Release Date: September 25th 2019 – December 11th 2019
UK Release: Comedy Central
Another year passes and another year of South Park! It has now incredibly reached its twenty-third season and the energy, humour, satire and desire to surprise and shock is still very much there in the latest ten episodes. However, I think that in Trey Parker’s desire to reinvent and reinvigorate the format, he seems to have taken a few missteps along the way. Because, while containing some sublime moments of comedy and wonderfully grotesque episodes, the latest season does not consistently reach the heights of previous ones. One could argue this is the weakest season in a long time.
Don’t get me wrong, I am just a humble worker drone and totally respect Trey Parker’s satirical genius. Yet, having worked on South Park for over thirty years Parker has arguably moved the furniture around too much in Season 23. I can understand why he has re-jigged the format, but for me, concentrating mostly on Randy Marsh’s Tegridy Farm enterprise in the first six episodes, many characters we love like Butters, Kyle, Kenny, Mr Garrison, Wendy, and even Cartman are sidelined to mere supporting roles. Of course, they do feature, but not as much as I would have preferred. I guess Parker just wanted a change and in recent seasons this has garnered many fantastic episodes. In Season 23 though, the over reliance and prolonged attempts at stoner and weed humour just did not make me laugh. Plus, Towelie as a comedy character has never worked and I wish he had over-dosed permanently, never to return.
There are some fine comedic moments throughout, and the themes are as strong as ever. Parker takes many satirical swipes at all manner of sociological, political, gender, health, economical and media targets. Through some excellent writing he successfully lampoons: media censorship, China, the anti-vaccine movement, plant-based food, transgenderism in sport, the PC or ‘woke/snowflake’ generation, drug abuse, streaming services, Christmas greed, addiction, drunk drivers, immigration detention centres, and, very briefly, the Trump administration. Ultimately, the season features several very good episodes, but arguably only Band in China and Turd Burglars hit the heights of classic South Park episodes of past seasons. Nonetheless, Trey Parker on autopilot is still one of the greatest writers and comedic voices around. If only he had a little less ‘Tegridy’, this season could have been another classic.
THE FRACTURED BUT TROLL! SOUTH PARK – SEASON 20 REVIEW
The latest season of South Park ended mid-December time and so I’m a bit tardy with the review. This is mainly because I decided to watch all ten episodes back-to-back over the Christmas holidays, and in some ways, this was a mistake. I say this because I think sometimes as viewers we have to take some criticism too. In hindsight I definitely should NOT have binge-watched this season as it was so complex and plot-heavy with many themes and interlinking plot strands. In fact, similarly to the more satisfactory Season 19, this season transcended the usual mix of puerile and satirical comedy it’s known for, to become something much more.
**SCREW YOU GUYS – THERE ARE SPOILERS!”
Over ten episodes South Park once again became a huge mirror that reflected many of the events occurring in the USA and the world in general. The biggest event was of course, the Presidential elections which saw Mr Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner representing the Trump/Republican side and Hilary Clinton, of course, representing the Democrats. Amusingly they were referred to as Douche and Turd Sandwich respectively; calling back the classic episode where Stan is banished for refusing to vote.
Garrison soon realises he’s made a terrible mistake in running as he has NO policies and tries to extricate himself from the race. Thus, much of the comedy deriving from this narrative strand was brilliant and made me laugh throughout the season; especially during the episode Oh Jeez when Garrison won and went into full Trump mode. By the end of the season he’s shown to be a complete buffoon open to manipulation by Mr Slave and Kyle Broflovski when it comes down to the bombing of Denmark. But, hey, that’s a whole different story!
A TROLL IN THE PARK
The second major narrative line in this season was Gerald Broflovski (Kyle’s Dad) being revealed as an uber-Troll online called Skankhunt42. He begins by trolling his son’s school before moving onto cultural icons and then the whole of Denmark itself. Gerald, who usually represents the liberal side of the show, is seen becoming a vicious sneak who enjoys bullying for the humour. However, being the intellectual hypocrite he distances himself from the nerdy-no-life-outcasts he ultimately gets lumped in with.
Gerald’s actions eventually spiral totally out of control by the end and, while South Park itself has been a massive critic of celebrities and government figures in the past, it is quite justified in lampooning the cowardice of online trolls. These sad individuals hide under the bridges of social media feeding their tethered egos and weak personalities for the benefit of either humour, revenge or to obtain some idea of power.
