South Park Hits Too Close to Home in “Pandemic Special”
TW: Mentions of Sexual Assault
Spoiler Warning: Duh, this is a review for a show I watched. What am I supposed to do? Not talk about the show and talk about crumpets?
Since 1997 South Park has tried to be the edgiest cartoon on the block. And for what it’s worth they’re usually a shoe-in for first place. With their latest installment they’ve tried to balance a nuance of shock and satire. The shock never really came, but something more did.
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The titular Pandemic Episode begins with Butters downtrodden because he can no longer go to Build-A-Bear due to the shutdown. Within the first few minutes they capture the dense fog of anxieties, confusion over protests, and the existential hopelessness that has become daily routine as Mr Stoch rants about masks, business closures, and vaccines. Goddamn, am I writing a review for a cartoon? Anyway, and then in comes Randy Marsh.
Randy gathers everyone in town to inform them of how well his weed farm is doing during the pandemic, and to unveil his new “Pandemic Special”. SPOILERS: It later turns out that Randy’s “special” is made by him masturbating into the weed jars before selling it to his customers. He then thinks this is a cure because he had fucked a pangolin in China, thus starting COVID. Which comes to the bigger point. At no point during this episode did any image shock me. On two different occasions they showed graphic video of Randy having sex with a bat and pangolin respectively while an anthropomorphic Mickey Mouse watches. This is not shocking because South Park has shown more than a few gross sex scenes. There’s an early episode where a group of NAMBLA members rape Kenny’s dad after he had ingested over the counter abortion drugs. Matt Stone and Trey Parker ran out of edge a decade ago.
The more poignant scenes were those that depicted actual everyday events that have become regular since quarantine started. Police officers using an extreme use of excessive force on children, children being held in internment camps, police trying to cover up murders, riots tearing communities apart, businesses closing left and right, eerie ghost town like cities, and a president that couldn’t care less about the country. Despite Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s best efforts to show these in the most graphic and excessive way it never hit harder than actual footage of police brutality that has become viral oh so many times over the last few months.
Even as the show progressed and showed more from the children’s point of view it touched on issues relating to children paying attention on zoom calls in classrooms, how social distancing may be having an adverse effect on the emotional stability of children, or how there’s no real safe way to open schools right now. As the show ended, it took a mostly somber note, as Randy has some time for personal reflection, almost to the point of maturing, just to be walked back in the last 10 seconds as they announce another special coming.
The episode did have a good few “he-he” moments. One particular bit was the chin diaper mask people, the people that only wear their masks around their chins instead of actually over the important parts. Another was again their version of Trump in Mr. Garrison, as he goes full conspiracy theory and tries to use COVID-19 to kill all Mexicans.
As far as how the episode is, in terms that assume pleasure is quantifiable, it is worth the amount of time it takes to watch. Some parts are funny, some parts are sad, but ultimately it’s just an echo of the lives we just lived.