“You’re playing Red Dead Redemption 2?”
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
Apparently Season 22 really is the year South Park revisits its greatest hits. We’ve already had episodes geared toward old favorites like Mr. Hankey and Towelie. And now in one week we get the long-awaited returns of both Satan and Al Gore. And along the way, “Time to Get Cereal” proved there’s still some gas left in that old ManBearPig tank.
If it wasn’t obvious already that Manbearpig is basically just a metaphor for climate change and the public’s reluctance to take activists like Al Gore cereal, this episode made that pretty darned explicit. It’s a well-joke at this point. This episode marks the third time the series has focused on the Al Gore/ManBearPig rivalry. But given the recent news headlines about how the world is basically screwed on the climate change front now, it’s a gag that feels more timely and more meaningful than ever.
It’s also one that feeds very nicely into the current season’s recurring focus on school shootings. As much as South Park can be guilty of running good jokes into the ground through overuse, the school shooting “humor” this season never gets old. The show continues to be right on the mark by making fun of the chronic inaction and growing disinterest surrounding what’s become a major public health crisis. Throwing climate change into the mix just makes sense. And at this point it’s hard to know whether to laugh out or just feel deep, existential dread when you hear lines like “A school shooting outside of school? That’s the one place kids are supposed to be safe!”
I appreciate that there’s a somewhat self-deprecating quality to the climate change metaphor here. Back in the original “ManBearPig” episode, Gore was basically treated as an attention-starved goofball on a fool’s errand. Between that and an episode like “Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow,” you could argue that the series has been pretty dismissive of climate science in the past (though the latter episode is more about making fun of the mindless hysteria surrounding the issue). But this time around, the message is essentially, “We all should have listened to Al Gore when we had the chance, and now we’re pretty much SOL.” You really have to admire this show’s ability to pay off on an old plot thread more than 12 years down the road.
Plus, both Gore and Satan are just great characters. As much as this episode is about showing how Gore was right all along, it also continued treating him as a lonely, socially awkward weirdo who just wants attention and validation. That Olive Garden party scene was a hoot. And as for Satan, it never stops being hilarious to see the character transition from fire and brimstone and booming displays of power to affable, well-mannered supporting player.
It was also a hoot seeing Red Dead Redemption 2 pop up as a recurring gag throughout this episode. On one hand, it’s obvious the writers were using it as a chance to flaunt the show’s unparalleled ability to reference the trending topics of the week. But the RDR2 references made for a pretty amusing bit of connective tissue. School shootings and ManBearPig massacres are just nuisances getting in the way of everyone’s gaming time. I especially enjoyed the domestic blowup between Sergeant Yates and his stereotypically Irish wife.
In another nice surprise, the whole ManBearPig storyline wound up setting up this season’s big multi-part epic. The writers dug in even deeper with the climate change metaphor by revealing ManBearPig to be the result of a Faustian bargain by one generation that a younger generation now has to fix. And if continuing this conflict for another week or two means more of the Al Gore/Satan alliance, so much the better.