“DAMN THIS BEAUTIFUL FACE OF MINE!”
Original Airdate: February 11, 1998
“Stan develops a crush on a substitute teacher, which makes his girlfriend Wendy jealous. Meanwhile, Mr. Garrison has plastic surgery.”
I’ve often called attention to how Trey and Matt’s childhood experiences informed their South Park work. Surprisingly, the teacher crush plot isn’t directly derived from the creators as they say on the commentary track. However, their inspiration comes from retro sitcoms like The Andy Griffith Show and Leave It to Beaver, which used and recycled similar plots. This is still valuable because it positions South Park as a twisted commentary on Americana.
But how does this episode specifically comment on Americana? Well, first of all, it deals with the lack of LGBTQ+ education, especially in the school system; and at large, it comments on bad American education (ie, the kids only learn when Mr. Garrison leaves, the Principal leaves tear gas to help Ms. Ellen, and we find out Cartman can’t even spell).
When the kids find out their beloved substitute teacher Ms. Ellen is a lesbian, they think they can woo her by also becoming lesbians — which leads to them literally chew carpets and boxes. Although Ms. Ellen is a gay character in a 90’s show, she never loses her dignity, or at the very least, isn’t mocked because of her sexuality (although the finale’s absurd twist is even weirder when you think about how Wendy committed a hate crime).
Speaking of Wendy: she’s Cartman levels of psychotic here in her efforts to stop Stan from liking Ms. Ellen. While it’s disconcerting to see the normally level-headed Wendy kill somebody with an unexplained reservoir of access and control over the Iranian government…her anger isn’t dissimilar to Damien from the previous episode. While the son of Satan and his fiery destruction represented Trey’s alienated childhood anger, Wendy represents the wrath of an ignored, love sick kid. The fantasies and wishes of real kids are made “reality” within the metaphorical confines of South Park’s cartoon logic.
As for Mr. Garrison’s plot, it works as a commentary on how superficial qualities have their drawbacks and don’t lead to happiness. And what celebrity better exemplifies the tragic, bloated vapidity of coasting on good looks than David Hasselhoff, whose face Mr. Garrison is transformed into? According to the commentary track, Trey and Matt met Hasselhoff, who was pathetically decked out in Baywatch attire, still clinging to his glory days.
Although Trey and Matt were disappointed by the episode upon release, it’s easy to see why it’s a fan favorite of the early episodes. Delivering perhaps the most laughs of an episode so far this season, it also delivers commentary that’s obvious but tied into the story enough to not distract from the laughs. Some of the best art is able to be enjoyable on the surface as entertainment but retain layers of themes if you dig a little, and “Toms’ Rhinoplasty” is a great example of this.
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