The entire marketing campaign for South Park’s 21st season has centered around a back-to-basics promise. According to promos and interviews with creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, it will be a season without serialization; a season with more silliness and less politics; a season without Donald Trump.
With those parameters now in viewers’ minds, it’s a bold move by Parker and Stone to feature white nationalists so prominently in the season premiere. While they may not be Trump in name, they played an undeniable role in his ascendance to the presidency. And after the events of Charlottesville—not to mention Trump’s own callous response to the violence that erupted—his name will forever be inseparable from their movement. “White People Renovating Houses” may not take on Trump directly, but it certainly takes on many of his supporters.
Then again, “takes on” is a generous term. That’s the problem with “White People Renovating Houses.” Parker and Stone’s Achilles heel is that they never figure out how to handle the white nationalists, portrayed here as Darryl and his posse of “THEY TERK ER JERBS” rednecks. This time around, they’re railing against Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and other virtual assistants that, in their minds, have rendered blue-collar workers useless.
Even though the rednecks are pitting themselves against technology rather than other races or ethnicities, they still use the same paraphernalia and imagery touted by the protesters in Charlottesville: tiki torches, Confederate flags, and Southern Nationalist shields are all in abundance during several marches through South Park. The rednecks turn to the same language, too, chanting “You will not replace us” and—in what perhaps constitutes a breaking of Parker and Stone’s no-Trump rule—claiming that the violence comes from “both sides.”
None of it results in much of a point other than that the rednecks’ bigotry and their aversion to technology both come from the same place. Both traits indicate that they’re incapable of changing with the times. Even when Randy—who has started a successful home makeover series with Sharon that gives the episode its title—helps them out by giving the virtual assistants’ duties back to the humans, Darryl can’t cope with it. None of his friends are as good at their new jobs (sorry, jerbs) as the virtual assistants were, and he’s not built for anything other than mining coal or driving a truck. As Randy points out, neither of those occupations look promising for the future. True, but not exactly a grand thesis.
And to be fair, not every episode of the show has to have some kind of grand thesis. “Scott Tenorman Must Die,” one of the universally agreed upon greatest episodes of South Park, has little to say other than Cartman’s far more evil than anyone previously thought. Even more recent episodes like “Cock Magic” have gotten by solely on raunchiness and doing away with all social commentary.
But Parker and Stone never take their redneck/white nationalist stereotypes far enough from the source material for it to work as a joke that can stand on its own. And because they borrow so heavily from the Charlottesville protests without ever fully skewering the participants, the episode doesn’t work as social commentary, either.
It’s telling that its most successful moments of the premiere are Randy enthusiastically sledge-hammering the houses he’s renovating and Cartman growing unjustifiably dead-eyed and tired in his relationship with Heidi. Outside of the parodying of home makeover shows, neither of these plot points have much to do with current events, let alone a still-raw, politically charged disaster like Charlottesville. As these subplots prove, Parker and Stone are more than capable of dreaming up an episode of Trump-free irreverence. They just need to fully commit to it.
- I’m wondering how the narrative could have shifted if not every one of the protesters was depicted as a sloppy redneck. Many of the marchers at Charlottesville appeared soft-spoken at first, with a modern, clean-cut uniform of white polo shirts and khakis. The lower-key look and demeanor would be more challenging—and thus potentially more humorous and interesting—for the South Park to make fun of.
- Hey, at least we got a country version of “HUMBLE.”
- I’m only familiar with a couple of those home makeover shows. Do any of the hosts actually practice MMA in their spare time?
- I know Parker and Stone are getting away from the serialized storytelling of the past few seasons, but I certainly wouldn’t mind it if the Member Berries somehow make their way into the next few weeks.
- Speaking of which, Mr. Garrison’s still president, right? If so, will he be featured at all this season? Or will Parker and Stone just put him back in the classroom and pretend the election never happened?
- I just started grad school, so my time in the comments section will unfortunately be more limited than usual this season. But as always, I look forward to hearing what you all have to say.