ways is probably a commentary on something too.  Everyone thinks Kyle is insane for seeing and believing in Mr. Hankey, until the boys find out Chef does as well.  Once everyone believes, Mr. Hankey reminds everyone that Christmas is a time to be nice to one another, forget about all of the bad stuff in the world, and bake cookies.  Kyle is released from the nut house, and Kenny lives to see the end credits for the first time.  It’s a wacky Christmas special, that may still be the show’s best, with tons of gross-out and hilarious moments.

Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson! is the second season’s Christmas special and it’s subversive in a different way.  Rather than try to be absurd and gross people out with singing poop, Parker and Stone decided to use an unlikely character and have him saved by Christmas.  Enter mass-murderer Charlie Manson, faithfully depicted with a swastika tattooed on his forehead.  Cartman and his mom are heading to Nebraska to visit family for Christmas, and the boys have been invited along.  Kyle is allowed to go presumably because his family is Jewish and couldn’t care less that it’s Christmas while Kenny’s family is sending him on a  mission to bring back leftovers.  Stan’s mom is the only one who has a problem with her son being away from the family at Christmas, so Stan sneaks out and tells the Cartmans that his family is dead.  When the boys get to Nebraska (after a long and torturous car ride full of singing) they find that a house full of Cartmans is a horrible place to be as all of them basically act just like their own Eric Cartman.  They soon find out that Cartman has an incarcerated Uncle Howard, as he breaks out of jail and (stupidly) returns to hide-out in his parent’s basement.  He brings along his buddy, Charlie Manson, whom the boys are ignorant of.  When no one will take them to the mall to see Mr. Hankey, Manson offers to do it himself to avoid sitting and watching Christmas specials all day.  At the mall though, he watches a poop version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and begins to see the light.  He gets his tattoo altered into a smiley face, and takes the kids home, but not before attracting the attention of the local police.  They’re soon all trapped in the house as Uncle Howard takes the family hostage.  Manson, now full of Christmas spirit, convinces Howard to surrender and even reminds Stan that Christmas is a time for family.  The episode ends with the characters from the episode in Manson’s jail cell wishing him a merry Christmas, Charlie Brown style.  As Stan reminds us, this is some pretty fucked up shit right here.

If you don't like his special, he has some balls you can suck.

If you don’t like his special, he has some balls you can suck.

Season Three’s Christmas special is Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics.  It’s just a collection of songs, some traditional and some new, sung by the characters of South Park.  It’s kind of a love it or hate it episode, and one I’m not really fond of.  However, Mr. Hankey instructs the audience during the intro that if we don’t like it we can suck his tiny little balls.  As small as they may be, I don’t want to suck any poo balls so I’ll cease to speak of this episode right here.

Season Four brings us A Very Crappy Christmas and it could basically be re-titled as The Story of South Park.  That’s because in it the boys actually create and animate The Spirit of Christmas just like their creators.  Following the events of the first two Christmas specials, the people of South Park now understand that Christmas is a time for being merry and spending with one’s family.  The commercialism is gone, and the boys are pretty pissed off about not getting presents so they go looking for a strangely absent Mr. Hankey.  They find their favorite piece of crap has been MIA because he now has a wife and turds of his own.  As the boys lament the absence of what they perceive to be the Christmas spirit, they get the idea to make their very own Christmas special.  The mayor, who needs the commercialism to spur the economy, agrees to fund their little project.  Nothing goes right, but when Kyle channels his own inner Christmas spirit (and the Rankin/Bass feature Twas the Night Before Christmas) he gets everyone back on track.  Most of the episode is a parody of Twas the Night Before Christmas while also containing numerous in-jokes for longtime South Park fans.  In the end, they’re able to show the town The Spirit of Christmas and everyone realizes that Christmas is about one thing:  presents.  Everyone starts shopping immediately and the town’s economy is saved.  Yay!

The Hankey family expands in A Very Crappy Christmas.

The Hankey family expands in A Very Crappy Christmas.

