As Comedy Central's hit series South Park entered its 16th season this year, fans understandably wondered how much funny, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, had left in the tank. With strong viewership (more than two million per episode) for each of the seven spring run episodes, viewers are still loving the foul-mouthed fourth graders and were eagerly awaiting the show's return this fall. And there's even more South Park to look forward to, as the network renewed the show through season 20.
The fall run kicked off last night with "Sarcastaball", a satirical take on the current state of football in America, the new NFL rules focusing on player safety, and the corresponding reaction by fans. The episode also targets the egregious calls made by the NFL’s replacement officials last weekend.
Randy Marsh takes center stage in the episode as an angry NFL fan who inadvertently begins a movement to change the way youth football is played in South Park with his sarcastic comments about the safety of the children. After hearing the youth football league may eliminate kickoffs to avoid dangerous collisions, (which is an actual topic of discussion in the NFL this season) Randy sarcastically suggests that the boys should wear tin-foil hats instead of helmets, use a balloon instead of a ball and institute hugging in favor of tackling.
Of course, his sarcastic rant at the PTA meeting is taken seriously by Mackey and Principal Victoria, who name him the head coach of the first-ever Sarcastaball team. Randy's frustration over the wussification of the sport increases as he fails to control his sarcasm and sees Sarcastaball take the nation by storm, much to his chagrin. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell adopts the new version of the game and hires Randy to coach the Denver Broncos. As the coach, Randy continues to be sarcastic about his appreciation for Goodell’s safer policies.
Meanwhile, back in South Park, the kids Sarcastaball team soldiers on with Butters as its new coach. Butters, who admittedly sucks at all other sports, discovers his true calling with Sarcastaball, as he is generally regarded as the nicest kid in the town. Consequently, Cartman struggles with the game and with being compassionate to other teams, but is inspired by a Butters half-time speech advocating complimenting opponents, sportsmanlike conduct and cuddling-up instead of huddling-up.
As always, Parker and Stone take a stance on a current issue and topic of debate by treating it with a heavy dose of South Park brand satire. Their incredible and unprecedented week-by-week production schedule enables them to tackle social issues and current events like no other show on television, which again serves them well with "Sarcastaball", but it is the well-written characters like Randy, Butters and Cartman that wring humor out of every ridiculous scenario.
The episode and the show in general also does a good job of providing solid comedic bits that have a clear message, but don't alienate a large portion of the audience. Whether or not you agree with Parker and Stone that the new NFL rules make the game boring, it's still funny to see NFL players, like Peyton Manning and James Harrison, handing a balloon to one another in an attempt to earn points from the officials.
The episode does tend to hit the audience over the head a touch with the ongoing sarcasm and point of view on this topic, but at 21 minutes long, the humor in "Sarcastaball" doesn’t overstay its welcome. Overall, the episode’s biting satire and a discussion-worthy topic create another enjoyable half-hour of entertainment and add to an already laugh-filled season 16.
Be sure to catch South Park Wednesdays at 10/9 Central on Comedy Central, or online at South Park Studios.