Poor, delusional Randy. On this week’s South Park, he buys a Blockbuster for $10,000; its initially unclear if he purchased a store or the entire company. And after showering his family with gifts in celebration of their certain fortune, Randy packs everyone up in the car to drive to his new store, down the winding mountain roads, with ominous background music that immediately evokes the score for The Shining. When they arrive, the store is abandoned and blighted, but he forces his family to stay and work for him, because “the average person still wants to rent a movie they can hold in their hands!”
While Randy slowly transforms into Jack Torrance and forbids Stan to go out trick-or-treating with his friends, Stan still manages to have a pretty incredible night “out” thanks to a skateboard, some tape, an iPad and FaceTime. And he does. Virtual Stan has the most exciting night of everyone. When the boys (dressed as The Avengers, Kyle: Thor, Kenny: Iron Man, Stan: Captain America, Cartman: Hulk) try to stop a convenience store robbery, FaceTime Stan gets captured, tortured, and left for dead out in the field. When a band of (highly unsuccessful) Redbox Bandits crashes the Monster Mash, virtual Stan provides the head and face for the undercover policeman. His body eventually gets shot down, and virtual Stan has a death of his own when the power gets to critically low levels on the iPad. As Kyle screams out as if his comrade in arms for someone to get him a “goddamn charger,” Stan assures him that “it’s ok, it’s ok” and to just “hit ok” on the 5% battery remaining alert.
In the meantime, Randy continues his descent into madness, trapped in a nightmare and a physically confining space of his own making. For fans of the show, there must be something a little surreal about continuing on with all the characters. The kids have to be ever present as fourth graders, and yet we’re all getting older. We’re slowly getting closer to relating more to Randy and Sharon than we are to Kenny, Stan, Kyle, and Eric. Blockbuster was an easy target though. It’s outdated enough that 20 and 30 somethings can laugh about it along with Sharon. But “A Nightmare on Facetime” still manages to hit a nerve. It captures something about the anxiety that somehow you’re never actually missing out as a modern kid. That even when your dad takes you away on some lame adventure to manage a video store and denies you the ability to leave to be with your friends, that you can still sort of manage to be with your friends. You don’t have to be actively present anywhere when you’re virtually everywhere. And no one in the real world even hesitates to accept virtual Stan.
It’s kind of comforting that South Park is becoming ever so slightly disconnected from youth culture and is taking more of an observational post. There is no way that a series that has been on for 16 years can truly think of itself or its humor as subversive. As brilliant and shocking as South Park can still manage to be, it’s the very definition of mainstream. And I think Matt and Trey have embraced that. “A Nightmare on Facetime” wasn’t a masterpiece, and it wasn’t a dud. It was a highly enjoyable riff on an old Halloween standard, it managed to throw in a few jokes about the already DOA Gangnam Style costume idea, and it gave Randy an entire storyline. What’s not to like?