Season Five was the first to not feature a Christmas episode, but season six restored order with Red Sleigh Down, a parody of Black Hawk Down and the conclusion of what I see as the Christmas story started in season one.  In it,  Cartman desperately wants some slick new toy but realizes he’s been far too naughty to hope to get anything from Santa so he goes all out to be nice at the last minute.  His scheming leads him to believe that if he helps Santa bring Christmas to Iraq that will be enough, so he enlists the help of Stan and Kyle (Kenny’s been dead all season) and eventually Mr. Hankey in order to do so.  Mr. Hankey is thrilled at Cartman’s Christmas spirit and agrees to help by taking the boys to the North Pole aboard the Poo-Choo Express (it’s just as disgusting as you imagine).  Santa agrees that Christmas should be brought to Iraq, and the boys watch from the North Pole as Santa’s sleigh is shot down by an RPG over Iraq.  Now feeling guilty and terrified by the prospects of no more Christmas presents, the boys enlist the help of the one man who can save Santa:  Jesus.  They all take Santa’s back-up sleigh to Iraq where Jesus becomes a one-man death machine as he takes out numerous soldiers to save Santa.  Their escape goes wrong when Jesus is shot from behind and dies in Santa’s arms.  They’re able to escape, but not before a vengeful Claus does finally bring Christmas to Iraq.  Back in South Park, the townspeople have been distracted by the speech impediment of Jimmy who’s attempting to recite The Twelve Days of Christmas, an episode-long gag.  Santa lights the town tree and addresses the crowd telling them that Christmas should be a day to reflect on the sacrifice one man-made to save Christmas:  Jesus.  And with that, the spirit of Christmas is modified once again in the South Park canon to be a day dedicated to Jesus.

Santa and Jesus team-up in Red Sleigh Down.

Santa and Jesus team-up in Red Sleigh Down.

With the spirit of Christmas now fully defined, Parker and Stone decided to take the boys on a Christmas adventure to Canada, of all places.  The new Canadian Prime Minister has decided that all Canadian born children be returned to Canada, which means Kyle’s adopted brother Ike is required to go.  Kyle enlists the help of his friends to go appeal to the Prime Minister, though they’re all reluctant to risk missing Christmas.  They go anyway, and in Canada they find a world not unlike Oz where the locals instruct them to “follow the only road.”  Just like The Wizard of Oz, the boys encounter other Canadian citizens looking to appeal to the Prime Minister about something, while the villainous Scott, from the Terence and Philip special, makes a return.  In the end, they discover the new Prime Minister is actually Saddam Hussein in hiding, and his new laws are overturned while the boys do in fact miss Christmas.  Cartman is unable to see the bright-side in Kyle getting his brother back, while Stan laments on missing out on a Christmas adventure, oblivious to what just happened.  It’s Christmas in Canada is not one of my favorites, and it’s probably the weak link on this DVD, though I do know more than one person who finds the episode hilarious.  I think I would like it more if it had more to do with Christmas.  It’s not really a Christmas special, just an episode that takes place during Christmas.

"It's Critter Christmas, dude, it sucks ass!"

“It’s Critter Christmas, dude, it sucks ass!”

This brings me to the last episode on the DVD, and so far, the last Christmas episode South Park has done:  Woodland Critter Christmas.  Seemingly out of ideas for a Christmas special, Parker and Stone decide to just completely subvert the idea of a Christmas special.  In this episode we have an innocent sounding narrator tell the story of a boy trying to help a group of talking woodland critters so that they can have a merry Christmas.  The critters are intentionally made to seem sterile and innocent while the episode is also intended to appear to be a cookie-cutter Christmas special with little thought or effort (the main character has no name, all of the animals names are just the name of the animal with a long “e” sound at the end, such as Deery the deer, Rabbity the rabbit, and so on).  Of course, the catch is that these animals are trying to bring about the birth of their lord and saviour.  Porcupinie has been impregnated by their god, but a mean old mountain lion wants to kill her, so the boy (Stan) is enlisted to help.  He succeeds by killing the mountain lion, who also happened to be a mother to three cubs, only to find out the critters worship Satan and the porcupine is set to deliver the anti-christ.  The tables are turned and soon Stan is left trying to prevent the coming of the anti-christ and he’ll receive help from Santa and a little thing called abortion.  Woodland Critter Christmas basically sets out to be the most obscene Christmas special one could dream up.  It’s almost as if Parker and Stone just wanted to top their prior specials in terms of shock-appeal and perhaps because they haven’t thought up a way to top this one is why we haven’t seen any new Christmas specials from South Park.  If this is the type of thing you can laugh at, then Woodland Critter Christmas should do the trick.  It’s ridiculous, but also pretty damn hilarious.

These specials are a big part of my memories growing up, even into college.  It seemed like each one was a topic of conversation when it originally aired because people generally couldn’t believe what they just saw.  South Park has had a lot of moments like that over the years, and for whatever reason, Christmas seems to bring out the best in it.  I love the sappy, sentimental Christmas specials that dominate the air during this time of year, but sometimes it’s nice to watch something that is decidedly less reverential towards the holiday season.  South Park does the trick, and Christmas Time in South Park is a convenient release and a suitable way to get my laugh on during the month of December.


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