There’s a new girl at South Park Elementary. All the guys are excited, but when Cartman finds out she’s black, he makes it his mission to pair her up with Token. It’s a fairly vile premise that somehow digs its way out of its own racism partly because it’s Cartman and more easily dismissable, but mostly because they run with it so unapologetically that “Cartman Finds Love” turns into a somewhat sweet, and funny episode.
Cartman is so determined to set up Nichole with Token, that after he finds out she has a crush on Kyle, he starts a rumor that he and Kyle are in a relationship. Then he locks Nichole and Token in the boys locker room with a deli platter, board games, sparkling grape juice, and massage oil, and the rest is relationship history. It’s the kind of devious, leave-no-prisoners matchmaking that even Emma Woodhouse would be impressed with. (Is now a good time to ask if Jane Austen references allowed in South Park reviews?)
For the most part, the episode is really fun to watch, and that’s all thanks to Cartman. There’s a terrific running thread about his volatile relationship with “Cupid Me” — a Cupid version of Cartman who flies around, makes him giggle, and shits chocolate hearts. He does a great rendition of All-4-One’s Grammy-winning (seriously) hit “I Swear” to provide the soundtrack to a falling-in love montage. Even sad Cartman being comforted by Butters when they break up for a bit was funny.
Kyle, angry that Cartman sabotaged his chances with Nichole, calls him out on his actions of course: “Just because two people are the same race doesn’t mean that they belong together you fat racist pig.” Even though Cartman might be meddling because he truly and sincerely believes that “people who are the same belong together” it doesn’t really matter because Token and Nichole do really actually like each other and that makes all the difference. Relationship meddling, ooh-ing and omg-ing Cartman is seriously delightful, though. Even when he’s beating “Cupid Me” to a bloody pulp with a baseball bat.
There was also one small and unrelated joke worth mentioning. Early on in the episode, Cartman and Token are whispering in class. No big deal. But while this is going on, the History teacher in the background is teaching Game of Thrones. With a monotone voice and an outline of the different geographic areas on the chalkboard, he gives a dry lecture on the different families. “So the King of Westeros was who? So where were the Targaryens? As you can see this is all headed for a big blowout in Season 2. But what I really want to get to today was what was going on in the North. That’s just a whole other mess. The Night’s Watch…” It was a great trick of vocal layering, and you really had to choose which joke to follow in those few moments. South Park’s pace is sometimes too hectic to catch all the details in every scene. For a second before the teacher started talking, I thought that I’d caught a secret gag when I spotted “Westeros” and “Night’s Watch” on the chalkboard. I’m glad they slowed it down and went long with the joke. It was elaborate and irreverent and made you work a little bit to enjoy it.
Ultimately, “Cartman Finds Love” was slight. It wasn’t a masterpiece. But “Cupid Me” and Game of Thrones as a boring history lecture were enough to make it a fun episode to watch.
Lindsey Bahr is a writer living in Chicago.