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Season 20 of South Park: Why Was It so Terrible?

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No one's a bigger fan of South Park than me. I think it's because South Park is designed to speak with the voice of middle America, to counteract cultural messages that we're all somehow less important than people in New York City or Los Angeles. South Park runs on making fun of celebrities, who are people who society thinks are important. But South Park is saying that other people in "redneck" small towns are just as important and interesting as they are, even though the show treats citizens of the titular town with just as much derisive mockery (especially in the way that it handles its portrayal of the mayor and chief police officer in the earlier seasons). I like it also because it makes fun of everyone. No race, religion, political point of view, etc. is sacred in South Park.

Originally, the show had no political correctness. They weren't trying to please everyone, they just let loose with the shock comedy on everyone and everything. But in season 19, the topic of political correctness and recent changes in society are addressed, as South Park struggles to adapt to a new world. I liked that season, because it called attention to the hypocrisy and insincerity of PC culture and had some spot-on commentary about gentrification, advertising, privilege, language policing, and virtue signaling.

But Season 20 was pretty much downhill. One problem was that the whole season has one continuing story. While 19 had a continuous narrative elements and themes, each episode was more stand-alone. With 20, I just kind of marathoned it like it were all one big movie. It's a good thing that the creators of the show wanted to try something new, but I don't think it was very good. Mostly because all those episodes built up to a climax that disappointed. But more on that later. So here are 6 reasons I didn't like the latest season of South Park.

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Maybe it's because I marathoned this season, watching it all at once, but I found them to be incredibly annoying. They're essentially a running joke about how there is good nostalgia and bad nostalgia, and the latter is blamed for the rise to power of Donald Trump (Mr. Garrison assumes this role in the show.). But they're not the first people to say that, or to criticize nostalgia in general, so it comes across as an attempt at social commentary that's not very meaningful or new. But as characters, these are the Jar Jar Binks of the South Park land. The humor associated with them gets very repetitive and dull very fast. They also don't seem like they got any sort of decent resolution to their story, so it felt like there was no point in them even being there. I guess South Park sets itself apart with surreal comedy, obviously, but this was one of their lamer creations.

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A major source of conflict towards the end of the season involves Gerald, Kyle's father, locked in a battle against some... Danish guy, who wants to make it so that anyone can search for anyone's entire internet history, ending anonymity. Kyle's dad is a troll called SkankHunt42, so he does not want this secret out, obviously, and he goes to absurd lengths to protect this secret. But the conflict wasn't that satisfying. Do we root for Gerald, knowing that he was a troll who heartlessly bullied a woman with breast cancer? Then the trolls Gerald befriended all end up trapped in Denmark in a convoluted James Bond -esque world domination plot that didn't make sense and just wasn't all that satisfying to watch. You can't make me afraid of Danish people. Sorry. They're just too bland and mellow to become believable as any kind of villainous cabal. Matt and Trey do better at making fun of evils that actually exist in the real world (North Korea, terrorists, Saddam Hussein, etc.) and using their laser-guided satire on them. And any person who knows writing will tell you that a bland villain makes for a dull story.

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If the Cartman from previous seasons could see the Cartman from this season, he would kick his own ass. In the beginning of the season, Cartman starts talking the talk, pretending he's on board with political correctness and feminism. But it seems mainly that that's so people won't suspect him of being an infamous troll, who becomes hated at the school. Everyone thinks the troll they hate is Eric Cartman. But when the boys get together and break all of Cartman's electronic equipment, they find out it's not him (it turns out to be Kyle's dad).

But even after he is forcibly exiled from social media, he doesn't get elaborate revenge on everyone, classic Cartman style. In fact, he becomes even more obnoxiously PC and weak when he befriends and then starts dating Heidi, a girl who left social media due to trolling.

So obviously, they're going for a classic "he's acting totally not himself because of a girl" schtick you see in a lot of buddy comedies - and the old episode of South Park where Chef dated a succubus. That would have been fine, if we only had to endure Cartman acting so out of it for only an episode or two. But he acted strange for the entire season, robbing us of the hilarious antics of the foul-minded sociopath we know and love. It's one thing to have a character act brainwashed, crazy, hypnotized, or whatever for an episode or two. Like in Kill La Kill when Ryuko got brainwashed into siding with the villains. But change their character on a fundamental level for a whole season, and you'll get people really wanting their jerk back. Season 20 Cartman is an offense to Cartmanhood.

