South ParQ

South ParQ: Pandemic and Vaccination Specials

South ParQSouth Park’s creators have hit the mark, yet again, while depicting our current cruel reality into two one-hour long specials on Comedy Central, with the most recent one airing on March 11. Usually, South Park episodes can take our day-to-day life and exaggerate it to satirical extremes, but with how much has been thrown our way in the last year, the jokes hit too close to home. But it might have been the remedy we all needed.

Last year, with the stay-at-home orders in place, the creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, decided to give us an hour long special instead of their yearly episode filled season. Titled “The Pandemic Special,” it tackled all the points we were stacked against, from the mask debates, the presidential election, racial inequality, Zoom calls, and just wanting to smoke some nice “Pandemic Special” weed curated by Tegridy Farms’ owner Randy Marsh.

While what seemed to be a standard satirical episode with “chin diaper” masks and police defunding causing the shooting of the only Black character, the show did something it had never done before.

While always maintaining their political stance as both sides being evil (“Douche” on one side and “Turd” on the other), they broke the fourth wall and urged people to vote.

The creators knew that things were looking bleak, and while staying on brand, they used this to their advantage to poke fun at what was going on but also examine the severity of the situation. One way was by promoting their first special by having cardboard cutouts of their entire cast, sitting in the Denver Broncos stadium for one of the games, socially distanced and wearing masks.

Almost exactly one year later since the pandemic hit us hard, they released their second COVID-themed episode, “South ParQ Vaccination Special.”

The small town in Colorado has now received the hottest item on the market, the coronavirus vaccine. With lines that go on for miles, the pharmacy has turned into the most exclusive place in town, where only senior citizens can pass the bouncer.

The show does a wonderful job at expressing how we are feeling at this point: tired. Teachers are frustrated about going back in class and not qualifying for a vaccine, kids just wanting to go back to normal and “guess 2021 is gonna be just like 2020.”

Not only does it discuss our inner frustrations, but it tackles all the anger and uncertainty we have been experiencing.

South Park brings up the QAnon conspiracy theorists, bipartisanship in news coverage and even the storming of the Capitol, by recreating the infamous shirtless man with the fur headdress in the show.

2020 was so harsh, even in this fictional world, that it has broken apart the iconic “bro-ship” of Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny, after spending much time away from each other. While they still manage to do their crazy schemes and pranks throughout the episode, they ultimately part ways, while sharing custody of Kenny, “to give Kenny the best possible life.”

It seems like the only people having a good time are the senior citizens. Being the only ones receiving vaccinations, they begin to wreak havoc in town.  The nightclubs and bars are theirs to use, with no mask or risk of catching COVID, and they don’t let you forget it. Their lives and some sense of youth are back, and they are ready to take on the world.

Even Mr. Garrison (the 45th President of the United States) has made a comeback, wanting things to return to normal, and for people to not remember that he was the Commander-in-Chief not so long ago. Playing the stand-in President Trump for the last five seasons, he returns with no remorse, or recollection of what he had did. He just wants to teach the kids, just like the old times.

The show ends with a series of self-aware jokes, and the discussion if things can go back to normal, not just in real life, but also in the show. South Park has been experimental throughout the last 24 years, and some fans have been critical of it.

The episode ends with Mr. Garrison back in his original form and revealing an old friend, Mr. Hat, who hasn’t been seen on the show for 11 years.

According to ScreenRant, the puppet character abandonment has been an indication of Parker and Stone “moving away from the surrealism of early South Park to more topical satire.”

Could this be the return of a more traditional South Park, the nostalgia we are yearning for in our lives, or the sense of normality we have been craving? We’re going to have to continue tuning in to find out.

The “Vaccination Special” turned out to be cable’s top 2021 show among young adults, reaching 1.73 million viewers on opening night. The special can be seen on Comedy Central or on HBO Max.