Photo: Comedy Central

Over the past year, South Park has often bitten off more than it can chew when it comes to current events. Tonight’s episode takes on the fear of sexual harassment allegations in the workplace, Netflix’s endless greenlighting of new series, the threat of nuclear war, and probably a few things I’m forgetting. And surprise, surprise, it’s as unfocused and exhausting as it sounds.

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But it’s also a semi-accurate representation of our news cycle. While “Super Hard PCness” doesn’t actively comment on the staggering amount of nightmarish shit that gets covered on a daily basis, it still captures where we’re at, at least tonally. If climate change wipes us out in the next century and some alien race discovers our remains, they need only watch season 21 of South Park to get an idea of what the world was like in 2017.

Many of you will scoff at that, so let me reiterate: I’m only speaking in terms of tone. When bad news erupts like an endless geyser from televisions, phones, and computers day in and day out, life can sometimes feel like a violent and confusing cartoon. It can sometimes feel like an episode of South Park.

Whether it feels like an entertaining episode of South Park is another matter altogether. That’s where “Super Hard PCness,” like “White People Renovating Houses” and “Franchise Prequel” before it, falters. There’s a lot to make fun of in the world right now, and when Parker and Stone try to take on too much at once, it leaves little room for humor and a cohesive story. The weaker episodes of season 21 all the have the same thing in common: they feel like a series of vignettes rather than unified, digestible installments.

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When isolated, some of these loose threads in “Super Hard PCness” function as successful mini episodes. PC Principal, for example, falls for his new Vice Principal, the bluntly named Strong Woman. As much as he praises her strength, he constantly interrupts her and is too distracted by Hootie & The Blowfish’s “Hold My Hand” playing in his head (it’s his “Dreamweaver”) to hear what she’s actually saying.

So many men are guilty of this—of not genuinely listening to women despite identifying as allies. When paired with the MOR absurdity of the Hootie song—which gets so persistent that PC Principal has to see a doctor—it has all the makings of a classic South Park segment. But when the arc becomes about PCP’s fear of being accused of sexual harassment, then pivots to Mr. Mackey being attracted to an HR consultant who’s his doppelgänger, it all becomes too much for one half-hour to handle. Even worse, it never dovetails with the other storyline (one of them, anyway) of Kyle’s crusade against Canada.

It starts when he becomes the butt of the joke after not laughing at Netflix’s new Terrance & Phillip special with his friends. Eerily echoing his mother’s actions in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Kyle blames the innocuous fart jokes—and the country they hail from—for his own unhappiness, and soon finds himself debating with the Canadian Prime Minister on national television.

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Kyle’s heel turn stings, not only because he’s usually the voice of reason, but because it comes from a place of pitch-black self righteousness. During one of his tirades, it comes out that he’s still smarting over Heidi going back to Cartman, revealing that his mission is less about good taste and more about his own entitlement getting the best of him. He manages to appeal to Garrison’s own poisonous feelings over the phone, and the episode ends with the president nuking our neighboring country.

That final sequence almost strikes a haunting note, despite Hootie & The Blowfish playing over it, or maybe because it has Hootie & The Blowfish playing over it. Only when the people of Canada are reduced to ash does Kyle realize what he’s done. But the revelation never has as much weight as it should because the rest of the episode feels so scattered; because it all feels so separate from the big gut-punch moment. Maybe Parker and Stone could stand to watch less of the news.

Stray observations

  • I laughed at the geriatric speed of Terrance and Phillip’s fart jokes way more than I should have.
  • Also, having them age when no one else does is some damn brilliant cartoon logic.
  • Although we get real Hootie, we get fake Michael Jackson (sorry, Mr. Jefferson) via an anti-doody parody of “Man In The Mirror.” 
  • Does anyone know if VP Strong Woman was voiced by someone outside of the (very small) main voice cast?
  • Glad to see Mr. Mackey’s gotten over Ms. Choksondik.
  • “I work with her, so it would be impossible for me to like her”
  • “HR. Is that like ‘Hootie Removal’?”

 

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