Home / Action Plan / ‘South Park’ Review: Season 21 Finale Parodies ‘It’ and ‘Stranger Things’ in Funny But Toothless Ending

‘South Park’ Review: Season 21 Finale Parodies ‘It’ and ‘Stranger Things’ in Funny But Toothless Ending


Another season of “South Park,” another finale with unresolved plot lines. After last year’s election upset through the season into turmoil, the 2017 run aimed to avoid similar complications by steering clear of predictions, overly serialized plots, and the president in general. No, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone weren’t ever going to leave Donald Trump out of “South Park,” but they weren’t going to make him the sole focus — not again.

In the finale, this decision felt more defeatist than freeing, as casually incorporated parodies of “It” and “Stranger Things” couldn’t overcome a final message that mirrored their premiere, minus the bite, and felt like a collective shrug: The Whites are America’s problem, and there’s no telling what they’ll do next.

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “South Park” Season 21, Episode 10, “Splatty Tomato.”]

Following last week’s Kyle-inspired nuking of Toronto, the Season 21 finale picked up with a country in disarray. The president is hiding out in South Park, scaring little kids by asking for information on his approval numbers, which are in the tank because of his ego-fueled attack on Canada.

The citizens agree they want the president out of town, except for one family: the Whites. The Whites feel like they’re being left behind by a society who doesn’t care about them anymore. They still support the president because “he’s still better than Hillary” and “at least he’s trying to save Christmas.”

With the adults unable to get anything done, it’s yet again up to the kids to save the day. Luckily, they know just what to do: “We all need to go out into the woods and save the town from evil set to some kick-ass ‘80s music,” Stan says. How do they know that’s the solution? Because they saw “It” and “Stranger Things,” of course. (Neither are prominently parodied in the episode, but the red balloon reading “Make America Great Again” is a pretty solid touch.)

After some dreadfully bad period music (aside from the ’85 Chicago Bears classic, “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” which I get is still meant to be bad music), a hunt through the woods, and some soul-searching by Wendy, the president is captured and brought into town by Ike, the Canadian hero. Wendy wisely breaks up with Eric after coming to understand who she really is, but with the townsfolk distracted by Principal P.C. and Vice Principal Strong Woman hooking up, the Whites steal the sheriff’s gun and the president gets free.

“He’ll be even more desperate now. It’s going to be worse,” Randy says.

“We can’t destroy him, can we?”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s up to… the Whites,” Randy says.

South Park Season 21 Finale Episode 10 It Stranger Things

Ending on a line that starts with “I don’t know” is rarely a good sign for a series as outspoken as “South Park.” Its point is well taken: Common sense needs to get through to the white men and women who keep allowing Trump to let loose, whether it’s a manipulated fan base or a feeble Republican party.

“Bob, come on, you know it’s not safe to have him here,” Randy tells Mr. White. His tone is dejected, his voice tired from repeating the same thing over and over again. Nothing seems to get through to the Whites, and that’s certainly a relatable frustration, but it’s not scathing social commentary or cathartically satisfying comedy.

In the first episode, “South Park” took a strong stance shortly after a protester was killed in Charlottesville. It outlined how America harbors white supremacy; a difficult idea for a lot of people to wrap their heads around, but one thoroughly conveyed during the episode — as opposed to Episode 10. Why half of a divided country would continue to back the blubbering Cheeto-in-Chief is a less complex argument to make; this is a country where sides are drawn, no one wants to be wrong, and power is coveted more than principles. Of course people are still defending a powerful man, even when he could get us all nuked at any moment. He’s still the “better option” for some of them, no matter how crazy that sounds to a growing majority.

The only challenging idea brought to the finale was about victimhood, and that point became clouded by a lack of focus and a problematic C-plot. “I let being a victim become a way of life,” Wendy said, right before breaking up with Cartman. While her responsible decision to hold herself accountable was meant to be taken in stark contrast to the Whites’ utter refusal to back down from their perpetual claims of being forgotten, ignored, or mistreated, the denouncement of victimhood still felt poorly timed to current events.

Wednesday morning, victims of sexual harassment were celebrated as “The Silence Breakers” in Time’s “Person of the Year” issue. “South Park” isn’t blaming them by any means, but pointing out that playing the victim and being one is a fine line to walk and the episode stumbled a bit. Now might not be the time to talk about victims so much as it’s the time to point out that frustrated white voters are frustrated for the wrong reasons.