In the episode The Damned, Gerald is literally pissed on by his wife in order to extricate himself from being rumbled as an online troll. That online bullies are shown to be mainly shut-in losers as opposed to Jocks, demonstrate that bullying can be done by anyone and needs to be pissed on from a great height. Lastly, the monstrous rise of Garrison to power also highlights the fact that hair-brained Trump has become the biggest troll in the world.
The theme of hyperbolic social media behaviour was supported by the further strand of South Park Elementary School students committing “suicide” by leaving Twitter. A character named Heidi is even mourned by her class during the episode Skankhunt even though she is actually in the class! Also, believing Cartman to be the troll ‘Skankhunt’ the kids gang up and ‘kill’ his electronic devices, burying them in an Evil-Dead-Cabin-in-the-Woods-horror-film-homage. The internet and social media is therefore cast as an extension of the playground; with kids and adults giving their social media live’s more importance than real life and move away from actual intimacy and human contact.
Consequently, Cartman himself goes the other way and falls in love with Heidi and their relationship is quite touching over course of the season. It’s especially funny as it plays with the audience’s expectations and the other kids think it’s all part of some Cartman uber-plan. Indeed, Cartman’s arc in this season is interesting as it seems they tried to make him more sympathetic. At first his feminist leanings are part of some scheme to undermine the girls’ sit-down protests during the opening Member-Berries episode. But eventually it turns out he does find Amy Schumer’s “vagina” comedy actually funny. Alas, the storyline kind of runs out of steam by the episode 9, Not Funny.
Gender politics and the boy-versus-girls dynamic further complicate the narrative when Butters leads a protest against the girls. Butters and the boys who have all been revenge-dumped by the girls because of ‘Skankhunt42’s vicious actions decide to protest too. So, they get their dicks out during the U.S. national anthem; which in itself satirized last year’s “sit-down” protests that occurred during U.S. college sporting events. I myself was not as educated about these particular occurrences but as usual Parker and Stone went to ridiculous lengths to demonstrate that however noble the cause, once everyone jumps on the bandwagon the protests become diluted and lose their power. Moreover, such stands against authority can also be wiped by a simple rewrite of history or rebooting for the future.
‘MEMBER WHEN. . .
Rebooting the present or future was yet another thematic present within this packed season. The “Member-berries” introduced in the first episode are a super-food which while innocent at the start become evil-humanized-nostalgia-fruit hell-bent on ensuring humanity lives in the past and doesn’t move on with any new ideas. Indeed, in the final episode The End of Serialization the “Member-berries” even end up in the White House. While not always convinced by these turn of events I can see the satirical point being made that living in the past remembering: Star Wars, Chewbacca, Tie-Fighters, Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Flash Gordon, Superman, Reagan, the 80s, sugar from your neighbour, feeling safe, Stormtroopers etc. can be culturally dangerous and lead to the excavation of archaic politics hence the rise of Trump and the perceived right-wing Brexit vote.
Yet, nostalgia can also be a positive thing too and paradoxically I do at times hanker after the simpler, yet brilliantly effective South Park episodes which were perhaps more focussed and arguably funnier. But one cannot fault the programme makers for aiming higher than the usual shit you get on television. Plus, the “Member-berries” plot line did rightly put the boot into the ridiculous eulogizing of J.J. Abrams and The Force Awakens which definitely wasn’t as good as people made out. So, in that respect, the show made a very valid cultural point. But while going back can be a negative force it can also help us learn from our mistakes, however, given President-Trump’s about to enter the White House it seems humans just love making the same mistakes over and over again.
CONCLUSION. . . FRACTURED BUT NEARLY WHOLE!
While Season 19 became arguably the most coherent, incisive, funny and complex narrative out of all Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s previous work, Season 20 had a lot to live up to. However although the riotous narrative strands represented a major strength I don’t feel, overall, this season had as many gags or classic episodes. I would say that it worked best as an accomplished serialized conceptual satire with a few piss and dick jokes as opposed to the fast-paced-gag-filled-stand-alone-episode format of the earlier seasons. Still, while it may not have had many stand-out classic episodes, Season 20 was still a blast of wonderful filthy satire and due to the complex density of the storylines will no doubt improve with further viewings.
