South Park: “White People Renovating Houses” Season 21 Premiere Review

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South Park always has and hopefully always will strive to resemble America at its most average. Extraordinary things happen in this town, but things always revert back to the way they were. For a lot of people around the country, that’s probably still true. The season 21 (!!!) premiere’s sharp and even subtle takedown of that attitude proves that even after last year’s disappointing election season, this show has still got some of its creative juices left.

“White People Renovating Houses” gets its name from Randy’s new home improvement show (Randy using the term “open concept” as if it’s a revolutionary secret of interior design is a joke that never loses its shine). But this cozy, charming little show for white people to enjoy keeps getting interrupted by people waving that pesky Confederate flag. In an unexpected move, the white supremacists are not South Park‘s biggest target. Instead, the episode turns the critique onto the people who the Charlottesville protests didn’t scare, the folks who briefly shook their head at the news and then changed the channel back to HGTV, going about their daily existence. An anti-nazi premiere episode would have been an easy win for the series to start the new season one, but what they’re doing here is much deeper and, ultimately, more interesting.

Randy is the perfect vehicle to explore this viewpoint. Gullible yet dismissive, dramatic yet utterly mundane, Randy wouldn’t be affected by anything going on in this country right now, so his shenanigans haven’t altered a bit. He’s educated, white, and straight. So he just wants to go about his business renovating houses cheerfully enough to be on TV. In a way, Randy’s attitude is the ultimate metaphor for South Park having to adjust to satirizing a country that is actually a bit scary to live in right now. And yet, he remains so endearingly genuine that we never hate Randy, even though he’s ignoring society’s cancer in favor of people making the most of their space with an “open concept.”

The ending, with Randy smiling at the camera at a job well done while white supremacists party in the renovated home, seemingly falls into South Park‘s typical trap of rushing their endings and not quite drawing the episode’s various concepts together (Cartman’s prolonged breakup with Heidi has nothing to do with any of this). There was never a chance for “White People Renovating Houses” to solve the nation’s race problems, give all of America worthwhile jobs, and make those not paying attention take note. But the final shot is haunting. Randy is literally looking the other way and smiling. The moment lingers on longer than feels comfortable, but shouldn’t it be uncomfortable? It’s as if the show is looking its target in the eye and saying “you’re really going to let this happen?” It’s South Park at it’s most pointed yet most subtle, it’s most silly yet most smart, and maybe even it’s most shaken by the world around it. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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