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Monday, 9 November 2020

REVIEW: South Park lampoons 2020 with perfect results.

2020 has been challenging for everyone. But, if anyone can put a fresh and exciting spin on the horrors of it all we knew it would be Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the minds behind South Park. 

Constructed entirely by the South Park working at from home, this hour-long special lampoons the serious and ridiculous aspects of 2020 in a way that only South Park could achieve or get away with. Poiking fun at the pandemic, mask-wearing, panic buying, lockdowns, police brutality and President Trump,  Parker and Matt Stone leave no prisoners when it comes to discussing all of our flaws at handling what is happening around us. The pillar of any South Park episode has always been how strong the public message is and the message here has never been stronger.

We begin the episode with Butters Stotch being upset with his parents as they won’t allow him to visit Build-A-Bear, his parents are meanwhile criticizing those that don’t wear their masks properly, coining the phrase “chin diapers”. Randy Marsh is advertising a “Pandemic Special” marijuana while being told that he is profiteering from the pandemic and Eric Cartman is singing with joy at the thought of not having to go to school before being informed by his mother that the schools will be reopening soon. These four narratives are the pillars of this episode, driving the narrative around how divided the public have become, the mental state of those missing the freedoms they are restricted of and those that are attempting to exploit this sorry situation we find ourselves in.

In true South Park fashion, of course, there are other threads in place as nobody is safe in this hour-long bludgeoning of the “free-world”. Amid Randy’s joy of how well the “Pandemic Special” is selling, he ignorantly shrugs off his wife’s brother being critically ill as him being a “fat alcoholic” but after catching the news that a bat in Wuhan is responsible, remembers a past visit with Mickey Mouse to China. Realising that he and Mickey started the pandemic, his view changes as he notices how everyone is suffering at the hands of the virus. In true Randy Marsh fashion, his determination to not be caught for his transgressions are now how he spends the rest of the episode. Breaking into labs, stealing animals and lying his way through this hour as a magnifying glass is shone on those that have refused to believe their failings in how this virus has been dealt with. Of course, as Randy’s adventures normally devolve into the absurd, this includes him hilariously thinking that his semen is the cure for everything but instead just turns people into a Randy clone, seeming to discuss how one person's slant on Covid could create little clones everywhere, spouting the same nonsense regardless of the evidence.

The true strength of Parker and Stone has always been how they effortlessly juggle the ridiculous with the hard-hitting and they tackle this year's strongest news story head-on. As the school is ordered to re-open but instead of teachers, it is the defunct police force that have recently had their funding lost due to police violence. Of course, the police officers realise they don’t know how to teach the children and it is not long before the violent nature of the force rears its head as they handcuff Cartman to his desk and a fight breaks out between Kyle and Eric which ends with the police opening fire on the children but aiming at one pupil, in particular, Token Black. This leads to all the children being told that due to a “Covid related incident” they are forced to stay in the school, which lead to a hilarious explanation by the police force on how they have managed to blame Covid rather than their own racist actions for the self-isolation. Parker and Stone using this sequence to address the widespread protests after the death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. 

The pair never forget that the boys are the heart of the show. The episode shifts its tone to what is possibly the most serious narrative, as Butters becomes distraught that he will never be able to go to Build-A-Bear ever again and acts out. This leads to Stan Marsh gathering the boys and breaking them out, determined to get Butters to his promise land and trying to fix the mental state that Butters finds him in. These actions forces the mayor to allow the police force their brute force tactics again and they begin a man hunt for boys on the run. Fighting their way to Build-A-Bear as it is revealed that it is not just Butters mental state that is damaged, Stan’s obsession to help Butters was just his way of coping with his freedoms being restricted. That helping Butters to get his bear was his hope that it would somehow fix what was happening around him and lead to his life returning to normal. The usual monologue by one of the main boys is hard-hitting and strikes home how many are finding themselves right now, scared and hopeful that one day we can return to normality, all the while those around us are simply making things worse whilst angering and dividing those that once were so understanding. In its delivery it is perfect in its emotionful blow and even leads to Cartman changing his viewpoint. Of course President Garrison shows up briefly to underline how at the point of people finally coming together, his flame (both literal and not) divide everyone once more. The nonsensical actions of the president leaving everyone flabbergasted and floats in the air as the episode comes to a close.

The special episode, the only episode of the series to air this year, skillfully toes the line from the ridiculous to the emotional and as they so often do, the juggling act of anger, comedy and divisiveness are fresh due to the subject matter. This episode may not be remembered as one of South Parks best but it is indeed the perfect summation of how 2020 has affected not only us but those that have tried to exploit what is happening to us. It is not only worth a watch but the hidden details that I have not covered are worth a rewatch. Sometimes it is just easier to look around you and laugh, and South Park: The Pandemic Special makes that a little easier to do.

Contributed by Dan Golding

        South Park: The Pandemic Special is now available on Sky and NOWTV.

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