As I have attested on this blog many times, South Park is the greatest comedy of all time and shows no sign of losing its comedic and satirical power. The bar was raised SO high by Season 19 that perhaps ambition to beat that was always going to be tough. Still, I still respect Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s multi-skilled “authoritah” in using the inhabitants of South Park to rip into the world, media, politics, culture and religion with hilarious effect.
My favouritest ever episodes up to Season 17 can be found here:
20 YEARS OF SOUTH PARK – TWENTY GREAT TV & MOVIE-BASED PARODIES!
South Park, incredibly, has been going for 20 years now! Yet, up until 2013 I had only watched a handful of episodes of the irreverent and scurrilous animated show. Since then, however, I have caught up and it has become one of my favourite ever TV programmes. As such any new season of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s potty-mouthed satire is usually a highlight of my cultural year.
South Park is more than just a crude animated show now; it is a socio-political tour-de-force which spikes sacred cultural cows and pokes fun at the ridiculous nature of the world; the rich and famous; and the political and religious and social leaders who profess to run the place. It also features some wonderful, bizarre and astute characters who are utilised to reflect society and our modern and post-modern times.
South Park featured on my blog a few times. My review of Season 19 can be found here:
Plus, my favourite episodes up to Season 17 can also be found HERE:
“CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE”: SOUTH PARK – SEASON 19 REVIEW
**This contains massive spoilers and offensive language**
Up until 2013 I had only watched a handful of episodes of the irreverent and scurrilous animated show South Park. But since thenI have caught up with a hell of a lot of episodes and it has become one of my favourite ever TV programmes and a new season of Trey Parker’s vicious satire is always a highlight of my cultural year. Moreover, one of my most efficient and extensive blog articles was Respect My Authoritah which listed my favouritest seventeen episodes up to Season 16. Which if you can be arsed can be read here:
Seasons 17 and 18 have come and gone since I wrote that and they had some terrific episodes including my own personal favourites: Informative Murder Porn, Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers, Game of Thrones parodies Black Friday/Song of Ass and Fire, Freemium Isn’t Free, Grounded Vindaloop and #Happy Holograms. What these and many other previous episodes contained was a keen knowledge of cultural, social and political issues with two parodic fingers on the pulse of the zeitgeist, ripping into many media and political targets. This of course was done while continuing the misadventures of Kenny, Cartman, Stan, Kyle, Randy, Sharon, Mr Garrison and other inhabitants of South Park.
What Season 18 did especially well was to link the episodes with call backs to previous events forming a narrative continuum as opposed to just funny stand alone episodes. This allowed for much joy to be had through individual and connected gags as well more satisfying storytelling. Trey Parker obviously felt this worked so he continued this trend with the whole of Season 19. In fact I felt that this season was the most complete and satisfactory in regard to the humour, themes, continuity and narrative. My teenage son says the earlier ones were much funnier and ruder and less political and perhaps he is right, but I defy anyone to find a more scathing and funny satirical show on TV at the moment.
Season 19 began with Stunning and Brave; and we got a brand NEW character in PC Principal. It’s risky to bring in new elements to an established show but this character hit the ground running with his muscular Jock-look, frat-boy speech and aggressive politically-correct motivations. The writing illustrated the apparent rise of left-leaning-liberal-movements in society and social media which while having decent motives, have become as fascistic in their application of their ideologies as much as right wingers. Indeed it could be argued people have become scared of saying anything in case it’s racist or sexist or offensive and positive discrimination has become so prominent to blind us to character deficiencies. Indeed, the episode parodies transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner who has been proclaimed a societal heroine. However, one may argue she is essentially just another media whore seeking attention in any way they can.
Caitlyn Jenner would pop us a running gag and mate of Garrison in the next episode, Where has My Country Gone. The disgraced teacher Garrison is in despair at the Canadian immigrants spoiling his country, so he politicizes himself vowing to fuck all immigrants to death. Eventually he ends up in Canada where it has been revealed that Canadians have fled their country because a Donald Trump like “joke” politician actually won the Presidency. Garrison fucks fake-Trump to death and this “policy” propels him forward as a Presidential candidate with Jenner alongside him.
