South Park Season 18, Episode 6 recap & review
Freemium isn't Free
As this review contains a recap, there are spoilers below.
As “South Park” leaves the midseason point and looks toward the final four episodes, the quality of the Comedy Central program ramped up last week thanks to a good injection of a Butters and Cartman collaboration. While no events from “The Magic Bush” really spilled over into “Freemium isn’t Free,” creator Trey Parker pulled quick, subtle reminders that Randy Marsh is still, indeed, Lorde. Unlike most SP episodes from the last decade, “Freemium isn’t Free” doesn’t really mix two or more noteworthy stories. Instead, this week seemed completely devoted to freemium gaming. For those unfamiliar, “freemium” is a newly-coined blend in linguistics, or a portmanteau neologism, combining the term “free” with “premium” to make “freemium.” It is a pricing strategy allowing users (gamers for example in this week’s episode) to freely download software, media, games, etc, with the caveat that the user is charged for virtual goodies or prizes, trademark features, or increased functionality.
The freemium craze finally hits South Park, Colorado. Jimmy Valmer (formerly Swanson) pitches the new Terrance and Phillip mobile game to anyone will take a moment with him. It’s a lame game with little to do but spend money, however, it stars everyone’s favorite flatulent Canadians and they get it anyway. Most of the boys keep a measure of self-control with their freemium spending, but as we learned a few years ago in “Insheeption,” Stan has an addictive personality and quickly puts up quite a credit card bill for the Marsh family after he spends a small fortune on “Canadough” for the mobile game.
Meanwhile in Canada, the ruse for the crappy T&P mobile game gets revealed. The Canadian government has used the Terrance and Phillip brand in freemium gaming profits to fund new projects and the two stars aren’t pleased. They take it up with the Minister of Mobile Gaming, who poses, “We’re building a new Canada from the micro-payments from addicts. Who cares?” This scene gets particularly hilarious when Parker explains freemium gaming in a most brutally and uproariously sardonic fashion via Canadian animation surrogates.
Randy then confronts Stan and his father about the dangers of addiction… as he goes through the most blatant alcoholism before his audience with increasing alcohol volume in each scene. Stan quickly points out Randy’s problem, but father Marsh disagrees and doesn’t believe he has a problem. “I am not having a glass of wine. I’m having six. It’s a wine tasting, and it’s classy.”
By this point in the episode, Parker needed to quit explaining the freemium concept. It’s ugly when a show just can’t trust their viewers to have the mental competency to keep up with their humor brand. Stan’s spending spirals further as Terrance and Phillip seek to at least improve their game if they can’t remove it. They petition to the Canadian Minister of Mobile Gaming, then revealed as the Canadian Devil. As Phillip says, “We understand micro-paying, but can’t the game hidden inside the charade just at least be fun?”
As Stan hits rock bottom, he finds religion and says a prayer. Only it’s Satan who shows up to help him defeat his other enemy—The Canadian Devil. After Satan appears, the episode picks back up and winds to a fitting conclusion. Parker’s perception of freemium gaming hit the nail on the head this week, but his constant explaining of the concept slowed down the episode to the point that when Satan explains dopamine levels in the brain, we’re just happy it isn’t another freemium definition. It was funny to see “South Park” deal with addiction yet again to show that Randy never truly learned his lesson from “Bloody Mary” in season nine.