South Park season 24 episode 2 spoilers follow.
South Park’s latest episode is a thunderous return to form for the series, proving that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone haven’t lost their satirical edge over this past miserable year. And, like the rest of us sitting around doing nothing, they’ve even had time for a bit of self-reflection.
In their 45-minute 'Vaccination Special', the adults of Colorado’s most screwed up mountain town resort to desperate measures to get their COVID-19 shot, all while the already-vaccinated pensioners party in the streets and mock anyone without immunity.
The kids, meanwhile, are last in line for a jab, but they’re being infected with something else entirely – an insidious dose of QAnon Theory. (The far-right conspiracy that claims that a secret group of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic paedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring while also plotting against Donald Trump during his time as president... Which actually sounds like something South Park would come up with.)
So yes, there’s an awful lot going on, and it amounts to the funniest, most self-referential episode Parker and Stone have produced since legendary instalments like 'Crème Fraiche' and 'Medicinal Fried Chicken' (in our humble opinion).
Before this special, however, the series had gone through somewhat of an experimental phase. For the 23rd season, the show turned its attention away from its iconic, foul-mouthed children and instead focused on the exploits of Randy Marsh’s Tegridy Farms marijuana business. This was soon followed by the 'Pandemic Special', which sensationally revealed that Stan’s hapless dad was responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak because he had sex with a bat.
It was hilarious, of course, but you couldn’t help but feel that Parker and Stone were running out of ways to keep the show fresh.
Partly responsible for this was the ongoing gag that Mr Garrison, the kids’ former school teacher, had morphed into a President Trump parody, complete with Tangoed skin, puckered lips and terrible hair. It was funny for a bit, but since it was practically impossible to make a more ridiculous character than the real-life person, the satire suffered and a significant chunk of the show was forced into a predictable corner.
However, now that Donald Trump is no longer the president of the United States, South Park has managed to regain some of that satirical freedom by reverting Mr Garrison back to his original form. The Vaccination Special sees him return to his old teaching job, acting as if he hasn’t just spent the last four years sending the country to hell – literally, in some cases.
But with parents taking their kids out of school for their own safety, and instead having them home-tutored by QAnon conspiracy theorists, Garrison is faced with an empty classroom. What follows is arguably the most meta thing South Park has ever done, as the teacher reborn embarks on a fourth-wall-breaking quest to retrieve his students and confront those cannibalistic paedophiles who are supposedly controlling our lives.
As Garrison is educated about our evil overseers by family man Bob White – who always makes it perfectly clear that he’s acting on behalf of 'the Whites' – we’re shown images of Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey feasting on the blood of children. Among these pictures, we also see images of the 'Hollywood elite', which hilariously includes a shot of Parker and Stone from their 1998 film BASEketball.
In true South Park fashion, it’s soon revealed that the Hollywood elite (well, specifically the show’s creators) really are controlling everything, and in quite a literal sense.
In an attempt to stop Garrison from exposing them, the show’s editors delete a weapon from his hand before placing him, his new teaching assistant Mr Service and Bob White in the middle of desolate tundra. "Don’t give in to them!" says Bob. "They’re trying to make a joke of everything. That’s what they do!"
"They run the show! It comes down to two people!" he blurts, obviously referring to Parker and Stone. A mouse cursor then appears on the screen and starts editing parts of his body, before, naturally, transforming him into a massive bouncing cock.
Being the bastard that he is, Garrison directly addresses the creators and insists that he "doesn’t care what they do to kids", he just wants everyone to like him again. As an angry Bob charges towards him, Garrison is then pulled out of the show’s editing software, revealing the 2D graphic layers that make up each shot.
When he’s placed back, a deal is seemingly struck with the creators to restore his popularity, and Mr Service is transformed into Mr Hat, Garrison’s original hand puppet teaching assistant.
South Park has always been brilliantly self-aware, but this really takes things to the next level. And it's not the only way that this special acknowledges Parker and Stone’s existence.
Earlier in the episode, Cartman devises an elaborate scheme to humiliate their supply teacher by placing a ketchup sachet on her chair, to make it look like she’s had cataclysmic period mishap. But when Mr Garrison is revealed to be their replacement teacher, the boys quickly realise they’ve made a monumental mistake.
In an attempt to entice their supply teacher back to school, the boys steal a batch of the vaccine and offer her a shot, while Cartman also issues an insincere apology for their prank: "It was so uncalled for and so wrong. Especially because we’re guys. I mean, dudes sitting around coming up with period jokes. Like how old are we? Seriously."
(Trey Parker and Matt Stone are 51 and 49, respectively, if you’re asking.)
Cartman further notes that their jokes are getting "lazy" and that they’re just "dialling it in," suggesting a hint of creative fatigue, and perhaps a sense that the entire series is nearing a natural conclusion. But when you get an episode as sharp and aggressively funny as this, you realise that’s not true.
Parker and Stone may be reflecting on their role as creators more than ever before, but with three more seasons still to come (and potentially more beyond that), there’s absolutely no sign that these satirical kings are going to stop pushing the ever-shifting boundaries. And they’re definitely not going to start acting their age any time soon either.
South Park airs on Comedy Central and is available to stream on Now TV, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix.
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