One of the funniest South Park episodes of all time is 2006's "ManBearPig," in which former Vice President Al Gore tries to convince everyone about the threat of ManBearPig, a half-man, half-bear, half-pig creature that's terrorizing South Park. Gore says over and over and over again that no one believes him even though he's being "super cereal" (serious). The episode came out around the time of Gore's climate change documentary An Inconvenient Truth and ManBearPig was a metaphor for global warming, which the libertarian South Park boys didn't take cereal.
But now the UN reports that climate change will have irreparable effects by 2040 unless we make significant global economic changes, and ManBearPig has returned to South Park. In Wednesday's episode "Time to Get Cereal," people are dying gruesome deaths all over town, and no one knows why except Stan, who witnessed ManBearPig carry away his friend Jimbo. So he and his friends go and find Al Gore, who has given up his life of trying to convince people of the threat of ManBearPig. He's grown a long beard and focused his energy on becoming Colorado's greatest bowler. He'll only help the boys if they apologize for not taking him cereal when he tried to warn them all those years ago.
At the end of the episode, Gore says that no one will listen to him anymore, and it has to be the young people who carry the message about the threat. So Stan goes and gives the requisite sincere South Park speech, saying "ManBearPig is real. It's a demon that thrives on making deals to exploit mankind's weaknesses. I am super duper cereal.
"We all have to work together, you guys," he continues. "This one time. We all have to put our pride aside and say 'maybe we were wrong.'" This seems like a sincere apology from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone for not taking climate change as seriously as they should have. Al Gore was a pompous messenger and they didn't like how he said what he had to say, but he was right. And now we have to reckon with ManBearPig before it wipes us out.
This point is driven home by the episode's best scene, where a guy on a date at Red Lobster mansplains about how ManBearPig isn't real while ManBearPig massacres everyone in the restaurant behind him. When he notices, he admits that ok, maybe ManBearPig is real, but what are we supposed to do about it? Then his head gets bitten off. This is the Republican Party's playbook for dealing with climate change.
The episode ends with the reveal that Stan's ancient grandfather made the deal that brought ManBearPig to South Park, which is a metaphor for elderly people voting for lawmakers who pass legislation that causes environmental catastrophe for which they will not be around to face the consequences. It will be their grandchildren who suffer. The episode ends on a cliffhanger, and I have a feeling next week will see the return of South Park's Donald Trump analogue Mr. Garrison, who will refuse to do anything about ManBearPig, because the real problem is the migrant caravan or something.
It was kind of a dark and heavy episode, even for South Park. Climate change is hard to make into lighthearted fun because it's such a cereal issue.
South Park airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on Comedy Central.