South Park’s ‘Time to Get Cereal’ Finally Corrects the Show’s Longest-Running Mistake

One of the things that people have been saying about South Park for decades is that they were fans of the show “until.” What followed was usually a specific episode that made fun of them or something they like. For a lot of people it was probably Douche and Turd, which made fun of voting and portrayed Republicans and Democrats as basically the same (they are). For others, it was probably one of the many, many episodes satirizing various religions. If I was one of those people, the episode that would have made me stop watching was ManBearPig.

The premise of the season ten episode was that global warming (represented by the eponymous ManBearPig) was a hoax and Al Gore was just exploiting people’s fear of something he made up for personal gain. Even in 2006 this was a bad take, and it was only a few weeks after Smug Alert!, an episode that admitted driving hybrids and electric cars is good even if the people who own them are smug assholes about it.

What really stuck with me, though, was that Parker and Stone never came out and said “oops, our bad, climate change is real and if we don’t do something we’re all going to die.” Sure, it’s not their responsibility, but when you get something that wrong, you’ve got to eat a little crow. South Park actually doubled down on the idea by having ManBearPig live with all the other fictional characters in the Imaginationland episodes. When Penn and Teller did a global warming denial episode of Bullshit in 2003, they later publicly admitted they were wrong and apologized. Parker and Stone never really did this.

That is, until this week. Time to Get Cereal features a plot about ManBearPig attacking citizens of South Park, and the boys have to find Al Gore to find out how to stop it. In probably the best line of the episode, and maybe the season, Gore tells them “You stop it all those years ago when I freaking warned you and you still had time!”

As the episode goes on, it lobs bombs at climate change deniers, like a scene with a guy explaining to his wife how ManBearPig isn’t real until ManBearPig bursts into the restaurant they’re eating in and starts killing people, at which point he admits ManBearPig is real and immediately starts saying there’s nothing they can do about it. It would be a lot funnier if Parker and Stone hadn’t been climate change deniers themselves until just now. I just had a conversation on Twitter last week about how disappointing it was that they’d never taken their stance back publicly. But better late than never.

The episode isn’t just Parker and Stone apologizing for being wrong about climate change (although there’s a lot of that), it’s also a really good episode in general with some of the shows best side characters. After ManBearPig kills one of the elementary school kids, Officer Yates investigates with his usual attention to detail: he calls it a school shooting and pins it on the softest target he can find, in this case Cartman and Kenny. He proceeds to ignore any other explanation because he just wants to arrest someone, hand the case over to the DA and go back to playing Red Dead Redemption 2. There’s also an appearance from Satan, who does a lot of the expository lifting. The bit of Satan showing up with a terrifying, booming voice and then calmly laying expository pipe to move the story forward will probably never get old.

Unlike the earlier episodes of this season, every gag and storyline works and it’s because Parker and Stone actually have something to say. A lot of episodes have sort of meandered forward and made half-made points about various issues. Giving the show a central thesis of “Hey, we fucked up and we’re sorry” made all the difference from earlier episodes like The Problem With a Poo. Time to Get Cereal is easily the strongest episode of the season, and it’s a good thing, because it appears to be the start of a three-part episode, which have historically been some of South Park’s best stories. I’ve always liked South Park and I even enjoyed the serialized seasons, but I haven’t been excited to see an episode end on a cliffhanger since season 17’s Black Friday trilogy, which punctuates what a home run this episode really was.

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