It’s hard to talk about South Park without talking about politics.
Hell, it’s hard to talk about anything — TV, movies, the weather — without, to take a page out of Broad City’s book, the [BLEEP] word coming up. It’s a conversation worth having (and reading and tweeting and emailing about), obviously, but it grows wearisome. It’s human nature to get exhausted when you’re focused on one thing for too long, and it’s difficult not to be exhausted by the world right now. Distractions are healthy, so it’s no wonder that my favorite part of last night’s South Park premiere was the “big hairy balls.”
Season 21 (!) of Comedy Central’s longest-running show kicked off with “White People Renovating Houses.” The episode was split between Randy and Sharon Marsh finding jobs for pissed-off rednecks, including one whose home they renovate with tasteful Confederate flag decorations, and Cartman and other South Park Elementary students making an Amazon Alexa say things like “smelly tampon boogers” and “I’ve got vagina crabs in my butthole.”
The episode also brought back one of the show’s most popular catchphrases: “They took our jobs!” The redneck rallying cry was first heard in season eight; now, 13 years later, it’s being used in literal rallies by tiki torch-carrying white nationalists. In typical South Park fashion, Trey Parker (who wrote the episode, and every episode) doesn’t come down on the supremacists. He’s more interested in making a point about guys like Darryl Weathers not being able to change with the times, both technologically and culturally speaking, and the lengths (white) people will go to accommodate that stubbornness. The South Park mantra that everyone and everything is stupid is in full effect. That apathetic mockery may have worked back then, in the “Goobacks” days, but it’s harder to stomach now, when there are actual Nazis marching in the streets.
“White People Renovating Houses” was far more successful (and funny) with Cartman’s messing-with-personal assistants plot, which was a return to the “bread and butter of South Park” that Parker promised between seasons. “This season I want to get back to Cartman dressing up like a robot and [screwing] with Butters,” he said, “kids being kids and being ridiculous and outrageous.”
There’s a lot of comedy to be mined from Cartman making Alexa talk to Google Home and HomePod about “[sucking] my big balls in your hairy butthole,” and this episode found it. Unlike the white nationalists pseudo-parody, Cartman’s plot wasn’t crushed under the weight of wanting it both ways, of caring about something but not carrying enough to stand for it.
“No matter how bad the country gets,” Randy Marsh says in the closing seconds of the episode, “you can always count on white people renovating houses.” Independent of the rest of the episode, that’s a funny line, but as far as satire goes, it’s tame. If South Park really wants to be subversive again, something it’s struggled to do after raising a generation of trolls, it should remove itself from the political conversation. That’s the unexpected move: to lean away when everything else, from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to Roseanne, is leaning in. The Douche and the Turd ethos must go (Member Berries can stay!), because as Laura Bradley at Vanity Fair pointed out, “If the show is going to bother being topical… it had better come prepared to actually engage with the thing it’s riffing on.” That’s not always the South Park way.
Thankfully, South Park doesn’t need to be topical to be funny. Think back to “Scott Tenorman Must Die,” “Awesom-O,” “Butters’ Very Own Episode,” even season 19’s “Tweek x Craig” — these episodes are hilarious and independent of then-current events, so they hold up remarkably well now. I’m not sure we’ll be able to say the same about Mr. Garrison-as-Donald Trump in 10 years, when Cartman is still, hopefully, giggling at “stinky poop.” I know I will be.
What I’m saying is, bring back the poop that took a pee.