South Park Stays Topical at Start of Twentieth Season

This article contains spoilers from South Park’s first episode of season twenty.

South Park returned Wednesday night with its twentieth season. As ever, the animated series’ creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker satirize politically correct culture and everything deemed righteous. PC Principal (a character introduced last season), Caitlyn Jenner, and Colin Kaepernick make appearances in the premiere episode, “Member Berries,” which tackles a plethora of current issues: the Black Lives Matter movement, the constant rebooting and introduction of “token” minority characters in TV shows and films, the denigration of female comedians, and the massive unpopularity of both presidential candidates (who are referred to as “Giant Douche” and “Turd Sandwich,” continuing the gag from a 2004 episode “Douche and Turd,” referring to George W. Bush and John Kerry).

The episode opens in the South Park Elementary school gymnasium, which is packed for a volleyball game due to the town’s interest in whether an African-American player will stand up or sit down for the national anthem. Inspired by the real controversy surrounding 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem to protest racial injustice, the entire team decides to sit down due to “online harassment.”

South Park has set up its new season nicely in advance of the presidential election, bringing in a wide variety of characters and themes, including a version of Donald Trump as character Mr. Garrison in hilarious orange-face, running as a “Giant Douche,” and Hillary Clinton as “Turd Sandwich.” NBC anchor Matt Lauer is parodied on the show, following his disastrous appearance at the Commander-in-Chief forum, this time actually fact-checking the “Giant Douche.” Director JJ Abrams also makes an appearance. In this plotline, he is asked by the American people to reboot the national anthem to “save America.”

Mr. Garrison celebrates with his running mate Caitlyn Jenner when poll data indicates his growing popularity (like Donald Trump’s recent rise), but begins to panic once he realizes he’s without a plan. Garrison angrily asks Jenner if she has a plan, and when she states she does not, he rages that he was going to give her full control over domestic and foreign policy. Jenner advises him to do something awful, to which Mr. Garrison responds, “every time I do something awful, people just get more stoked on me.” Garrison then vows to do all he can to get Hillary Clinton elected but laments, “why did the Democrats have to elect such a turd sandwich?”

The episode ends with JJ Abrams unveiling his new anthem for America, where everyone is asked to stand, sit, or take a knee, thus ensuring that everyone honors America, with no option to protest.

Based on the premier episode, South Park’s twentieth season shows great promise. Season nineteen’s serialization was wildly popular and critically acclaimed for capturing our “era of outrage,” as the New York Times put it. Readers very likely differ on whether the show is humanist, anti-humanist, or somewhere in between. The show irreverently takes on all monolithic ideas and skewers the righteous, and humanism is certainly about applying critical thinking to accepted truths. Critics will say, however, that the show lacks a certain compassion that humanism espouses. Regardless, Parker and Stone are back with their unique wit, style, and delivery style, ensuring that this latest installment will be one scintillating ride.

South Park airs Wednesday nights at 10PM on Comedy Central.