SOUTH PARK “A VERY CRAPPY CHRISTMAS”
Original Air Date: December 20, 2000
The boys teach the people of South Park the true meaning of Christmas
You’ve probably heard of this one. It started as a profanity-laced adventures of four school children in suburban Colorado and made a name for itself with gross jokes and biting views on American society. Started in 1997 by college pals Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the show was almost immediately a smash, taking over the very young internet with countless fan sites. Soon the merchandise and tie-ins were everywhere, but instead of selling out, in the face of all that the creators were more devoted than ever to their punk rock, “fuck the man,” ideals. By the early 2000s the show had become fairly topical, particularly post-9/11 where they were seemingly some of the very few people on TV who had the balls to talk about the new status quo.
As time went on South Park addressed terrorism, right to life, illegal immigrants, Scientology, medical marijuana, transgender people, the failing economy, and more, usually pissing off Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and every other political group at one point or another. Not agreeing with everything the show says is all part of the plan, because the American ideal of free speech is at the heart of South Park. Yet it still makes time to joke about talking towels, pretending to be handicapped at the Special Olympics, crab people, child death, and basically everything that has been important to pop culture over the last 15 years.
Eh, they’re used to it
These days South Park is as firmly established as anything on TV, even The Simpsons, though Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny still give tribute to their holiday special roots every now and then.
The series has had more than a half dozen Christmas episodes to date, and hopefully the future has more in store for us. The large number of South Park Christmas episodes is fitting, because the show got it’s start as a pair of video greeting cards called The Spirit of Christmas. Made the old fashion way with paper cutouts one frame at a time, the crude parody of Christmas specials featured a battle between Jesus and Santa Claus that was ultimately resolved by figure skater Brian Boitano.
Ain’t that a beauty?
It became one of the first viral videos on the web- something you can blame (or thank?) at least a little for the current tone of the internet. Looking at it now, all the ingredients of the series are in Spirit: childlike innocence laced with obscenity, questioning the authority of commercialism and religion, killing Kenny. Pretty much every X-Mas South Park episode can be traced back to The Spirit of Christmas, though 2000’s A Very Crappy Christmas is the biggest tribute to its roots.
It begins innocently enough with young Jew Kyle celebrating a Hanukkah by waiting for the arrival of a Christmas-loving piece of shit. Beloved by many, Mr. Hanky got his start as a disgusting myth, but now it’s hard to imagine a holiday without him. Only he’s yet to show up this year.
After waiting all night with no sign of the feces, Kyle wakes his friends for a late night search for Mr. Hanky. The other three boys are less than pleased to be there (honestly, it’s weird that Cartman even showed up), but Kyle convinces them to come along, mostly by talking up the dangers of losing the Christmas Spirit. In fact, the whole town has apparently felt less seasonal than usual this December.
I probably would have passed on this particular adventure
After walking around in the sewer, smelling what Freakazoid would refer to as “Pooh Gas,” the boys find Mr. Hanky’s home and are introduced to a side of the magical turd we’ve never seen before. Apparently he leads a life outside of saving Christmas every now and then.
Yes, Hanky now has a family of little turds, including a wife and three kids. Though his kids seem nice enough, including the slow-witted one born with a peanut in his head, things are a bit tense between Hanky and his perpetually drunk wife. Prone to screaming matches that the children happily ignore or fail to notice, it makes sense that Hanky has been distracted during this less-than-festive season, but now that the boys have come to see him, he’s recommitted to spreading holiday cheer, just as soon as he and his wife have a discussion behind closed doors.
The boys and the turdlings get started by caroling in the city, but despite adorable costumes, the people just aren’t into it.
Aren’t they just precious?
Instead of buying things in the last shopping days before Christmas, people would are finding value the loving each other rather than celebrating the commercialism or expressing love via an expensive gift. It seems the populace finally took to heart the lesson behind every single Christmas special ever. No one is buying anything.
But just as all Christmas Spirit seems lost, the boys find the inspiration they were looking for in the TV. (By the way, ever notice that in most sitcoms the next plot development or bit of exposition normally comes from a television? How convenient.)
Well these three look familiar
On their now-dated standard def TV, the boys come across the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Held up by me as a text at least as sacred as the Bible, Stan and Kyle have less reverence. Admittedly the boys have a good point that every member of the Peanuts cast talks… with random… pauses in… their dialog, but that’s part of the charm.
After seeing such a cheap looking Christmas special, the boys decide that it must be incredibly easy to make one, and they’ll do just that. They’ll make their own special to show the town the true meaning of the Spirit of Christmas. Are you following where this is going yet?
After getting backing from the mayor, who’s fearing for the health of the town’s economy because people aren’t buying gifts, the boys get to work casting the special. Stan leaves to tell Mr. Hanky about the situation, to which Hanky decides to fix up the old drive-in to play the special. It has a classic “let’s put on a show” vibe that fill many a holiday special, only it involves shit trapped in a loveless, doomed marriage.
She just told him his dick doesn’t work
This is when things start getting extra meta for the show. Working on a two day deadline- the type of tight schedule Matt and Trey normally work under- production begins. The art is handled by Butters, who is named after the animation director for the series, and since it’s Butter’s lot in life to be unappreciated, his construction paper character is excluded from the film. This was back when South Park was just starting to recognize the comedic potential of Butters and within a year he’d become one of the shows most popular characters.
Jesus vs. Santa
Back in the sewers there’s more turmoil in the Hanky household; this time the source of ennui is Hanky’s son Cornwallis. He doesn’t see where poop has any place at Christmas time. Oh, how naïve he was. Mr. Hanky sets his son straight in true Christmas special tradition by singing a song! Ok, it’s actually in the Lion King tradition, as Trey Parker once again writes a song parody of a Disney hit, teaching Cornwallis and the viewer about the Circle of Pooh.