What Trey Parker does so well is highlight the ridiculous but dangerous nature of soapbox politics and so-called immigration perspectives. Of course, freedom of speech is important but when a wealthy man shouts loudest we must be wary that apathy and inaction by the majority are his weapons too. The use of the Canadians as the whipping boys of South Park is a recurring theme and of course they are merely symbols for attitudes toward all non-Americans. There’s also a touching “Romeo and Juliet” subplot involving the ever-innocent Butters and his Canadian love.
Having Garrison run on an anti-immigration ticket causes South Park to be ridiculed on television. The shamed residents led by Randy and the Mayor then attempt upward mobility and get a Whole Foods opened in the town. Such social snobbery satirizes the preposterous idea that where you shop makes you a better person. As such within the episodes City Part of Town and You’re Not Yelping we get some brutal satire at the expense of gentrification and narcissistic individualist behaviour in which people attempt to give their life meaning by elevating their social shopping status or writing pretentious restaurant reviews. As someone who writes reviews for their own enjoyment I did find it particularly hilarious when Gerald Broflovski (Kyle’s Dad) disappears up his own arsehole while writing his Yelp review.
I personally loved the scathing critique of apparent “hipster” culture and gentrification which invaded this season. I don’t think it’s because I am old and the hipster is supposedly new and cool. No, it’s because they seem to try too hard to be right on plus why should SOMEONE else’s idea of style be all pervasive. Indeed, the episode Safe Space also rabidly attacks charity and the guilt-induced tactics used on Randy; can it not be free choice rather than a system of control over who one gives money to. Meanwhile, poor Butters suffers once again as he hallucinates via sleep deprivation having had to edit the social media accounts of Cartman, Vin Diesel, Steven Seagal and many more celebrities because of fat shaming. Of course, bullying of any kind is a wicked thing but what Safe Space says is that it’s part of reality and we must change our reality rather than simply edit out all that is negative about our lives.
The next episode Tweek x Craig (which calls back to the 3rd season episode Tweek vs. Craig) finds Trey Parker innovatively incorporating satire of Japanese yaoi art while examining the different parental perspectives when an offspring is thought to be gay. The episode is hilarious in the stereotypical portrayals of the Chinese but more importantly the ridiculous lengths people will go to appear non-homophobic. Cartman also ends up in “love” too as he finally falls in love with himself; not a pretty sight in the bathroom.
What the season arguably lacked was a great ensemble episode of the boys and their particularly brutally honest and funny interactions; however, we got that with Naughty Ninjas. Here Kenny and Token then Stan, Kyle, Butters etc. and then Cartman (and then not Cartman) become Ninjas but get mistaken for ISIS by typically idiotic and ignorant South Park residents. The subplot involving police brutality is hilarious as police methods are seen as barbaric and over-the-top in these times of tolerance. Yet, when a tough job has to be done such as clear junkies and homeless away from the Whole Foods, understanding will always needs a baton and jackboot to do its dirty work.
The final triptych of episodes — Sponsored Content, Truth & Advertising and PC Principal: Final Justice — dovetailed all the characters and themes of the previous seven into a wholly satisfying end to the season. Trey Parker’s main target was the oppressive and aggressive nature of advertising which, while a necessary industrial evil has become so sneaky it brainwashes us subliminally reading our search engines and attacking us at every window. The episodes had satirical digs at social-justice warriors and gun control, with a plot that revolved around Leslie a “human” advert that has gone sentient and was attempting to control South Park and the world. Full of fun surprises and nods to sci-fi classics like Bladerunner (1982) and The Terminator (1984), PC Principal ultimately ends up being a kind of action hero. Overall, the message seems to be that in controlled bursts political correctness is appropriate but we must be wary to avoid following trends and always retain an individual perspective.
Season 19 was a triumph of savage satire, cogent narrative, zeitgeist references, brilliant songs and of course, some gloriously offensive humour. It poses many questions in relation to political correctness and trendsetting progressivism. I personally feel that with the amount of morons and ignoramuses in the world who like nothing more than to oppress people due to their race, country of birth or colour of their skin, political correctness is necessary. However, it is important that such ideologies are not used to make everything homogenized and bland and that freedom of speech is permitted. Ultimately, we can check our privilege but definitely not check our humour because what’s life without it? Indeed what’s life without South Park: no life at all?