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:
“Hey – Paul! Do you want to see Book of Mormon? It’s a musical!”
“Oh – I can’t stand musicals! Apart from Grease maybe. Or a Sondheim one I can’t remember the name of.”
“But it’s made by the guys who did South Park!”
“Really? I love South Park. How much are tickets?”
So on a cheaper Wednesday matinee showing myself and a friend ventured to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s wonderfully irreverent and offensive (depending on your point-of-view) musical The Book Of Mormon. And a great time was had by all. It was funny, energetic and warm and of course very rude but strangely uplifting and like all great art (high or low) it got me thinking about my own values and spirituality.
I have never been what you would call a religious person. I am not a believer or associate myself with a particular faith. In fact since I was young I always held a staunch antagonism toward doctrines which remove free-thinking in the individual from birth. Furthermore much of the world’s conflicts over history have been caused in the name of religion; that and greed and money and power.
Having said that over the years my approach to religion has matured and I have become less didactic in my thoughts. Because you know what: religion or faith can be a positive thing and give people a true set of values with which to live their life. It’s not God’s fault that human beings use his or her name to commit acts of war and spread intolerance. In fact, in recent times the move toward Atheistic and Scientific Fundamentalism (led by the Grand Wizard Richard Hawkins) itself has also caused intolerance to rear its ugly head too.
I prefer to believe in nothing; not a void as such but no particular deity or belief system. They provide great comfort for many but it’s not something I feel I need. I believe in freedom of choice and speech and the basic human principle of just be tolerant of, and good to others. Because as the song says: “Religion don’t kill people – humans do!” Of course I just made that lyric up for humorous effect and that is precisely what occurs in the wonderful, hilarious and uplifting theatrical musical Book of Mormon.
The backstory tells us of Joseph Smith who “found” the sacred eponymous text on the gold plates of Nephi. After which he gave birth to a new religion in 1830 which went viral, spreading quicker than a dancing cat video on YouTube. Flash forward loads of years and the Church of Latter Day Saints is one of the World’s largest cults; sorry, organised religions. And this is the starting point for the story.
Our two main protagonists are Elder Price (Billy Harrigan Tighe) — a handsome, young go-getter — and Elder Cunningham (A.J. Holmes) who is, of course, his nerdier, less confident and insecure counterpart. Cunningham is also a compulsive liar which gives the story an essential characteristic and running theme. Together they are sent from the Missionary Training Centre in Utah to of all places, Uganda to spread the word of Mormon. But Uganda is a godless place full of famine, disease and war and hardship so religion is a hard thing to see to those with no hope.
Humour is mined from the clashes between the two wildly different cultures as the songs compare the upbeat door-knocking optimism of the Mormons with the downtrodden, hungry, maggot-balled, AIDS-ridden, clitoris-castrated Africans; who are war-lorded over by hilariously named General Butt-Fucking Naked. As with South Park the writers use all manner of stereotypes with which to cram as many offensive jokes in as possible.
However, there is heart to the story too as it is revealed that Elder Cunningham has joined the Mormons to try and fit in and find his place in the world and most importantly: friends. He is particularly taken with the preening narcissistic Elder Price despite the latter’s obvious discouragement and dislike of Cunningham. It’s no surprise then that while Price is clearly the more talented “salesperson” yet it is Cunningham who becomes a hit with the natives. Having said that he does so having “made-up” loads of stories from the Book of Mormon incorporating tales from Star Wars, Star Trek and Lord Of The Rings. From his distortions from the text plus bravery in standing up to the General Cunningham becomes a beacon of hope in the village.
Stories and faith are at the core of the satire here as Book of Mormon both lampoons and deep-down admires the Missionaries. While what Elder Cunningham says seems completely stupid and ridiculous it gives the villagers hope and faith for the future. Overall, the word of Joseph Smith is arguably “fictional” yet the message is a positive one with togetherness being the way forward. The show asks us: if something gives hope in a hopeless world does it matter if it’s real or not?
I have no frame of reference with regard to musicals. The only one I’ve seen outside the movies was Fame – The Musical starring ‘H’ from Steps. But this was an absolute joy with an incredible cast and songs to boot. My personal favourites were: Two By Two, Making Thing’s Up Again and Spooky Mormon Hell Dream. The shifting of sets, movement and pace were fast yet controlled and the show was clearly the result of a culmination of an incredible amount of creativity, rehearsal and hard work. As a dynamite new season of South Park currently runs on Comedy Central – I can certainly say Matt Stone and Trey Parker have another work of genius to add to their incredibly offensive yet hilarious CV. Thank God, Allah, Ganesh, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Nephi, Joseph Smith et al for them I say!