South Park famously writes and produces each new episode in the six days before they it airs. This incredibly short time frame is a double-edged sword for the team led by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. On one hand, they can respond to current events with speed no other sitcom can match. On the other hand, if game-changing news breaks, their ripped-from-the-headlines episode is ruined.
This is exactly what happened with Wednesday's episode, "Oh Jeez." The episode aired the day after the presidential election and directly responded to real life with an election of its own. But like so many other Americans, Parker and Stone were expecting a Hillary Clinton victory and were not prepared for Donald Trump's stunning upset. So their planned episode, which was to be called "The Very First Gentleman," had to be reworked the day of to reflect the reality of Trump's victory. The result was an episode that reflected the mood of much of America on Nov. 9, 2016: shock and disbelief about what had just happened and uncertainty about what comes next.
Season 20 of South Park has followed the presidential campaign of psychopathic elementary schoolteacher Mr. Garrison, whose campaign has been a (slightly) exaggerated version of Trump's. Trump wants to deport all illegal immigrants; Garrison wants to "f--- them all to death." The electorate has been mentally poisoned by over-consumption of "Member Berries," which are berries that send their consumers into nostalgic reveries about how things used to be (back when there weren't so many Mexicans). Member Berry-eaters have responded to Garrison's entreaties to make America great again, even though Garrison has realized he has no idea how to run the country and is now actively trying to lose the election to Hillary "Turd Sandwich" Clinton.
"The Very First Gentleman" was supposed to be about Bill Clinton in a weird new role as the husband of the president and send up his own checkered history with women. But Parker and Stone were caught off-guard, because Bill Clinton is not going to be the first gentleman. So Wednesday morning they rewrote, reanimated and rerecorded some scenes to reflect the reality that Mr. Garrison had won the election.
Since there was only time to change a few scenes that wouldn't completely derail the non-election plots on this season of South Park, the resulting episode didn't cohere. In the episode, Bill and Hillary Clinton were doing things that would only make sense if Hillary had won. But the new scenes about Mr. Garrison's victory, while not funny, exactly, were a pretty impressive document of both South Park's adaptability and the shellshocked mood of Clinton supporters.
The episode opened at an election night viewing party at the South Park community center. The gathered townspeople watched with jaws dropped as an anchor reported what was happening with utter bewilderment.
"And, uh, definitely a bit of a surprise here," the anchor said. "Looks like America has voted for a change of pace. The world is in a bit of a shock." He looked off-camera and addressed his producers: "We're sure this is for real, right?"
The animated anchor's confusion was only slightly exaggerated from how actual news anchors were reporting the election night results, when the people we look to to tell us what's happening seemed just as befuddled and unprepared as the rest of us.
Randy Marsh charged up to the screen, shouting "What have you done? You maniacs!" into the void at any and all Garrison supporters. A man in the room behind him shoots himself in the head (this is South Park, after all).
Randy rapidly sinks into despair as he watches the TV, quietly saying, "This isn't how it was supposed to happen" to himself.
The scene didn't really have any jokes and didn't make the strident points viewers expect from South Park. It felt like Parker and Stone were finally at a loss for words. It's surely temporary and they'll be back next week with a more thought-out response to the election, but on the morning after, two of America's biggest bigmouths didn't really know what to say. They were saying "oh, jeez" just like the rest of us.
There was one great pitch-black joke about the election results later in the episode, though, after Randy had succumbed to Member Berries and decided that maybe a Garrison presidency wouldn't be so bad. At the dinner table, he says to his teenage daughter Shelly, "Oh, come on, Shelly. We've learned that women can be anything except for president."
The joke picks at the hypocrisy that Parker and Stone have made it their duty to deflate. We tell girls they can do anything, and then act in a way that shows them they don't matter. South Park is going to have a lot of material to work with for the next four years.
South Park airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on Comedy Central.