Shows create pandemic specials


Courtesy of HBO Max

Throughout 2020, production in the television industry has been put to a serious halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing restrictions have suspended production for many shows, such as Stranger Things, Shameless, and The Handmaid’s Tale. Yet, with cartoon programs, specifically South Park, the show can go on, and with an episode prompted by the coronavirus.

South Park has been adored by viewers for years because of its ability to simultaneously use dark humor and promote messages society needs to hear, even if the situation is as gloomy as COVID-19. “The Pandemic Special” did not disappoint these expectations, and if anything, exceeded them.

The 47-minute episode, available for viewing on HBO Max since September 30th, unfolds how people are dealing, individually, with the pandemic. Eric Cartman loves social distancing and wants to continue school via Zoom meetings, whereas his friend Kyle Broflovski wants to go back to school in-person. Others are profiting off the pandemic, like the father Randy Marsh, who is selling a type of marijuana to the citizens living in South Park called “The Pandemic Special”: which is, coincidentally, the name of the episode.

Of course, Marsh’s “Pandemic Special” and many other components of this episode are pretty vulgar, but that’s what’s expected in any installment of South Park.

Humor is what South Park specializes in — indeed, numerous enthusiasts of the show stay watching it for the comedy alone. If it was not so funny to such a large variety of audiences, perhaps the show would be more criticized. With “The Pandemic Special,” however, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone managed to tackle serious topics, not just their usual fun ones: COVID-19, of course, but also the controversy that has brewed surrounding police brutality, especially in the past six months. The creators also show, quite boldly, how the president has addressed the pandemic.

Additionally, the presidential election, occurring only recently on November 3rd, was mentioned towards the end of the episode by the cartoon president himself, as a reminder to adult audiences.

“Don’t forget to get out and vote, everybody,” he says, breaking the fourth wall. “Big election coming up!”

The episode reminds viewers of how much has happened since March 13, and much of the episode happens to apply to residents and towns around the country. Similarities between the South Park school district and Cherry Hill Public Schools can be observed.

Characters struggle with the effects of the pandemic throughout the episode. Some are getting tired of not being able to have fun anymore, while others are struggling with testing positive for the actual coronavirus. Unhappiness inflicted on individuals over these past nearly eight months is seen through the experiences of characters, especially students. For a viewer, this aspect of the show seems scarily accurate in how people have reacted to the pandemic.

Even in “The Pandemic Special” plans remain unknown concerning how students will go back to school, even though eventually the South Park district does decide to send the students back. In Cherry Hill, students, parents, and teachers didn’t know when a hybrid schedule would be put into effect until mere weeks ago. Still, many students won’t participate in the hybrid schedule, opting to remain remote. South Park exhibited in small details how uncertainty in schools across America is continuing even months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether one agrees with South Park’s means of discussing social and political issues or not, it’s hard to deny that “The Pandemic Special” is a witty and amusing yet solemn in its take on 2020.