This South Park review contains spoilers.
South Park Season 21 Episode 9
If I am being honest, it is easy to admit that South Park isn’t as good as it used to be. The anarchic and unapologetically filthy animated series has been a staple for most who came of age in the 1990s (i.e. Millennials). I know this, because I am a Millennial who has rarely missed an episode since the series debuted back in the third grade. And yet… it’s not just as funny as it used to be, right? This season alone has only had two or three really standout half-hours.
Then again, Trey Parker and Matt Stone appear to address this—or at least flirt with it—by suggesting it’s not them; it’s us. Or we’re all to blame on both sides of the screen since the Trey Parker stand-ins, “T”errance and “P”hillip, appear about as aged and decrepit as the season 21 premiere seemed earlier this year after a glorious run of always self-reinventing Rick and Morty. By the show’s own seeming admission, South Park is about one phoned in fart joke away from being as over the hill as Arrested Development, Full House, and all the other sitcoms that have gone on to the unnatural pet cemetery that is Netflix revival contracts.
Which is what makes “Super Hard PCness” such a strange beast. Here is an episode that will concede some of its jokes have run stale, and frankly some of the humor that worked in 1996 is about as toxic in 2017 as, well, Hootie and the Blowfish. Nevertheless, to make a digital inquisition about this is not all that different from the parents of Millennials who railed against South Park so many dead Kennys ago. Nor are they all that different from Kyle Broflovski’s mother who instigated the apocalyptic witch hunt of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. Truly, we’ve crossed the looking glass, and its frame was apparently built in Canada.
At its best “Super Hardness” stands as one of the few memorable installments of season 21, if for no other reason than it occasionally is pretty damn funny. The existential anxiety of the Donald Trump presidency manifests into its actual greatest nuclear menace, but with “Hold My Hand” blasting over the vision of mushroom clouds. There is something downright Kubrickian (of the Strangelove variety) about it. Except with, you know, a ‘90s touch, which is par for the course here.
The episode itself intentionally rehashes much of the act one incidents and tensions from the South Park movie, right down to Kyle wearing a shirt with the same acronym as “Mothers Against Canada,” which now stands for “Millennials Against Canada.” And it is a point taken. The increasing social media outrage at how every piece of media entertainment—especially from the past—does not align with our modern sensibilities of good taste has led to plenty of overreaction and handwringing, even against South Park. Perhaps especially against South Park given Parker and Stone’s tendency to rely too often on moral equivalency, which further enrages a certain kind of vocal online critic. Still, when Parker and Stone went that way tonight, there was something delicious about the Millennial posterchild’s indulgent outrage against the “other” giving Not-Donald Trump a hard on.
“These Canadians are in the way of that world, and everything they do and everything they have done needs to be erased from the earth!” Kyle cries. “Jeez, I got a little chub,” President Garrison squeals. Strange bedfellows, indeed. It is also similarly amusing to see all the familiar beats replayed, including Kyle interrupting the Canadian ambassador with just as much thinly veiled bigotry as his mother during a camera interview, and then his arresting of Terrance and Phillip.
However, this nostalgia-entertainment is probably buoyed by the realization that most of the original material in tonight’s episode was a mixed bag. The main B-storyline had a solid payoff, because nothing could be more irritating than hearing that song blast in your ears on an endless loop. The victim of this Hell is PC Principal, who met perhaps his literal match with Vice Principal Strong Woman. Obviously smitten with a woman just as politically conscious as himself, PC Principal starts to crack because, as Mr. Mackie rightly points out, having any semblance of attraction to a co-worker these days is akin to signing your own death warrant.
That subplot, which is further duplicated when Mr. Mackie meets an HR woman doppelganger of himself, mostly works when it’s about the men walking on eggshells around their co-workers, but stumbles if for no other reason than South Park appears strangely muddled and confused about what to say regarding Vice Principal Strong Woman. Like PC Principal’s own befuddlement, the writers are unsure what to make of her in her big introduction. Is she too sensitive for insisting PC Principal not also speak during her speech to the class, or is she a rational straight person to these overly PC schmucks who would rather die in a nuclear explosion than risk opening the door for an independent woman?
Other than finding cache in the current headlines dominating the news cycle, the use of Vice Principal Strong Woman ultimately plays as disappointing as the Cartman and Heidi subplot has now developed.
Overall, it’s a fun episode that has a literally explosive finale, however it is on the whole akin to the opening self-deprecation. As with Terrance and Phillip farting on a cow, the show is really missing a step nowadays, and self-aware irony can only paper over this truth so much. For tonight, it was enough, if only for the Bigger, Longer, Uncut Member Berries. Yet as we head into the season finale next week, I’d like the series to also member when South Park was as devastatingly funny as it was aware of the safe space lynch mob that continues to circle ever closer towards the show “about farts.”