[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for South Park, Season 26 Episode 1, “Cupid Ye.”]
What to make of South Park in 2023? It’s a minor miracle that Comedy Central’s longest-running animated series is not only still on the air after a quarter of a century but that its creators, the cartoon enfant terribles of the ‘90s, are now the (semi-)respectable uncles of the genre. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s show has inspired legions of rip-offs and successes, inspired by its no-holds-barred provocations and ever-expanding cultural criticisms. So, how does the show fare in an era where everything that made South Park so shocking in its heyday is now the benchmark for comedy?
The first episode of Season 26, “Cupid Ye,” seems like a step back to basics, focusing on the kids and their school troubles. Kyle has started growing closer to Tolkien Black, with their duel TikToks going viral throughout school, which is making Stan jealous. Cartman decides to be a good Christian helper (ahem) and grows determined to split the two apart the only way he knows how: through ceaseless cruelty and bigotry.
After trying to taunt Tolkien with the deeply anti-Semitic conspiracy regarding the Black Hebrew Israelites, it suddenly becomes the rumor of the week that Kyle secretly runs Hollywood. Kids start pitching their movie ideas and handing over headshots, and the more Kyle denies it, the stronger the smear grows.
Cartman isn’t alone in his “Christian” endeavor: He’s aided by his imaginary friend, Cupid Cartman, who has changed his name to Cupid Ye and become hyper-religious. You can see where this is going: Yes, it’s a Kanye West parody.
Rather, Parker and Stone offer a brief but succinct examination of his recent anti-Semitism, which is now so incendiary that even Cartman thinks it’s too much — having the former Nazi cosplayer note that saying Hitler was a great dude with some good ideas is a bad thing is extremely to-the-point. When you’ve lost Eric Cartman, you’ve lost the plot, and seeing Cartman in a face mask on an Alex Jones-esque show (no Jones appearance or parody here, which makes sense given the brevity of the moment) gets one of the biggest laughs of the episode.