South Park returns to our screens once again for its seventeenth season (but Futurama wasn’t good enough to keep around, apparently). Holy hell. Now I think of it, I was seven years old when this show started. Oy vey. And with a snazzy new title sequence as well! Let’s hope it sticks, because it looks really nice.
In the premiere, South Park tackles the recent NSA controversy with an episode exploring the nature of privacy in the internet age. Cartman likes to tweet, blog, and/or Facebook his every thought to anyone who will listen, and to have loud speakerphone conversations incessantly, much to the chagrin of the other boys. When he hears about the NSA’s surveillance program, he becomes rather paranoid and hatches a plan to go undercover the NSA and blow the whistle on them. Butters, meanwhile, is comforted by the thought of the government watching over him, and it takes on a religious bent for him.
There’s some primo South Park silliness to be had here: Cartman’s brain implant to broadcast his thoughts without a keyboard, Alec Baldwin cutting off his thumbs to stop himself tweeting homophobic things, Butters confessing his sins at the DMV. Particularly funny are the Chinese Jehovah’s Witnesses that Butters converts to his weird little government worshipping religion. There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever for these Witnesses to be Chinese, but hearing the typical religious sales pitch through a stereotypical Asian accent makes it fifty times more hilarious. Even more so when they start helping Butters to evangelize the gospel of big government. It’s the kind of episode that gets quite a few smiles and chuckles but not big belly laughs. Well, except one thing: When Cartman visits the NSA, he’s shown exactly how the agency is able to keep tabs on so many people: they’ve got Santa locked away in a vault, plugged into some horrible machine. It is screamingly funny. It’s not something I would have ever seen coming, and yet it makes perfect sense within the bizarre little world of South Park. Clearly Park & Stone have not spent the summer sitting on their duffs.
Alec Baldwin’s inclusion is utilized rather well. Since only he and Cartman have purchased the Shitter brain implants, Cartman’s scenes are often interrupted by random non sequitur updates from Alec Baldwin, invariably involving banging someone or rambling on about faggots of some color or stripe.
The political message isn’t as pointed or one-sided as is usual for South Park. Both sides presented have their contradictory elements and nobody’s presented as being entirely, 100% right. Cartman is crusading to end the government’s surveillance of its citizens, which is certainly a noble goal. He also willingly waives that privacy by broadcasting everything he does and everything he thinks all over the internet. I think the key there is that at least Cartman gives up his privacy on his own. Butters isn’t presented as dumb for believing in the government either. Some people really do like to feel as though their leaders are keeping them protected and don’t mind giving up certain freedoms in exchange. On the other hand, the fanatical devotion to the state is painted as more than a little silly. It’s not a mindset I’ll ever understand, but still, as the DMV workers come to realize, at least they’re having fun with it.
“Let Go, Let Gov” was yet another fun outing from South Park and a great way to kick off a new season. The jokes all work, and the politics aren’t too preachy or heavy-handed. What more can you ask for?