“We’re sure this is for real, right?”
In the past two days, many have uttered this sentiment, spoken in an incredulous daze by Randy Marsh. South Park’s breakneck turnaround speed is uniquely suited for timely statements, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone wisely open this episode with the American people’s shell-shocked reaction to Donald Trump’s victory, represented here by an orange-faced Mr. Garrison who accidentally gets himself elected.
There’s plenty of room for outright satire in “Oh Jeez” — seconds later, one of the stunned onlookers wastes no time in blowing his own brains out with a pistol — but in the episode’s most disarming moments, the focus lies in sincere shock. “This isn’t how it was supposed to happen,” they mutter. It’s all too easy to recognize that fear and feeling of instability. It’s almost an unironically poignant moment, a rarity for the denizens of South Park.
Until Garrison, flanked by Caitlyn Jenner, jolts us back into unreality: “Now let’s begin fucking them all to death!”
Sincere undercurrents of worry course through “Oh Jeez,” and the most effective antacid Parker and Stone can offer is their unique brand of anarchic profanity. The opening minutes of the episode deal most directly with Donald Trump’s shocking rise to power, but a pivot to a gleefully stupid espionage parody puts South Park back in its sillier register, at the cost of losing the topicality.
It’s worth noting that Parker and Stone, as fully indicated by all the “First Gentleman Bill Clinton” jokes in last week’s installment of this two-parter, expected a Trump loss and scripted accordingly. Lots of hasty revisions resulted in a sketchy B-plot about a Gentleman’s Club fronted by soft-shoeing songsters Bill Clinton and (gulp) Bill Cosby, which meant that Trump-specific material got the short shrift.
“Oh Jeez” saves a little face, however, with a plotline specifically lampooning the practice of recreationally being a piece of garbage online, known colloquially as “trolling.” The nearby town of Fort Collins has been hacked by an organization called Troll Trace, which automatically outs the most scandalous parts of everyone’s search-engine history. The Troll Trace story line cracks a lot of jokes about the various depravities hidden on South Park browsers, from urine fetishes to misogynistic hate speech. It’s the latter that a shadowy government agency pins on Gerald, who’s abducted and brought to the derelict space under the bridge where Hillary Clinton lives, in one of the episode’s better comic touches.
Gerald’s fashioned into a debonair-ish secret agent and tasked with infiltrating Troll Trace to uncover their secrets before the men of South Park are outed as deviants. Unfortunately, Parker and Stone don’t make any especially incisive points about where such cretinism comes from, or how it operates. Like the Black Mirror episode “Shut Up and Dance,” the commentary doesn’t get much farther than “trolling is bad, mmmkay?” before resorting to its own twisted little joke at the close. Black Mirror offered a devastating, Radiohead-scored montage of personal ruination; South Park has, well, you know. It’s not quite a cop-out, but it’s certainly not as sharp as the standard the show sets for itself.
Still, the more arresting election material and the more pointed ironies of the trolling B-plot dovetail nicely in Cartman’s mad scramble to keep his girlfriend Heidi from discovering all the heinous things he’s said about women online. His efforts to hide this information turn from a deception to a sincere effort to be a better person, culminating in a tender exchange between them:
Heidi: “I just feel so disconnected from the world, you know? I really thought this was gonna be the moment that proved girls can do anything.”
Cartman: “You can’t stop believing that. Now, more than ever, you have to stay strong.”
This glint of actual intimacy cuts through the episode’s generally thick smog of fear, like a brief respite from a grim future. And then, of course, Parker and Stone must shatter the moment as only they can, with Butters “pressin’ pickle” against a variety of glass surfaces.
“Oh Jeez” doesn’t hit hard enough and directs most of its firepower toward questionably worthy targets, but for scant minutes at a time, it captures the terror of our current political moment with immediacy. Posterity favors those who get there first, and these foul-mouthed paper cutouts scooped Saturday Night Live by three days.