What “South Park” libertarians don’t seem to realize is that they’ve crafted a whole politics around their bruised feelings, which is exactly what they accuse the PC police of doing wrong. More than police brutality or wealth inequality or state surveillance, they don’t like being told that they’re wrong or should behave differently.
Season 19 has been terrible. Looking at the audience figures, it seems I’m not alone in this assessment. Episodes 7 and 8 have been OK, and things might yet turn around; but in general it’s been far below the standard of season 18, which featured episodes like “Cock Magic”, “Grounded Vindaloop”, “Freemium Isn’t Free” and “Go Fund Yourself” that were actually funny — and when satirical, were punching up.
Sure, there have been a few good moments in season 19. I loved Randy’s problems at the Whole Foods checkout, Butters suffering from Maple Fever, and Randy (again) thinking that Asians get to decide who’s gay. The townspeople thinking the kids dressed as ninjas were Muslims and reacting with hysterical panic was good. Mostly, though, it feels like the show has missed opportunity after opportunity.
For instance, in the first couple of episodes the townspeople are trying to persuade Whole Foods to open a store in South Park. Eventually the head of Whole Foods turns up and is convinced that South Park is acceptably “politically correct” and gentrified. Wouldn’t it have been funnier if the head of Whole Foods had turned up and surprised the town by being a right-wing asshole — which is closer to the truth anyway? Classic incongruity/misunderstanding setup.
This lack of grounding in reality is the big problem with season 19. Humor needs to at least have some truth to it. When South Park portrays “political correctness” as a physically violent movement run entirely by men, it completely fails to engage with the substance of what it purports to be criticizing. It’s like trying to satirize Daesh by portraying them as rubber ducks — it may be fleetingly amusing, but it’s nowhere near enough to hang several hours of humor on. Sure, guys who act liberal to get laid are a thing, and they deserve some mocking, but the way South Park has gone about it has been lazy and lacking in subtlety — even for a show that still indulges in rape jokes.
The moment I saw that the series was going to take a swipe at gentrification, I thought “Great! This’ll be good!” — but it wasn’t. I don’t know how it’s possible for humorists as talented as Trey Parker and Matt Stone to take on subject matter like that and fail to be funny, but somehow they managed.
Of course, the obvious counter-accusation is that I don’t find season 19 funny because it’s about things I care about — but that’s not it at all. As evidence, consider:
- “Smug Alert!” was delightful. We even considered getting a “SMUG” license plate for our Prius.
- “Something Wall-Mart This Way Comes” attacked those who try to block construction of Walmart stores, pointing out that the stores only get built because people actually want to shop there.
- “Gluten Free Ebola” mocked the “lifestyle diets” of liberals, while managing to be funny.
- “Ass Burgers” took a swipe at over-self-diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders, and managed to be both funny and delightfully bleak.
Also, the video game “South Park: The Stick of Truth” was wonderful. Really very, very good, and I particularly enjoyed it as a followup to Skyrim. So what has gone wrong at South Park Studios? Are they just phoning it in now that they got their massive Hulu deal? Too busy with side projects?