Pandemics are Special

Uncertain times. Testy relationships. A GODDAMN ELECTION YEAR! While the world simultaneously stops and spins out of control — I think I speak for planet Earth when I ask: “What happened to our lives?”

This question was a final demand in South Park’s wild, 48-minute long Pandemic Special to kick off their 24th season premiere on Wednesday, September 30th. It is clear that this season will reflect some degree of “the new normal” with a change in the usual disclaimer. COVID-19 is also a reason South Park should not be viewed by anyone.

We are immediately swept to the classic town panoramic shot, sans theme song and unique intro we’ve become accustomed to over the past seven years. The town’s sign is cracked, snow has already settled in, and an ominous tone fills the background. A cut to a creaky playground is followed by an empty bus stop scene, closing a freezing cold open.

Misery and uncertainty are living happily in South Park: clear social divides over masks and police, education and meetings on Zoom, as well as the crippling powers of isolation all negatively impacting morale….except of course, for Randy Marsh and Eric Cartman.

Randy has picked up where he left off last season. Tegridy Farms, his marijuana farm in the countryside, is booming thanks to the pandemic. So much so, he’s running a deal on his product in a comically tone deaf fashion: A Pandemic Special (similar to last season’s Halloween Special).

Meanwhile, Eric has found the “new normal” to be his own “heaven on Earth.” He gleefully sings in his bedroom about not going back to school, doing what he wants, and never having to see his friends ever again. Eric’s joy is quickly stifled when he learns schools may reopen. Randy has a flashback triggered by a COVID-19 news report leading him to believe that he and Mickey Mouse caused the virus outbreak.

2020 has been overwhelmed with creative material. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are no strangers to controversy when addressing social conversations. The hour-long runtime seems to be enough to flesh out the loaded plot devices, however the effort feels like a “topical smoothie” with an off-putting color. It doesn’t taste bad, but some flavors stand out more than others. Some of these ingredients include:

  • Token Black, one of the two black kids at South Park Elementary, is shot immediately after a fight breaks out between Eric and Kyle.
  • Stephen Scotch (Butter’s father) would like people to wear their “chin diapers” appropriately.
  • China, Randy, Mickey Mouse, a bat, and a pangolin.
  • Mr. Garrison is still in the White House, ironically, treating the issue at hand with little concern.
  • Randy’s personal dilemma: his semen is the cause and the cure of Corona Virus…leading to an outbreak of mustaches.

With the blades on high speed, chaos climaxing and Teddy Bear stuffing surrounding him, Stan Marsh brings us back to the question that becomes a demand. He is avoiding his own fears and anxieties by suggesting he is concerned for how everyone else is handling the crisis. Stan tears up, allows his own stuffing to fall out, and demands: “I just want my life back,” only to have this moment literally set on fire by President Garrison.

About three minutes into the episode, Sharon (Randy’s wife) challenges her husband: “People are hurting. People are dying. And all you can think of is making a special about it?!!” It’s a meta moment for the writers. Randy’s defense: “I’m doing something positive to try and help. People really need this right now.”

Sharon remarks: “You are a child, Randy. These are very serious times, and nobody wants or cares about your stupid special right now,” sounds like an inner monologue or conversation held amongst the writers. Do we really need a special from South Park? Does it even help?

It isn’t until the last scene, in a throwaway gag, that we find out that Sharon needs his “Pandemic Special” pot just as much as anyone else. Much like her son, Sharon’s ridicule is secretly a cry for help. We all need something to make us feel whole again; even if it is an adult cartoon, oversaturated with symbols and metaphors that aren’t entirely exposed so much as literally represented for comedic storytelling.

Does Randy’s flashback of a drug-fueled beastiality experience with Mickey Mouse through China really land? No, not at all, but it just feels like anything else did this year. Fucking. Bonkers. At least, I was laughing this time. I’ll take it.

Final Grade: B

-Jason

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