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Well, you have:

  • A showdown where the Danish guy tries to destabilize the world and use the trolls for whatever it was again? I have no idea what he even wanted.
  • The member berries planning... something, and being somehow connected to this destabilization of the world, but their part in it all is never made clear and their story also goes nowhere.
  • Cartman and Butters are in a love rivalry for Heidi, who figures out how humanity can go to Mars to escape internet trolling. The problem? Cartman figures out that girls on Mars will keep men as slaves for semen and jokes, so he bails. But if you want a big return to the comedic sociopath Cartman was in earlier seasons, you will be disappointed. Basically nothing this season does to Cartman even makes him angry, in contrast with how angry he used to get over very minor slights.
  • There is some crap about Mr. Garrison as a stand-in for Donald Trump becoming president and having no idea what he's doing, and... by the end, he kind of still doesn't really know what he's doing or how to run a country. He's just tricked by Kyle and Mr. Slave into doing what's necessary for the plot. He doesn't learn how to really stand on his own.
  • Does Gerald even learn a lesson? How does the world grow and change after this? The plot doesn't seem to have any meaningful consequences, even after such an enormous buildup.

So, yeah, for a show that spent all this time building up to them, the final conflicts of this season were boring and meaningless.


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I'm not sure why, but they didn't seem like they were doing political satire as well as they used to. Almost all of their mockery was aimed at Donald Trump, and they made Hillary Clinton look like a reasonable authority figure who deserved to be elected. Maybe it's just sour grapes on my part because I'm no fan of Hillary myself, but they could have done more with her in terms of, she has a lot of things you could make fun of her for. It seems kind of weird when you contrast how much South Park seemed to suck up to Hillary Clinton this season, with how much they've stretched the truth and made up tall tales to satirize other famous people before, like Barbara Streisand and Paris Hilton. There is not one joke at Hillary Clinton's expense.

But also, everything they say about Mr. Garrison as Trump has been said about Trump before, and they repeat the same jokes at his expense over and over again. How many times did it need to be restated that Garrison had no idea how to be president, for example? Like the member berries, Mr. Garrison's character in this season was a one-dimensional, boring character, about whom the show makes the same joke over and over and over ad nauseum. Trump is a person with much more satirical potential than this season of South Park gave him.

South Park has done amazing political satire in the past. But this season's was lacking, for whatever reason. None of the crazy headlines that came out of the 2016 election seemed to make it into South Park, so real life ended up feeling more entertaining (and sometimes, funnier) than fiction. That's the problem with trying to do political satire of what's going on at the moment - it's impossible for a show that takes so much effort to animate to keep up with everything that's going on in real time during an election. And it seems like the show's creators had a season-long story that was based around Hillary Clinton winning the election. So when she didn't win, they had to rush around in circles to try to come up with what to have happen in the show.

This is a problem for South Park. The original first few seasons were all about the main four boys doing things together, solving problems as a team. In this season, every main character is off doing their own thing, and none of them are united. We have:

  • Cartman: acting uncharacteristically wimpy for an entire season.
  • Stan: he kind of gets caught in the middle somewhere, doing nothing proactive, like Kenny, who also does nothing the whole time.
  • Kyle: goes through the whole story arc of his father being the troll, helps Gerald bring down Denmark in the end, along with Ike, although they really piss his mother off in the process.
  • Butters: becomes a satirical exaggeration of an MRA, with a level of crass misogyny that is completely out of character for him.

So, the story of this season makes two main characters inactive, and makes Butters and Cartman act way out of character for the entire season. With the exception of maybe Kyle and Ike, very few of the characters do anything great in this conflict, and Butters and Cartman are reduced to unfunny running jokes. Original South Park had these boys doing things as a team. I guess now, they're acting more mature and sophisticated, sort of more like high school children than elementary school age, or even like college students. But this narrative separated and isolated them, so that they never had those important character-defining moments where friendships are tested. They just all kind of went separate ways and had separate adventures.

Conclusion:

Since the finale of Season 20 is called "The End of Serialization As We Know It", I'm assuming that the creators themselves are aware that this season totally nosedived. I have big hopes for the next season, and I'm seriously hoping that this show isn't going to go sour permanently. I think South Park has had a lot of really great episodes and story ideas, and I might even go so far as to call it the most creative and original adult comedy TV show. But even a fan like me has to admit, the last season, though funny in moments, was not the best that South Park could be.

