One year removed from the 2016 election has given “South Park” the perspective it needs, as Trey Parker and Matt Stone wasted no time in taking aim at how America harbors white supremacy in a biting Season 21 premiere.
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “South Park” Season 21, Episode 1, “White People Renovating Houses.”]
Following the events of Charlottesville in August, where a counter-protester was murdered at a white supremacist rally, the first episode of the new season focused on the rise of white nationalist ire that led to reinvigorated pride in the hate-filled cause. The episode opened by reintroducing the recurring mob of Confederate flag-waving rednecks, a staple of the series known best for shouting, “They took our jobs!” whenever the opportunity arises.
The latest “they” in that sentence are electronic personal assistants like Alexa and Google Home. Hordes of South Park residents are seen leaving their local Best Buy (an outdated concept, given the popularity of online shopping, but one that’s forgivable in light of the larger point), and the gaggle of jobless, lower-class white folk get angry.
“Every day, people are buying those Amazon and Google Home thingies while we lose our jobs,” one character says. “Whatever happened to regular people jobs?”
Well, why not ask Randy Marsh, the town bellwether who’s started a home renovation show with his wife, Sharon? Called “White People Renovating Houses,” Randy is upset by the protesters when they interrupt production on one of his episodes with their loud chants (including, “You will not replace us,” one of the cries heard by white supremacists in Virginia), and he takes them to court for damages.
“People are going to start relating ‘White People Renovating Houses’ with their stupid identity,” Randy tells the judge. “We’re trying to help people and it’s impossible when these people are waving their Confederate flag every chance they get.”
The episode makes the latter point bluntly, as the group meant to represent white nationalists use their giant flags to kill a fly in the courtroom and cool down a bowl of soup that’s too darn hot. But the true purpose of the satire becomes clear when Randy stops trying to attack the group and instead tries to accommodate them.
At first, Randy gets the the town to agree to ditch their Alexas and Google Homes, replacing the personal assistants with human personal assistants who pretend to do the same job, but draw the line when it threatens their moral beliefs.
“I ain’t doing it,” Darryl, the group leader, says. “This job is degrading and menial.”
“You did not go to college, so you have to take the jobs you can get,” Randy replies. “Coal mining and truck driving are not exactly jobs of the future, so add carrera subway tiles to my shopping list!”
But rather than stand his ground and force the group to accept the changing of the tides, Randy does what white people seem to only do for other white people: He compromises. Instead of letting them live in frustrated exile, Randy commiserates with someone who claims to be just like him. While Darryl is ranting about killing minorities because “Muslims are trying to kill us, black people are rioting, and Mexicans are popping out babies,” Randy lends a sympathetic ear and renovates Darryl’s home instead of tearing out the old foundation.
It’s surprising a joke about statues wasn’t made during the episode, considering how symbolic they’ve become as physical representations of hate in need of removal, but “South Park” still makes its argument loud and clear. As Darryl moans about how he doesn’t want to start over from nothing, Randy creates a new home for him and his buddies, so they can feel safe, complete with a Confederate flag throw pillow and a zen garden.
As the white supremacist protesters leave the public streets and retreat to their isolated but happy existence indoors, Randy ends the episode with an upbeat sign-off:
“No matter how bad the country gets, you can always count on white people renovating houses.”
“South Park” is never a show eager to let anyone off the hook, so it should come as no surprise that the premiere leveled its attack against the populace of Americans who are eager to distance themselves from white nationalists when they’re out in the open, but content to let them share hate speech within the privacy of their own homes. But hate speech is hate speech, and when left unchecked, it leads to disastrous results, as we all saw in Charlottesville, VA last month.
The rise of white nationalism has been highlighted in gut-churning documentaries like “Oklahoma City” and deep dives online, but the premiere of Season 21 actually succeeded for the same reason Season 20 struggled: timing. “South Park” was too close to the election last season, starting an arc under the assumption HIllary Clinton would be our next president and failing to recover when that didn’t happen. But Wednesday night’s episode arrives as the national discussion is moving on from an issue it can’t move on from; not again; not without risking a repeat offense.
“White People Renovating Houses” may not have unveiled an entirely new perspective — nor was its B-story about Cartman confusing love with a subservient girlfriend as successful — but it came at the right time and made its point with sharp, demonstrative humor. Freed from its serialized structure, “South Park” looks poised for an array of damning observations in the weeks to come — exactly when need it.
“South Park” Season 21 airs new episodes every Wednesday at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central.