“We’re not Amazon Prime members anymore.”
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
It was only a matter of time before South Park directed its attention towards Amazon and Jeff Bezos. Rarely a day goes by without some depressing news story about the deplorable conditions at Amazon’s fulfillment centers or how Bezos earned another $30 million dollars in the time it takes most people to brush their teeth. The fact that today brought with it a news story about a rogue factory robot accidentally puncturing a can of bear mace and sending two dozen workers to the emergency room makes “Unfulfilled” seem all the more appropriately timed.
My concern going into “Unfulfilled,” however, is that we already got an episode geared around a massive corporation muscling its way into South Park and decimating the local economy. That happened way back in 2004 with “Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes.” What more is there to accomplish with that formula? Fortunately, this episode didn’t waste a great deal of time rehashing old beats. It instead pushed the Amazon conflict in an far stranger and more entertaining direction than expected.
“Unfulfilled” got the obligatory and necessary Amazon criticisms out of the way early with that incredible musical montage set to the tune of Tennessee Williams’ “Sixteen Tons.” It brings to mind a similar montage from the end of 2012’s “Cash for Gold.” In both cases, the goal isn’t even to be funny so much as just deliver a sobering blast of reality. Amazon may not be quite in “company store” territory just yet, but that sequence is way too effective at summing up the dangers of a company with such wide reach and unchecked power. Kudos to the animators for really nailing that blend of music and imagery.
From there, “Unfulfilled” veered in several different but equally entertaining directions. It was fun to see the show break the fourth wall a bit and acknowledge how rare it’s become to see episodes centered around the full Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny quartet anymore. Not that I necessarily even mind the wider focus the show has taken in recent years, but it is good to get back to basics every now and then. As much as an oddball episode like this could ever qualify as “back to basics.”
I do have to voice a recurring complaint when it comes to the voice acting, though. It’s become increasingly apparent that the boys don’t sound like they used to back in the early years of the series. Butters’ voice was noticeably off this week. You have to wonder if the whole reason the series focuses less on these characters nowadays is that it’s becoming harder and harder for Trey Parker and Matt Stone to pull off those voices in the first place.
Apart from the musical montage (and the equally entertaining original song Parker and Stone cooked up later), the highlight of “Unfulfilled” came with all the low-key science fiction elements that were snuck into the plot. South Park’s version of Bezos is basically a mash-up of the Talosians from Star Trek and the aliens from the Twilight Zone episode “To Serve Man.” Al in all, a more satisfying take on a controversial billionaire than last season’s lukewarm Mark Zuckerberg parody.
And maybe it’s just all the Marxist philosophizing going on, but I got a definite Metropolis vibe from the plot and the focus on the underground castaways living in the abandoned South Park Mall. There’s a very strange combination of influences at play in this episode, but that blend winds up working surprisingly well in the end. Joshua the Box is easily the breakout character of this particular storyline. Between the Marx quotes and the banter with the TV reporter (“If you pay for shipping can you go anywhere you want?”), Josh is the hero this two-parter needs.
Is all of this enough to justify the second two-part storyline of Season 22? We’ll see. I’m not convinced the plot couldn’t have been tightened up a bit and a proper conclusion reached this week. The subplot with Stephen struggling to support his family in particular felt a little drawn-out for it actually provided in return. But given how weird the Amazon conflict is already, who’s to say how much zanier things might get in the span of another 22 minutes.