South Park returns for season 21, setting its satirical sights on the white nationalist movement in a funny and caustic new episode.
The decision to open the new season of South Park by skewering white nationalists is a bit of a surprise, even though it's right up the show's alley. It comes after co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker said they wanted to take the long-running series away from the more political, serialized storytelling that defined its past two seasons with stories on PC Principal and the 2016 election, with Mr. Garrison serving as animated proxy for Donald Trump. The two were open about what they wanted the new batch of episodes to focus on, saying they hoped to get back to doing more one-off stories. 'White People Renovating Houses' shows just how caustic South Park can be and how precisely its jokes can land, even when sticking to the politically tinged, ripped-from-the-headlines style of season 20. But thankfully, the events of the episode don't necessarily lead into a larger story arc, certainly not one dominated by a presidential election or the likes of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Mr. Garrison.
Instead, the premiere uses the events in Charlottesville to inspire some scathing jokes at the expense of the mosquito-fearing, garden center-shopping marchers, while also putting the focus on members of South Park's own population, particularly the Confederate flag-waving mob convinced once again "their" jobs are being taken from a general "they". The "they" in this instance, however, are automated personal assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Home. "Whatever happened to people jobs?" Darryl shouts, inciting the angry mob, and creating a disturbance for Stan's dad, Randy Marsh, who's busy filming his new HGTV-esque home improvement show, 'White People Renovating Houses.'
The angry mob that Darryl instigates exemplifies everything that was seen and heard in Charlottesville in August, and the episode makes no attempt at being subtle in its depiction of it. The oft-repeated notion of economic anxiety even comes into play when Randy's attempts to silence the marchers prove futile, so he choses to meet them half way instead of pushing them off on the ice floe they're already on. The choice is made to replace all the automated personal assistants with the aggrieved nationalists, resulting in Jim Bob playing some acoustic Kendrick Lamar for Cartman, while a beer-swilling Darryl gets huffy when he's told by Randy to set a reminder for some subway tiles.
Darryl finds being a personal assistant undignified, and refuses to do the job he complained was stolen from him. Randy's first response is to tell Darryl, "You didn't go to college, so you have to take the jobs you can get. Coal mining and truck driving are not exactly jobs of the future." Like the joke about the Confederate flag, South Park isn't too concerned about the subtext of the situation as here straightforwardness works best.
At first the idea of Randy hosting a home renovation show feels a little out of left field (or on the nose, given the title), but the joke works better the longer the episode goes on, and the clearer it becomes that Randy would rather dress up something old and outdated than do what needs to be done – which is to just tear the whole thing down. In the end, Randy ends up sympathizing with Darryl and helps him by renovating his home, giving him and his cronies a space to call their own. The moment serves as criticism of those who excuse and bargain with such hateful rhetoric instead of denouncing it outright.
The joke builds nicely throughout the entire episode, suggesting the move away from Trump, Member Berries, and serialized storytelling is the right move for South Park. Season 20 spent so much time responding to the election it eventually began to feel completely bogged down by the need to answer only to the volatility of what was happening week to week. That was never more apparent than with 'Oh, Jeez', the episode that was hastily re-written in the wake of the election. As a result, there wasn't much room for South Park to be South Park. And while the season 21 premiere is primarily Randy-centric – aside from Cartman convincing himself he's the victim in his own relationship with Heidi – but still, the show is very much back to being focused on the denizens of its titular town.
In the end, 'White People Renovating Houses' proves that South Park's knives have clearly been sharpened, which hopefully promises more cutting humor in the weeks to come.
South Park continues next Wednesday @10pm on Comedy Central.