South Park brought back an infamous bit last week when it apologized for not taking climate change, and Al Gore, seriously enough. As it turns out, that apology was big enough to last two episodes.
Gore’s hunt for ManBearPig was a pretty naked parody of the former presidential candidate and vice president’s efforts to raise awareness about climate change. The Season 10 episode lampooned Gore for making the South Park boys look for a creature that pretty clearly didn’t exist.
But as climate change-fueled wildfires rage on the West Coast in the real world and extreme weather happens more and more, Trey Parker and Matt Stone offered what appeared to be a sincere apology by way of making ManBearPig quite real in an episode that aired last week. Gore returned, and the kids finally believed him and asked for his help to fix a creature that’s ravaging the town and killing people. That extended into a second episode this week, entitled “Nobody Got Cereal?”
The adults, as it turns out, still seem skeptical and unsure what they should do. As the body count grows, the town holds a quiet symposium called “When Should I Start To Worry?” in which the host and a group of people civilly debated when they should… start to worry about ManBearPig. The symposium is interrupted, of course, by Satan. The demon helps the kids go to the library to discover that ManBearPig is also a demon who makes deals with people to get what he wants.
But back to that apology. In this episode, the message seems to be that just an apology may not be enough. The analogy comes from one of South Park’s most trusted characters. Stan speaks for the show when he talks to Al Gore, who had just pretended to be ghost illuminated in his bedroom window. Gore implores Stan to stay strong, and he says he can’t do it alone. He says he needs help.
“I did, too,” Gore said. “Didn’t get it.”
This is when it seems like Parker and Stone are talking directly through their character. If they can’t say sorry, the logic seems to be, what more are they supposed to do?
“What more do you want from me? Stan asks. “I’ve atoned for my mistake. I’m sorry that we were getting a lot of different information at the time. You know, even you were wrong about a lot of the things that you said would happen.”
Gore abruptly leaves after that, but the point is made: South Park is sorry, but what are we all supposed to do now?
The B plot of the episode is a bunch of people continuing to play Red Dead Redemption 2, and if you’ve played the game for any period of time those jokes about learning new shortcuts and getting sucked into the game to escape real life continue to be funny. But the episode takes a turn with another fairly naked metaphor: the old people in town made a deal with ManBearPig to have nice things and have the beast go away for a while, with the hope that they’d be dead before it came back and things got worse.
“We were all young and foolish back then Billy,” Stan’s grandfather said while he held a picture of a younger man in a Trans Am holding ice cream. “We didn’t think about the future. We just… wanted things.”
So the decisions of the elders in South Park caused ManBearPig’s return to be that much worse. Huh. Doesn’t sound like anything else I can think of. Oh, then there’s a final battle between Satan and ManBearPig.
Satan gets killed, which makes more people consider to start to maybe worry about global warming er… ManBearPig… a bit more. Meanwhile, Al Gore (and his force ghost) implores people to take this threat “super cereal.”
After some shenanigans, the boys decide that they’re willing to give ManBearPig back ice cream and cars. But he isn’t interested in that anymore. What results is a outsized legal conversation about what exactly everyone is willing to give up in order to make ManBearPig go away, only to return at another time in the future. Another generation making the same deal their grandparents essentially made. OK, South Park, point taken.
But what’s it all mean? Well, it’s South Park, so not much. The show’s MO has long been to gently poke fun at something from every angle without actually making a point one way or the other. Global warming was a joke back in Season 10. Now, it’s something more serious and the show acknowledges that it got it all wrong and probably added to the harmful discourse that ignored climate change for too long.
Does it fix anything? No. In fact, it’s nowhere near actually doing anything about the real human harm ignoring climate change has and will continue to do. But the show insists it’s sorry. And it took two episodes to fully say it. So that’s a start, maybe.