South Park rediscovered its energy in Season 19. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone took on specific issues — like overzealous Yelpers and passive aggressive Whole Foods employees — while goofing on politically correct culture, personified by the sensitive and boorish PC Principal. The moments glued together well to create a larger narrative, until the show reached its three-part season finale when it was ultimately revealed that advertisements are responsible for gentrification. While still entertaining — because South Park’s crass humor transcends its political agenda — Parker and Stone’s bold claims don’t fit together nicely because they’re a little too abstract for even them to pull off.
The finale began with the suggestion that advertisements had gotten smarter, adapting into sponsored content, which has distracted us from real news. Then, it seemed like political correctness may somehow be connected to the ads. Two-thirds of the way through the storyline, it was still unclear what the overall theme was. What was certain, however, was that Parker and Stone kept reminding the viewers just how terrible advertisements are.
In the finale, “PC Principal Final Justice,” they finally make the connection that sponsored content uses a friendly version of the world to get you through your day without looking at real, often tragic news. Similarly, gentrification is a watered-down version of life — full of artisanal goods — and political correctness is just modified language to keep people feeling safe and righteous. The conclusion is lackluster at best.
That’s not to say that Parker and Stone are entirely off-base. Their libertarian belief against groupthink shines through in each episode, but the final claims are too nebulous to be fulfilling. In fairness, their main beef is with ads, which apparently manipulate political correctness. Still, it’s quite a mental leap to say that political correctness is so destructive. PC Principal uses political correctness to bully people into behaving the way he wants them to. The irony of Season 19, however, is that, just as the PC frat does not actually foster a conversation of acceptance, Parker and Stone are too often just as steadfastly one-sided in their mistrust of the dogma. And so when they pull three distinct rabbits out of a hat — political correctness, gentrification, and sponsored content — and claim they’re essentially acting in unison to ruin our otherwise diverse thinking, it reeks of close-minded principled allegiance, as well.
What South Park does get right in its Season 19 finale is how each character needs a gun to talk about his or her feelings. Stan’s family has a standoff that ends in tears and understanding because someone finally listened to each person’s problems — because everyone was pointing and had a gun pointed at their heads. The moral is not that guns are good — they symbolize our desire to be heard at all times. We just often feel powerless to say what we really mean. So, in the episode, having a gun is a way to cut through the PC bullshit and speak truths.
South Park ultimately succeeded in its nineteenth season. It had amazing continuity — such as the Whole Foods, Historic Shi Tpa Town, and Butters’s girlfriend and neck brace — and it also used smaller moments to develop something larger. There did not need to be a dramatic sci-fi conclusion because each little bit — like how 24/7 safe spaces are not realistic — made sense when tied together.
In the final scene of the season, PC Principal promises to stick around for the foreseeable future, and Mr. Garrison, with his running mate Caitlyn Jenner, seems well on his way to becoming President of the United States. Hopefully, Trey Parker and Matt Stone continue to sow the seeds they planted with such a focused season. But they’ll need to reevaluate just how insane they want to get in Season 20. Because in Season 19, they bit off more than they could chew.
South Park doesn’t need to be so heavy-handed to be good. They tried, but the final results disappointed.