Adding further complications to the final point was Principal P.C. and Strong Woman’s coupling or, more accurately, the reaction to it. As soon as Strong Woman entered “South Park,” she felt like a ticking time bomb. Parker and Stone have been honest about how their show “marginalized” women in the past, so they weren’t going in blind. But Strong Woman’s biggest joke still played into a male perspective; she chided Principal P.C. for interrupting her; she embarrassed him in front of the students; she turned into his object of desire and — despite her early rejection — came to lust over him uncontrollably.

When the townsfolk found out, they couldn’t stop vomiting. The show’s point is clear: Yes, office romances happen, and yes, they’re unavoidable. But is anyone really overreacting to them? Is P.C. culture smothering relationships? To make fun of people being overcautious during a time when sexual harassment claims are flooding every industry seems poorly timed. Did anyone really need a reminder that sometimes love is pure, even at work? And did they need that reminder more than one about how men in power often take advantage of it?

One could argue the Principal and Vice Principal were also falsely embodying victims; that “South Park” was mocking their perceived need to hide something that could be cleared up with a few honest discussions. But even if that’s the intention, it isn’t exactly a vital cause.

Parker and Stone have always skewered everyone. They’ll go after the easy targets, like Trump, and the hard targets, like P.C. culture. Over 21 years, they’ve proven themselves incredibly smart and savvy satirists, and Season 21 had plenty of shining moments. (The premiere and “Hummels & Heroin” stand out.) Perhaps expecting answers to unanswerable questions is too much to ask from an adult cartoon, but it seems fair to expect more than a shrug.

Grade: B-

“South Park” Season 21 is streaming now on CC.com and Hulu.

Check Also

‘Black Panther’ Scorches Box Office Records, Sets the Bar for 2018 and Beyond


Marvel’s “Black Panther” (Disney) arrived with a record-breaking bang at the 2018 box office, outperforming pre-opening estimates for its three day U.S./Canada opening.

Check out its all-time records: “Black Panther” bests “Deadpool” by more than $50 million as the best February and pre-March opening weekends ever. It tops last year’s “Beauty and the Beast” as the best pre-May debut of all time. It nearly doubles “Furious 7” as the best opening for a black-directed film. It is triple the best previous record (held by “Straight Outta Compton”) for initial weekend of a film with a primarily black cast.

Those numbers will be re-counted when Sunday’s actual numbers are reported, plus the boost the movie will get from a four-day semi-holiday on Monday. And adjusting to an even playing field still leaves “Black Panther” remarkably (considering the month of release) among the ten best openers ever.

“Black Panther”

Ryan Coogler’s breakout film “Fruitvale Station” did well in limited release and commercial sequel “Creed” marked a decent wide release. But “Black Panther”‘s grosses are seismic and game-changing for the director. The movie is the biggest non-“Star Wars” opener since “Jurassic World” (with a prime June release date) nearly three years ago. Yes, “Black Panther” comes from within the lucrative comic book universe of adaptations, but by those high standards it ranks #4 (adjusted) after both “Avengers” films and “Spider-Man 3.”

There have been 13 Marvel or D.C. Comic book releases since “Avengers: Age of Ultron” opened to (an adjusted) $204 million in May, 2015. A majority have opened over $100 million (including similar game-changer “Wonder Woman.” But no comic book movie since (the best off-season opener “Batman v. Superman” opened to an adjusted $178 million, “Deadpool” $141 million), despite showcasing a who’s who of comic world characters (“Thor,” “X-Men,” “Spider-Man” and the ensemble in “Suicide Squad”) boasted the appeal of this long-overdue all-black cast of heroes and villains starring in an African myth.

The huge initial interest that propelled many fans to Thursday night and Friday shows likely account for a Saturday decline somewhat above some other recent Marvel and D.C. titles. The falloff was 13 per cent (from a higher starting point from most others) for its second full day from the initial totals. “Thor: Ragnarok” dropped  five per cent, “Wonder Woman” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” eight per cent.

But “The Avengers” also boasted an A+ CInemascore and dropped slightly more (14 per cent) on its initial Saturday on its way to a domestic total that was triple its opening (adjusted, its domestic total was just over $700 million).

Can “Black Panther” repeat that kind of long-term performance? There’s no way to judge after two days. The four-day totals will give a hint, but next weekend will be more key to assessing the future.

