The latest season of "South Park" includes a bunch of new characters: "Member Berries" – cute, talking fruit that ease anxiety by referencing past pop culture.
With phrases like "'member 'Bionic Man?'" and "'member Chewbacca?" delivered in child-like tones, the literal comfort food provide a seemingly innocent respite from election-generated stress. Yet, the deceivingly ominous 'Member Berries, like the presidential vote they influenced in the parallel world of "South Park," upended expectations.
As Wednesday’s 20th season finale approaches, series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker keep raising expectations, two decades into their crude Comedy Central cartoon about a “quiet, little mountain town.”
Credit Parker and Stone with some smart zeitgeist tapping, via inter-linked plot lines tying the election, online trolling, misplaced nostalgia, misogyny and the meaning of patriotism into one exhilarating, messy package.
More kudos are due to them for pulling off their most ambitious run yet on the fly, responding to extraordinary currents events with speed more associated with a late night comedy show than an animated program.
This season gave us schoolteacher Mr. Garrison as a Donald Trump stand-in, whose plot to alienate voters backfires and gets him the job he never wanted.
The only thing more shocking than Garrison's ascension is mega-hater Eric Cartman's conversion to a sensitive feminist who dotes on his "smart and funny" fourth-grade girlfriend, Heidi.
He's terrified she'll find his misogynistic online rant about the women-dominated “Ghostbusters” remake if Denmark makes good on its threat to reveal everybody’s Internet history. The “Troll Trace” effort, which has already snagged Kyle’s secretly sleazy dad, Gerald (a.k.a. Skank Hunt) – seems to have folks more shaken than the prospect of the Garrison presidency.
Trump goes unmentioned, but the show targets inventor Elon Musk, who can't make those SpaceX rockets to Mars fast enough to help us escape the mess we've made of Earth. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem kneel-out gets skewered – but not as harshly as J.J. Abrams, whose 2015 retro-“Star Wars” reboot apparently rankled fanboys Parker and Stone.
The duo proved at their best this season best mocking soft-minded nostalgia, reminding us that at a time when cries of "Make America great again" triumphed at the polls, the good old days were an illusion.
Still, even in this brave new world, you won't need soma-like ‘Member Berries to one day fondly look back on “South Park” as great show that somehow got better with age.