I was once a BIG fan of South Park but trailed off several years ago because every arc seemed to be multi-part episodes that seemed to be de facto South Park movie sequels. It was kind of the reason I got out of comic books, when every story became a 6-parter so the publishers could bundle them into a trade paperback.
So it was something of a surprise that when I revisited the show at he urging of my buddy Halbrook, and I found it was smarter than ever…because instead of having stories lumped into 2-3 episode arcs they took place across an entire season!
The documentary Six Days to Air showed how creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker can stay extremely topical because they literally make the new episode in the week FOLLOWING the one that just aired. When I caught up, I saw how successfully they leveraged this advantage with a brilliant satire of the 2016 election and the rise of Trump.
The show has always had running jokes, but now they have yielded to overarching, serialized plots that really seem to work better than things like Imagination Land. There still may be a stand-alone A-plot in an episode, but it still manages to serve to move the season’s overall narrative forward. And it really works!
The trend really took off by parodying the negative tone in America. A once benign character, Kyle’s liberal, attorney father Gerald, becomes the worlds leading anonymous online troll, while one of the most caustic characters, Mr Garrison, becomes the South Park stand in for Trump and wins the presidency on a platform of hating immigrants. Of course, in keeping with the long standing gag of the show, Garrison hates CANADIANS!
Each season I caught up on builds from here and plays along Matt and Trey’s pseudo-libertarian views, as they skewer the PC culture with the foul and aggressive new character, PC Principal. During this “enlightenment” of the town, in response to foisting Garrison on the world, my favorite Non-Cartman character Randy tries to gentrify the town and bring in a Whole Foods; the new symbol of political divide in American politics according to actual census data. This plotline is funny, but it does get a little thin at times. PC Principal is someone like Mr Slave or Chef who works best in small doses, but became annoying when he was the focus.
What’s interesting is that, though they are still front and center to the A-plots, the boys seem to take back seat to the adults in the serialized format. Garrison, Randy (who is now secretly Lourde), PC Principal, and Gerald all get more memorable moments than the big four in recent seasons. Cartman, the anchor of the show for the last 20 decades, really seems to get most of his screentime in the form of going away from form and trying to become PC out of fear. That actually is a very funny twist, but I did miss the manic energy that once led him to kill a kids parents and feed them to him in a bowl of chili.
Having caught up, I was able to watch the new season where Matt and Trey start to promote their own demise with #CancelSouthPark. The season seems to revisit some of the show’s greatest hits moments, and is a middling offering relative to other recent seasons. The zing on Amazon.com, the season’s main connecting arc, seems to be about five years too late; rare for a show that can witness a celeb goof up on a Saturday and have a full episode about it on Wednesday!
TV By The Numbers says, “The (season’s) premiere episode “Dead Kids” was watched by 1.09 million viewers and scored a 0.7 in the ratings, making it the lowest watched season premiere in the show’s history.” I am not sure if Matt and Trey succeeded in #CancelSouthPark, but based on this last season, you might be inclined to think they are out of ideas. But, I am back and will keep watching if they return next season.