Thank you, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Thank you for fifteen years of laughs and hard-hitting social commentary, and thank you for this episode. “Crack Baby Athletic Association” is the funniest, sharpest, most tightly paced episode yet this season.
I’ve been fairly ambivalent about the first few episodes this season, but “Crack Baby Athletic Association” cleared any lingering doubts that Parker and Stone could keep up the ingenuity of South Park under the new demands as creators of a successful, Tony-nominated Broadway musical. Kyle somehow gets involved in a new scheme of Cartman’s: film “crack babies” fighting over a ball of cocaine. The group begins making money, and Kyle morphs into a cartoon Gordon Gekko lookalike. Kyle repeatedly tries to convince Stan that everything is completely legal and ethical, and that the “athletes” aren’t being exploited even though they don’t get paid.
There’s the crux of the satire for this episode. The NCAA rules prohibit payment to student athletes, even though the universities (and the NCAA) make obscene amounts of money from the efforts of the student athletes. Cartman eventually finds his way to the UC-Boulder Athletic Department, convinced that the school owns slaves, since none of the student athletes get paid. Cartman asks for advice from the befuddled athletics director, before an important meeting finalizing the sale of Crack Baby Athletic Association video game rights to EA Sports.
Meanwhile, Clyde and Butters go on a mission to find Slash and hire him to play at the half-time game for the Crack Baby Athletic Association. The boys end up on a wild goose chase, before finding out that Slash is set to play at two venues across the globe in the same night. This leads to the revelation that Slash isn’t real, but rather a story parents tell children, à la Santa Clause.
I loved the introduction of this completely nonsensical bit of whimsy into the satirical main narrative. Very South Park-ian, one might say. This is the South Park I like best. In my review of “Royal Pudding, I wrote:
“My favorite South Park is smart and topical, exposing some uncomfortable truths about society or current events. My favorite South Park acknowledges that the characters are eight-year-old boys in a small Colorado town. ”
This episode managed to capture both aspects. The show parodied pop culture, with the Sarah Mchlachlan commercial reference. This episode focused on an inequality in college sports, but the satire could also be applied to many charity organizations and events that profit off of the suffering of those they purport to aid. Even with all of that topicality, this episode still found time to insert a random and unexpected line of humor with the Slash/Santa storyline.
The episode closes with EA Sports taking over Cartman’s company. Kyle mourns the loss of his dream of opening a “crack baby orphanage” when suddenly, Stan and Kyle see the orphanage, already built. The builder? Slash, apparently. Maybe Slash is real after all….