But even a standard ultimate showing (which would leave this somewhere around $500 million domestic – about 25 per cent above “Wonder Woman”) would change the rules about what American moviegoers want to see. “Black Panther” will elevate a wider range of stories, including Hollywood’s core big-budget action adventures. Yes, there has been a steady supply of black-centered releases going back to blaxploitation in the 1970s, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy lead the way in the 1980s and so on. But these often have come with non-minority creative control, and usually with lower budgets and compensation for many principles based on perceived economics.

"Black Panther"

“Black Panther”

The main excuse for not green-lighting similar films with the $300 million plus production and marketing costs expended on “Black Panther” is the resistance seen historically to black-centered films overseas. The foreign market for top-end productions (though not the “Star Wars” series) is expected to provide roughly two-thirds of the total gross for high end films. “Panther” debuted in a majority of the world, though not the key territories of China, Japan, or Russia yet.

The gross for these initial territories came in a little less than the domestic return ($169 million). What happens in the remainder of them will be important. But it would be reasonable at this point to anticipate at least $400 million overseas, along with at least that much (low end total) domestic. That would put the film at over $800 million worldwide. That total wouldn’t have placed it quite in the global Top Ten for 2017 (it would be about the same as the most recent “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which soared overseas and was similarly expensive). “Wonder Woman” did $812 million combined, with a similar domestic/foreign split. And it’s good enough, to put it mildly, even if the domestic share is higher than usual. It just might take longer for foreign to catch up.

The performance boosted year-to-date numbers, which had fallen below 2017 so far, to a boost of over five per cent (by the time different week day calendars balance out by midweek). “Panther” made up about two thirds of ticket sales (a lower total that the better than 75 per cent share “The Last Jedi” took in its pre-Christmas weekend.)

Early Man

Drowned out by the film was Nick Park’s Aardman animation “Early Man” (Lionsgate), which could only take in an anemic $3,150,000. It was hurt among kids by the draw of the second weekend of the less sophisticated “Peter Rabbit” (Sony), which managed as decent $17,500,000 and a 31 per cent drop.

“Fifty Shades Freed” (Universal), last week’s #1, dropped 56 per cent to fall behind “Early Man” slightly. Buried among the figures during the week though was the film’s dominance on Wednesday (Valentine’s Day). It grossed nearly $11 million, more than half of the day’s business as the clear film of choice to drag men to that night.

Long-running hits “Jumanji: Welcome to the Club” (Sony) and “The Greatest Showman” (20th Century Fox) both dropped around 20 per cent, a bit above their recent average but both amazing holds for films around since Christmas. But they needed company going forward, assuming that “Panther” has decent legs, since they can’t be expected to sustain theaters that much longer.

“Early Man”

The Top Ten

1. Black Panther (Disney) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic: 88; Est. budget: $200 million

$192,023,000 in 4,020 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $47,767,000; Cumulative: $192,023,000

2. Peter Rabbit (Sony) Week 2; Last weekend: #2

$17,250,000 (-31%) in 3,725 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,631; Cumulative: $48,223,000

3. Fifty Shades Freed (Universal) Week 2; Last weekend: #1

$16,940,000 (-56%) in 3,768 theaters (no change); PTA: $4,496; Cumulative: $76,134,000

4. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Sony) Week 9; Last weekend: #

$7,945,000 (-21%) in 2,800 theaters (-336); PTA: $2,838; Cumulative: $377,624,000

5. 15:17 to Paris (Warner Bros.) Week 2; Last weekend: #

$7,685,000 (-39%) in 3,042 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,526; Cumulative: $25,433,000

6. The Greatest Showman (20th Century Fox) Week 9; Last weekend: #5

$5,100,000 (-21%) in 1,936 theaters (-437); PTA: $2,634; Cumulative: $154,478,000

7. Early Man (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 68; Est. budget: $50 million

$3,150,000 in 2,494 theaters; PTA: $1,263; Cumulative: $3,150,000

8. Maze Runner: The Death Cure (20th Century Fox) Week 4; Last weekend: #6

$2,525,000 (-59%) in 1,891 theaters (-1,032); PTA: $1,335; Cumulative: $54,005,000

9. Winchester (Lionsgate) Week 3; Last weekend: #7

$2,230,000 (-57%) in 1,471 theaters (-1,001); PTA: $1,508; Cumulative: $21,860,000

10. Samson (Pureflix) NEW – Metacritic: 17; no budget estimate reported

$1,972,000 in 1,249 theaters; PTA: $1,579; Cumulative: $1,972,000

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *