South Park Pandemic Special Brings the Show’s Highest Ratings in Seven Years

Comedy Central’s South Park Pandemic Special reaped record ratings from viewers who awaited the show’s 2020 return.

South Park Pandemic Special; Randy Marsh
Photo: Comedy Central

With the year 2020 feeling like an interminable torrent of tumult, viewers were widely ready to reach for a familiar, long-missing satirical salve with the South Park Pandemic Special on its Wednesday night premiere. Such a notion was validated with the extended episode’s performance, which yielded Comedy Central record ratings.

Comedy Central is touting monumental metric accolades from the South Park Pandemic Special, which was the highest-rated episode of the long-running animated staple in the past seven years with 2.06, yielding a total of 4.05 million viewers in the coveted 18-49 demographic for the premiere. The return was up by 168% from last season’s .077, with triple-digit increases across all key demos. Additionally, the network cites an audience upgrade for itself by 2.3 million total viewers, a 178% increase from last season. Also noteworthy is the network’s declaration of the episode as the #1 scripted cable telecast of 2020; a status helped by the premiere’s simulcast across fellow ViacomCBS cable channels MTV, VH1, CMT, Paramount Network, TV Land and Pop TV.

As Chris McCarthy, President, Entertainment & Youth Brands, ViacomCBS, lauds of the performance and creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker in a statement:

“We’re thrilled with South Park‘s return and it’s clear the audience was as well,” adding, “The success is a testament to Matt and Trey’s creative genius and how we used our full portfolio to let everyone know it’s back – propelling it to the #1 scripted telecast of 2020 and delivering its highest ratings in seven years.”

Additionally, social engagement metrics were touted by Comedy Central, which cites 4.8 million views—doubling that of the Season 23 premiere. An additional 2.2 million views were said to be reaped via support from the aforementioned fellow ViacomCBS channels, and the South Park Pandemic Special was the #2 trending topic on Twitter for three hours that night.

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The special’s status as a “return” for South Park is, perhaps, the key component to this successful outing. The double episode was the first from the series since its Season 23 closer aired on December 11, 2019; a date that, while less than a year earlier, represents a completely different era for numerous unfortunate reasons. Accordingly, the show’s now-typical 10-month annual hiatus felt a lot longer than its actual length, with viewers having endured months of a global virulence that cost a million lives, stagnated the global economy and job markets, and widened already-wide political gaps. Thus, the 23-year tradition of wondering what the typically quick-to-the-punch sociopolitical satire of the show’s irascible animated American microcosm of South Park, Colorado would bring to the current circumstances bred a kind of curiosity that translated into ratings.    

In typical irreverent fashion, the episode depicted a premise in which Randy Marsh (Stan’s dad)—who has steadily emerged as the centerpiece character of the series over the course of the last decade—learns that he was the cause of the pandemic after a sexual encounter with bats (and pangolins) on a trip to Wuhan, China; a grotesquely satirical explanation that, in the very least ties into the events of Season 23, in which he traveled to China to forge a shady deal with the Beijing government for his Tegridy Farms weed business. Meanwhile, the homefront exploits of children Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman have them dealing with a depiction of post-COVID life in line with the show’s signature hyperbolic style, but rings eerily close to home. Yet, the irreverent, line-crossing take on the pandemic, police brutality and other 2020-dominating issues yielded mixed reviews.

With the South Park Pandemic Special having arrived as the product of a virtual collaboration between Parker & Stone and their team, it remains uncertain when it will be followed up with South Park Season 24, for which the special has been marked as the de facto premiere. We, of course, will let you know when there’s any update on that front as the news arrives.