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‘South Park’ Makes a Solid Return With Season Opener, ‘Dead Kids’

South Park has been fairly uneven since switching from an episodic to a serialized format in Season 18. While that first season worked out quite well, subsequent seasons have suffered from a lack of pay-off in hastily-written finales. The season 22 premiere, “Dead Kids,” proposes a season with much lower serialized stakes and hints that the main arc is about Cartman trying to prove that no one actually liked Black Panther.

Some of the best episodes of South Park, like “Fun With Weapons,” have been almost entirely about how far the show can take a single, dumb joke. That’s absolutely how tonight’s episode felt, with the A story relying on the idea of no one caring about school shootings except for Stan’s mom Sharon. The episode opens up with a SWAT team raiding South Park Elementary and the kids’ class doesn’t even stop math class as it happens around them. In fact, no one in the entire town can understand why Sharon is even upset as shooting after shooting happens at the school and more and more kids are killed.

Throughout the episode, Randy insists Sharon just has PMS, and later menopause, and follows her around trying to signal to everyone that she’s acting crazy because of her lady problems. Sharon gets madder and madder that no one cares about kids being murdered in school, and the big punch line at the end of the episode is Sharon apologizing to Randy, admitting that she was just upset about school shootings because of her period and then not really caring when she gets a call and finds out Stan was shot in school. It’s not as big of a laugh line as some other episodes with this structure have had, but it’s still a really good pay off to the episode’s commentary on how we’ve given up on the idea that we can do anything to stop school shootings.

The B story is also a classic South Park bit that’s been done before and is almost always funny, this is when Cartman being dumb and racist turns out to be right. In this case, Cartman is trying to prove Token saw Black Panther in order to blackmail him into letting Cartman cheat off of him in math class. Cartman eventually comes to the conclusion the reason Token is denying having seen it is because he, like Cartman, didn’t like the film and doesn’t want anyone to know. Cartman’s vow to himself to expose how more people are just pretending to like Black Panther appears to be setting up this season’s arc.

The best scene of the episode is the one where the A and B stories meet. Late for math class, Cartman and Token are delayed by another shooting and have to run through it to get to class on time. Butters carrying an assault rifle as part of his hall monitor duty is a great visual touch to the episode, and having him lay suppressing fire so Cartman and Token can get to math class highlights the absurdity of the situation.

Sort of like the Netflix series American Vandal, your enjoyment of this episode will depend on how funny you find the image of everyone just going about their business as there are fatal shooting going on within earshot every day. Like American Vandal, I think Parker and Stone manage to pull it off and it’s a good, but not great, opener to the season.

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