In the season 15 finale, South Park’s knack for nailing current events with satire is on full display. Matt Stone and Trey Parker leave no joke untold as they mercilessly attack the Penn State/Joe Paterno scandal that unfolded just days before the episode aired. The satire here is not at its finest, as most of the jokes are direct attacks on the awful events that transpired at Penn State, but episodes like these remind us how funny the show can be and that events like this are going to be met with the appropriate, scathing response.
The episode starts with Kenny and his siblings being taken into protective custody after his parents get drunk and start fighting again (the Pabst Blue Ribbon + white trash = getting arrested gags are great here). The Penn State jokes quickly erupt and don’t let up for the remainder of the show. Some complain that South Park has a tendency to run some jokes into the ground, and while that is certainly true in some instances, the Penn State jokes don’t stop being funny in this episode because of how big of a scandal this was; it’s good to see a pop culture juggernaut let everyone know how wrong this was and what better way than to make unrelenting inappropriate jokes?
With Kenny out of school, Cartman learns that he is the new poor kid, and his “yo momma” jokes that turn into “my momma” jokes at his own expense are classic. It was also hilarious to see someone finally make a comment about how Cartman says “Kyle” and “mom.” Meanwhile, Kenny and his siblings move into a new home with his agnostic foster parents, and South Park displays its ability to make fun of a group of people, even when the group of people being made fun of isn’t currently making news. The agnostic jokes about only drinking Dr. Pepper (“It is neither root beer nor cola, nobody is sure what flavor it is and nobody can be sure”) and the kids being correct when they respond with “I don’t know” to everything are great.
This episode also sees the return of Mysterion, who acts as a guardian figure for Karen, Kenny’s sister. It will be interesting to see how often we’ll see Mysterion and the Coon in the future, but for this episode, it was a nice touch to see Kenny so protective of his sister.
At this point, Cartman has gotten his mom arrested and heads to protective custody to be placed in a foster home to avoid being the poor kid in school. There he engages in a battle of “yo momma” and Penn State jokes with the protective custody guy (the best one is “On a scale from 1 to 10, how old do you have to be to stay away from Penn State?”).
All these jokes showcase South Park’s ability to take both old and new material and make it entertaining in inventive ways. Kenny’s death and the increased level of humor are all signs pointing to South Park returning to its old and successful comedic formula that fans have come to love over the years, while still finding ways to keep it fresh. A season finale like this should only increase fans’ faith that the future still looks bright for this 15-year-old show.