South Park S018:E06 - Freemium Isn't Free
November 5, 2014
Canada creates a phone app that preys on the addiction of the weak, to help make money to build Canada. When Randy discovers Stan has an addiction, he intervenes.
References to fan favorite characters, a common enemy, and one decent joke was not nearly enough to save this impossibly bland episode of South Park from being condemned to Canadian hell. Every single joke was far too much on the nose and surface level, especially compared to the type of jokes that South Park usually contains. This episode relied heavily on easy targets and lacked any kind of twist or deeper satire other than just “hey micro-transactions on mobile games suck, right?”
The plot of the episode revolved around the Canadian government pushing “freemium” games to gullible phone owners to fund their own country’s expenses. To accomplish this, they used Jimmy and other “pushers” to promote a free-to-play game based on the Terrance & Phillip show. It was an obvious parody of similar city building games based on The Simpsons and Family Guy and was the only obvious joke that actually worked to an extent. Had this fake Terrance & Phillip game been a one-off joke in another episode, it would have great as a small parody. Unfortunately the entire episode hinged on it.
Terrance and Phillip, upset that their good name was being besmirched by their government to “extract money from addicts,” headed to their country’s capital to meet with the Prince of Canada to air their grievances about it. It was revealed throughout the episode that the Canadian government’s intentions were pure evil and they had no desire to do anything but make money. There was absolutely no subtlety in the fact that they represent game developers doing the same thing, and it just fell flat every time it tried to make a joke about it. Even as the story progressed and things got more out of control, it all felt extremely simple and devoid of humor.
Meanwhile, back in South Park, the boys found out that it was Jimmy who was pushing the game and confronted him. And then… nothing. Nothing really came out of that confrontation, other than them learning that free games are addictive. Kyle summons the Devil in another pandering scene that recalled a fan favorite character and did virtually nothing with him.
I’ll admit, seeing the devil have a sit-down conversation to discuss dopamine and the dangers of addiction in a calm manner was kind of funny. But, again, it was a joke that would have worked as a one-off in an episode about another topic. Unfortunately it was not; it was played off as a big turning point in the episode where the boys learn the same thing that Terrance & Philip did – that game developers are evil.
It did almost manage a plot twist with a bit of controversy in the Satan scene where he started to admit that freemium games really are not all that terrible. He brought up the point that literally anything can be addictive and it is dumb to point to one thing as being particularly bad. But before his scene was even over, Satan himself was convinced that the game developers were evil and the episode continued down the easy path of having everyone agree with it.
I thought they honestly had something there with turning the episode into a parody of people freaking out about freemium games instead of freemium games themselves being the target, but too many jokes were obviously pointed at making fun of developers, and not the other way around so it fell flat either way. There was also the fact that Randy (who, once again, was the only funny character in the episode) was worried about Stan and his addiction to a free-to-play game while he himself was addicted to drinking and gambling. Again, it could have worked given any sense of subtly or layering to the jokes, but it was just literally pointing out the fact that Randy was an alcoholic and then having him mention how worried he was about Stan. That’s not a joke, that’s a boring and obvious comparison that has been done dozens of times.
Several other jokes were just extremely low-hanging fruit as well. One line when the Prince of Canada was talking about his plans for the micro-transaction money felt particularly pandering and desperate. “Soon Canada will be as developed as Detroit.” Come on, South Park, a Detroit joke? You could not make a lower effort or lower risk joke if you tried.
Everyone knows that freemium games suck. There is literally no controversy there. No edge, nothing to make you as an audience member laugh and wonder how they got away with saying something. This episode was the epitome of playing it safe and picking a topic that everyone will agree with you on to make fun of. Similar to last weeks, where they mocked “The Fappening” nude celebrity leaks, this was nothing but a platform for Matt and Trey to complain about something and it failed on nearly every level. The only thing saving this episode from a half star or even the dreaded zero star (seriously, I’m considering it) was a couple funny lines from Randy and one line from the Prince of Canada – “it’s called freemium. The ‘ium’ is Latin for ‘not really’.” That made me chuckle.
Other than that, screw everything about this episode. It was boring, safe, and as unfunny as a South Park episode I’ve seen in years. And the show hasn’t been great for a while in general.
Continuity Watch 2014: They referenced previous episodes several times. It’s starting to look like it may be an in joke that they’re blatantly referencing it and, if that’s the case, I like where it’s going. Otherwise they’re being obnoxious with it and the whole experiment is backfiring terribly.