Ah, “South Park”. I remember back in school, discussing the new episodes and quickly fitting into any group with the question “Do you watch ‘South Park’? What’s your favorite episode?”. It was an epic thing: daring, fearless, and always sharp. While the bold ones hinted at certain topics, “South Park” hit right in the eye, unashamed.
And it didn’t just point a finger at some problem or phenomenon, it took a stand, sometimes offering a solution or a new perspective on the situation. Attack Scientology? Sure, no problem, let’s do it and more than once. You’re famous and think you’re now untouchable? Think again. Politics? Religion? Race issues? Yes, please!
It’s always worth remembering that the creators of this cartoon, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, once showed up at the Oscars in dresses, high on LSD, and responded to every question with the same answer: “It’s such a magical evening, and we want to be part of it.” These guys definitely didn’t abide by society’s invisible laws; they were always ready for anything. And since episodes were sometimes made almost overnight, reflecting the events they mocked, it became the second element of success.
And here we are. At the end of October, a new special was released, the 26th season just ended… Twenty-six years on air, a vast number of seasons and specials behind us, another special has aired. And it’s… ordinary.
It must be understood that over these 26 years, “South Park” has undergone many significant changes, even though externally it remains absolutely the same. Episodes have become less frequent, and the show can no longer be the first to comment on certain issues or phenomena, and celebrities now appear much less frequently and are treated much more gently. There was a period when “South Park” tried to have a storyline, some story that tied the season’s episodes together, and it was… it didn’t work out. And any attempts to change something in the show and alter its sitcom immutability inevitably ended with a return to the status quo. Remember when Cartman had a girlfriend? I do. Of all such changes, only the change of Randy Marsh’s profession remains in the show, but it’s probably not for long.
So, the new special, “Joining the Pander-verse”. At first glance, it looks like a classic “South Park” episode from the good old days. It hit all the popular trends, namely:
- Artificial intelligence
- Gender diversity on the big screen
- Disney and their cookie-cutter films
- The gap between the rich and the poor, and how the rich compare their cosmic peckers
- And of course, Baldur’s Gate 3
This isn’t everything they managed to cover in under an hour, but these are the main themes. And let’s be honest, the list looks promising; there are so many facets to explore, so many people to jab, so many times to make the audience exclaim: “Wow, I can’t believe they said that!”. A wealth of potential.
And what an opening! The concept alone hooks you, just the cover for the release, the promotional poster. The “South Park” characters were replaced by women representing different ethnic minorities, who often talk about how bad and terrible patriarchy is. This in itself sounds funny, and you would probably expect the episode to play it up to 110%. Because they did play it up, right? Did they?
But no, not at all. This, like many other themes here, is just stated, not really used, no plot is built around this concept, and what’s particularly odd, almost no jokes are made of it. Yes, Cartmans from different universes have swapped places, and now a Cartman-Black-Woman lives in our usual version, while our Cartman has landed in a world where everyone around is strong and confident women of various nationalities and races (except for white Caucasian, of course). Okay, that’s funny. What next?
Cartman is a terrible racist and sexist, to place him in such a place and let him live there has the potential for a whole season’s worth of jokes, not just one special. The reverse also works: Eric Cartman is a character who, despite being hugely complex about his obesity, once turned it to his advantage, it’s scary to imagine what he could do being a black woman. But this potential is not used at all.
Half the time is entirely devoted to the theme of neural networks, which leave various intellectual workers out of a job, while simple laborers make fortunes – their work will always be needed. It’s a funny idea, but I kept waiting for the creators of the cartoon to somehow link it to the multiverse and excessive inclusiveness. They never did. So, in fact, what we have here is not a special, but rather two separate episodes of “South Park” mixed together by the magic of editing, yet with no connection made between them. Well… okay, it’s their business. It’s unclear, of course, why they couldn’t make these regular episodes and extend the last little season by two more episodes, but let it be.
The episode’s total lack of bite is a huge disappointment. “Oh, look, the rich prey on ordinary people, then compete with their swagger and fly to space just to stroke their egos and show off” – yeah, clear and understandable… And what? I mean, this is not exactly unexpected information, everyone has seen it all before, and “South Park” didn’t add any value here, didn’t show the situation from a new angle.
Disney seemed to get the brunt of it, but let’s be honest – it’s just a fizzle compared to how the creators used to go after Disney. In the past, the Disney corporation in “South Park” was almost like an empire of evil, run by a cruel and unprincipled Mickey Mouse, but now, it turns out, they are just ordinary people who meant well and simply didn’t know they were under the power of the evil Kathleen Kennedy. Right. And I remember a “South Park” episode where Indiana Jones was literally raped – that’s what I call criticism of greedy corporations. Gifs from that scene are still used in internet discussions (and they are still, unfortunately, relevant).
Even Kathleen Kennedy here turns out to be quite nice, it just so happened and there was some kind of misunderstanding, yeah, it was a bit awkward, good that it was cleared up. Again, we recall how the series previously treated Tom Cruise or Oprah Winfrey, who had far fewer complaints against them. As they say, feel the difference.
In the end, we have two rather passable and even typical episodes of a series that has somehow quietly become passable and even typical from being sharp and bold. Well, it’s understandable, because while the series itself may have changed over the years, its creators have not; they are still the same people. Only… different. They’re no longer in their twenties; they’re both well into their fifties now, and it seems to have had an effect. It probably couldn’t help but have an effect when you’re earning 160 million dollars a year and living accordingly. Courage is a little harder to come by when you have too much to lose. Would the current Trey Parker and Matt Stone show up at the Oscars in dresses and on acid? I highly doubt it.
But what can you do, that’s life, and even punks want to secure a comfortable pension for their old age. Let them secure it, there’s nothing shameful in that, and personally, I can’t even be mad at them about it – I am too grateful to them for the happy moments after a long and tedious school day. And for the fact that the question “What’s your favorite South Park episode?” was a ticket into any (literally any) company.
My favorite episode, by the way, is the one where Cartman formed a Christian rock band. Although the episode about Warcraft is also fantastic, of course, tough choice. Oh, and it was cool when the console wars were on. And about Scott Tenorman! And the episode when the internet disappeared was very cool. And man, do you remember the episode where Stan and Kyle decided to…