EVEN FOR “South Park,” Wednesday evening’s episode had a dizzying array of satiric targets.
Facebook. Netflix. Putin. Weinstein. Big-box stores. And the sprawling commerce of superhero film universes.
All were intertwined in the “Franchise Prequel” episode that is building to a “The Fractured But Whole” arc tied to the Oct. 17 release of the “South Park” game of the same name.
And at the root of it all, as usual, is how much more often the children in the Matt Stone/Trey Parker universe display (at least moderate) critical-thinking skills than those gullible, mucking-it-up adults.
The kids’ Coon and Friends superhero team — which includes low-tech creations like Toolshed, Tupperware and the Human Kite — are ostensibly just playing. But in the 21st century, their comic role-playing means trying to build their own elaborate cinematic universe like Marvel (with nods to “Civil War” on the horizon) — or at least selling their superhero project to Netflix, because “they will literally buy anything [people] pitch them.”
Spoiler: The superheroes are fighting Professor Chaos (Butters), whose team, working out of a shell of a failed Circuit City, is “doing what Facebook was designed to do”: Sow wild online lies to tear at the very fabric of society.
Coon and Friends reach the point of desperation when such lies scuttle their series project idea, even at the streaming-service offices where the phones are answered: “Netflix, you’re greenlit!”
The theme of the episode is “fake news” and flawed content, as the parents of “South Park” worry that social media is corrupting their kids, who “lack the cognitive ability” to separate fact from fiction online. Yet it’s the grown-ups who are easily duped. Based on fake news they read on their Facebook feeds, they believe their kids capable of acts so twisted that Coon and Friends deflect by saying they’re “not Harvey Weinstein.” And the parents blindly call in the services of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, unaware that the character who shows up is an awkwardly robotic figure who’d be at home in “Dragon Ball Z.”
Once Professor Chaos/Butters is apprehended, his punishment involves a trip to see Russian leader Vladimir Putin, here a master of exploiting platforms for fake political news.
Meanwhile, the kid superheroes must correct the boneheaded mistake of their elders by physically taking out “Mark Zuckerberg.”
The episode brilliantly sends up a wide swath of online behavior — even as its spoof of digital dotard-age works in service of promoting a digital game.
And that might be the most devishly brilliant twist of all.