The song is fun, though it’s got nothing on the “Up There” song from the South Park movie. Still it’s just another indicator of the insane Broadway success that would eventually find Matt and Trey’s Book of Mormon, one of the biggest stage sensations of this century. Parker in particular has always been open about his love of musicals. Before South Park, he directed and starred in Cannibal! The Musical, something definitely worth looking for.
I’ve always loved their celebration of the fun and openly silly nature of musicals. I remember feeling an early connection with Trey after an interview with Matt, Trey, and Dennis Miller back before he turned into an unfunny crank. Parker said he loved Les Miserables, a favorite of mine, which Miller thought had to be a joke. Trey stuck to his guns, saying the show fills him with emotion every time. Just watch the Timmy-centric Thanksgiving special from 2000 as well and you’ll see a humorously loving tribute to Les Mis.
Trey and Matt’s ciphers get to work
Anyway, the boys are getting to work recording their special. The fun starts early as the boys revert to their original voices to read the lines as they sounded in the original cartoon. I like to believe that it was fun for Matt and Trey to approximate their old voices for this occasion. Then, within moments, Cartman’s anti-Semitism derails their nice holiday carol. Except this time the angry exchange of Cartman calling Kyle a buttfucker is met with laughter by the audio guy and is kept in.
With the recording begun, it’s time to start filming the special. The boys are doing it in the old stop motion style, using paper mouths that are switched out every fraction of a second. It seems easy at first but moves at a soul-crushingly glacial pace. Again Matt and Trey are dredging up the demons they felt making the special the first time.
The time intensive nature of stop motion turned out to be impossible for the studio to keep. After producing only the first episode in that months long process, the series switched to computer animation and never looked back. In fact, now an episode is made in less than a week, a process that likely seemed unfathomable in 1996. But in the show, the boys are only just learning how crappy making animation can be.
While the boys work on the animation, the pieces of crap arrive at the drive-in to start cleaning things up. They get started with a homeless person in an act that’s both vomit-worthy and innocently childlike in the same moment.
Aw, he looks so happy!
The boys are less than halfway through animating their special when something they could have easily anticipated happens: Cartman gets tired of working and quits.
Countdown to “Screw you guys,” in 10, 9…
Just as is the case in every Christmas special things are looking their darkest about 2/3 of the way through the proceedings. You have to respect Matt and Trey for being such observant storytellers, hitting all the usual plot beats, but in their own special way.
As the boys get ready to quit, Kyle gets everybody back on track with a rousing song. But this isn’t any old song, it’s a direct recreation of one of my favorites from Twas the Night Before Christmas. Give a listen to “Even a Miracle Needs a Hand.”
With a little hard work, ingenuity, writing around the death of Kenny (this was back when that still happened every show), and shipping the show to Korea, the boys have it ready in the nick of time. The screening starts fine, as the show plays a clip from the production that started it all.
Can you stand this much meta!?!?
Soon enough though the film breaks and the sullen crowd leaves, hit with another splash of X-Mas disappointment. All hope is lost (AGAIN), but then another Twas the Night Before Christmas plot device pops up, as Hanky’s nerdy son proposes fixing the technical difficulties. Hanky says his earlier song was just meant to stop Cornwallis’ bitching, but now it’s his child’s turn to give Hanky some inspiration.
I learned something today
And lo and behold the shit got shit done. Families content with celebrating togetherness without buying things are stirred from their homes to watch the entirety of the Spirit of Christmas. They see the Jesus vs. Santa fight…
Suck it Claus
And then the town learns the real reason to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and every other made-up holiday: Presents!
Don’t you see Kyle? Presents
And just like that South Park is reminded that the Spirit of Christmas isn’t love or togetherness, it’s commercialism. Buying things during the holidays is what makes the American economy function. Without a need for objects you can buy in a store, Christmas means just a little bit less.
Spend spend spend!
All that’s left is for the mayor to offer the boys a chance to make dozens more cartoons just like that one. The boys would rather stab themselves in the head than do that, though fortunately for us Matt and Trey felt differently in the real world. All that’s left is to recreate the finale to the Spirit of Christmas and another Christmas in South Park is in the record books.
Unlike some episodes of South Park, Jesus is barely seen outside of his appearance in the short film. You’ll have to turn to another of his dozens of hilarious appearances for more of that.
Just like Jesus, Santa is held back to an animated appearance, which is a weird thing to say.
After so many Christmas specials about love, charity and togetherness, it was nice to finally see one that admits that hand-in-hand with that feeling is crass commercialism. And to express that through a shared love for classic Christmas specials isn’t lost on a site like this one. Without spending money on gifts, America will crumble. On an unrelated note, we’ve got some links to Amazon you might be interested in…
PRODUCT INFORMATION (Shop Amazon through us!)
Why don’t you take a little something away from this Christmas special and spend some dough on Amazon? A Very Crappy Christmas can be found the Fourth Season of South Park. We also highly recommend picking up South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut on Blu-ray. While you’re at it, pre-order South Park: The Stick of Truth for the console of your choice.
MORE CARTOON CHRISTMAS SPECIALS!
YESTERDAY’S XMAS SPECIAL
A MERRY MARVEL CHRISTMAS
LAST YEAR’S DEC. 17th XMAS SPECIAL
WOODY WOODPECKER CHRISTMAS CARDS
2010’s DEC. 17TH XMAS SPECIAL
THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
2009’S DEC. 17TH XMAS SPECIAL
PLUTO’S CHRISTMAS TREE