Entertainment Weekly writer Darren Franich has dubbed the current 19th season of Comedy Central’s South Park the “best in a decade” because of the show’s relentlessness in attacking the current liberal, politically correct outrage culture in recent episodes.
South Park is six episodes into its 19th season. When I say this is the best South Park season in a decade, I don’t mean South Park is emerging from a creative dry spell, or that these are the six best episodes ever. We’re coming up on the 10th anniversary of “Trapped in the Closet,” an activist triumph that still influences how the culture talks about Scientology. “Britney’s New Look” is one of the best things anyone has ever said about how America treats pop stars. The two-part “Cartoon Wars” remains the definitive word on Family Guy. Every single thing that happens in “Fishsticks” is hilarious — even funnier now that nobody remembers Carlos Mencia.
But it’s never really made sense to view South Park as a “season” kind of show. That has changed, gradually and suddenly. After the occasional dalliance with serialized two- and three-parters, season 18 quietly built several running story arcs toward the finale. Last season also saw technology as a central topic. That may have been an accident: When I talked to Parker a couple months ago, he admitted to feeling a little bemused looking back over last season. “Every show had this running theme: We can’t keep up anymore,” he said.
Maybe that’s why, starting with the season 19 premiere, South Park has launched a sustained world-rebuilding narrative arc that doubles as a satire of the new wave of PC outrage. Political correctness isn’t a new target for South Park — you could argue it is the target — but what’s new is how the show keeps rooting its comedy in the larger changes underpinning its little mountain town.
Those changes start early in the premiere, “Stunning and Brave.” After 18 seasons, Principal Victoria has been replaced. Meet the new man in charge: PC Principal, a jacked-up fratboy activist who’s part motivational speaker and part thought-police stormtrooper. PC Principal’s first big speech is the show at its most meta, but the self-commentary has a purpose. Where “200”/”201” played with the show’s history, the Principal’s speech outright attacks it:
This place is lost in a time warp. Students who still use the word retarded. A teacher who said women without wombs should get an AIDS test. A chef person of color who the children had sing soul songs, and who the children drove to kill himself. Lemme ask you this. We’re in Colorado, right? Where are the Hispanic kids? Huh? WHERE ARE THE ETHNIC AND RACIAL MINORITIES? I Googled South Park before I came here, and I could not believe the s— you were getting away with. People claiming to be advocates of transgender rights, but really just wanting to use the bathroom. A white man who thinks he’s Chinese and built a wall to keep out Mongolians. What the f— is this? Are you f—ing kidding me? I’m telling you all, this is done. Like it or not, PC is back, and it’s bigger than ever! That’s the sound of 2015 pulling you over, people! Suck it!
There’s a simple joke at play with PC Principal: He’s the anti-bully bully, a white cisgender alpha male establishment figure who’s stated mission in life is to tear down the white cisgender alpha male establishment. And that joke could have powered one solid episode. “Stunning and Brave” is The Caitlyn Jenner Episode, but it’s not a Mel Gibson-style celebrity takedown. Longtime show conscience Kyle refuses to say that Caitlyn Jenner is a hero — which, in newly politically correct South Park makes him Public Enemy No. 1.
But the best thing about South Park season 19 is that the show clearly realizes that the central point of its comedy — our new politically correct culture — is also the central point of the new wave of reactionary animosity. The season’s second episode, “Where My Country Gone?”, is the least essential of this current run, but it served a purpose as a kind of protective shield. Should you ever find yourself accusing South Park of racism or sexism or any other kind of -ism, you will have to also acknowledge that South Park raped and murdered a Donald Trump caricature for laughs.
Check out the rest from EW here.