In its Season 22 premiere, “South Park” ditched ironic detachment for a bitter look at the depressing regularity of school shootings — and the country’s refusal to do anything about them.
And yes, despite the usual constant gags and the B-story’s Marvel riff (in which Cartman becomes what amounts to a racist Jessica Jones), the episode was a genuinely sober condemnation of apathy over public violence.
The episode, called “Dead Kids,” sees Colorado plagued by near-constant school killing sprees that the people of South Park treat like expected inconveniences rather than a terrifying emergency. All except for Stan’s mom Sharon, who becomes increasingly despondent, but is assumed by everyone else to just be hormonal.
The episode begins as the South Park fourth graders get their grades from a recent math test. Immediately, a shooting begins offscreen, but class and teacher continue to argue over the test as the gunfire, screams, and response from police get louder. The teacher even shouts explanations as police storm into the room.
Afterward, the kids continue talking about the test while ignoring dead bodies, police and the TV news reporters crowding the school. Stan’s mom Sharon shows up, sobbing with joy that Stan is still alive, and takes him home. Cartman immediately asks “Jeez, what’s up Stan’s mom’s ass?”
At home, Sharon asks Stan to tell his dad, Randy, about his day. Stan sheepishly admits he flunked the math test. “No, the other thing,” Sharon says. “Oh, the school shooting,” Stan replies.
Randy only cares that Stan wasn’t the one who shot the school up and didn’t get shot. Sharon flips out about the fact that no one seems to care about school shootings, and storms out of the room.
“What’s up mom’s ass?” Stan asks.
Later on, after a second shooting, Sharon invites all the kids’ parents over to talk about the school shooting, only to face the same bewilderment. She flips out again, after which Randy has a cry session with his friends, tearfully explaining that he loves her, but is so hurt by her behavior. He’s convinced that Sharon is just freaking out because she’s on her period, and is selfishly taking it out on everyone else.
“I turn on the TV and dread they’re going to announce another school shooting,” he says, “and it’s gonna set my wife off.”
One of his friends suggests that maybe Randy consider this problem “is bigger than your wife’s period.” But only because it might be menopause instead. To find out more about that, Randy goes to talk to a medical professional: an EMT working at the scene of another horrific school shooting in a neighboring town, who explains everything while casually telling his colleagues where they’re supposed to stack dead bodies.
After Sharon has another freakout because people don’t seem to care about school shootings, Randy, desperate to fix the problem, decides to make a romantic gesture with the help of all their friends. So it is that two of the other kids’ moms tell Sharon there’s been another school shooting. But it’s just a ruse to trick her into racing to the elementary school, where she finds Randy wearing a white suit, and singing a romantic song to her.
Meanwhile, yet another shooting breaks out. Randy keeps singing and the adults keep standing around even as bullets are flying into the room, hitting several of them including Randy. Afterward, Randy staggers outside, bloody, and is told by his supportive friends that “at least you tried.”
Sharon demands to know what’s going on. Randy, in a super compassionate voice, brings up her menopause. Sharon angrily tells him she isn’t going through menopause, and she knows because she just started her period. Randy then asks her to at least consider then that her behavior might just have been hormonal. She storms off, again, leaving Randy hurt and alone.
But at the end of the episode, Sharon explains to Randy that upon reflection, maybe she might have been hormonal after all. She apologizes to Randy, who weeps with joy and thanks her. As this is happening, Sharon gets a phone call telling her that there’s been yet another shooting.
“Stan’s been shot,” Sharon says.
“Should we get down there?” asks Randy.
Sharon pauses, trying to keep calm, and says “No. It’s not the end of the world.”