Comments

Sandra on April 03, 2020:

You summed up everything I though about this season. Everyone was so awkwardly out of character, it made me hate the ones I normally love (a nice guy Cartman and an evil Butters? No, just, no.) and the member berries theme was so boring. I barely made myself finish that season...

Lars Erik Vestergaard on February 12, 2019:

So...I'm bland and mellow, huh?

ree on November 27, 2018:

u say everyhting i thought

David D on November 10, 2018:

I came across your article in search of others who felt the same way about Southpark as I have. It is very well written and pretty much sums up how I feel about how the show is trending. Its sad to see what Southpark has become.

Dan scott on June 13, 2018:

Very well written article that voices thoughts that I could never put the words. I agree with you wholeheartedly, and it is a damn shame to notice how South Park is starting to become one-sided. I've been watching older episodes and laughing hard at the funny back and forth with cuss words and Slanders, and how both sides are given the business in a way that makes it seem fair and okay to laugh at what you believe in yourself being made fun of because it's just the price of admission. But when things start to get one-sided it becomes much harder to watch, season 20 was a Trainwreck mostly because they didn't expect Trump to win like you said, I wish they would have made fun of themselves and Hollywood's for being so disconnected that they got blindsided by it. But it seemed they just knuckle down on the developing Trend for season 21. Hopefully they can correct themselves in Season 22, because two seasons is enough to get them back on track. Unless this changes permanent which if it is makes me a Sad Panda

Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on February 17, 2018:

Yeah I miss when it was really foul and depraved and just didn't care what the Sunday School moms thought.

Matthew on February 15, 2018:

It was awful. I think you nailed it and while season 21 was “better” it still sucked in my opinion.

Whatever happened to episodes like Chickenlover? Gone are the days.......

Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on January 24, 2018:

Yeah, I can't deny that episode was terrible and it's not as funny as it was. A lot of shows have gone on too long and lost touch with their original inspiration.

Joe on January 23, 2018:

I disagree with you Rachael. Season 21 sucks even more than 20 did. Not funny, consensual, and the scenarios were really lame. That episode with the elder people selling drugs is incredibly bad. Why did they introduce this bland and useless Marcus guy? It's even worse than the latest Simpson or family guy episodes.

Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on January 23, 2018:

Season 21 is OK. It's not as big of a train wreck as season 20 was, but it's not terrible either. I just think new South Park is having a hard time trying to stay relevant and funny in a PC thought-police era. It's kind of sad that Matt and Trey have given in to pressure from society to be all sensitive. They didn't used to give a shit about sensitivity or offending people. The point was to offend everyone. And that's why I liked them. SMH.

BobsAndVagena on January 22, 2018:

You basically said what I would say but better and more. Spotted on point of view. I wonder how so many people liked season 20. Some even credited it as the best season ever. I facepalmed.

South Park and PC? Wtf. The whole show had been anti-PC I thought they would hype Trump instead of making the assumption that Hillary would win so much so they didn't have enough time to change the last episode.

For that reason I haven't watched the lastest new season and i hope it's good. I have rewatched all episode at least 6-8 times now. It'd be sad to see this show go down hill.

Yours, also South Park biggest fan,

BobsAndVagena

Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on September 17, 2017:

Ryan Yeah, it does kind of seem like they're trying too hard to push liberal culture policing instead of focusing on actually being funny. Ending serialization is good but they've actually done good serialization before, that wasn't it. The real problem is they're focusing too much on making a political statement than on being entertaining. S21 E1 was just them preaching against "omg Alexa is misogyny because it lets men control a subservient woman-voice" and "omg people waving Confederate flags are so dumb" but neither of those opinions are being shown in a way that I think is funny. I guess like many things, South Park has gone from underdog to establishment. And lost its edge.

Bimbo schwartz, No, I really don't care if people make fun of Trump, if it's funny. But I think that S20 of South Park had major flaws in their writing that don't have much to do with politics. But the major problem was political in that, they set up the whole season's story arc during an election they seemed certain was going to swing in favor of Hillary. So when it didn't, they had no idea how to write the show, because they had planned it to go the other way. That's a risk you take when you're trying to be topical all the time.

I don't care about mockery of Trump, if it's funny. I also think their mockery of Trump didn't even go far enough. It wasn't funny because it didn't even really capture what's bad about Trump, or his true personality. You kind of have to draw a portrait before you learn to draw a caricature. Making Mr. Garrison Trump seems like a bad choice, why not just have the real Trump in the show? Mr. Garrison doesn't have Trump's background as a tough business guy or a reality star, so there's many jokes you could make about Trump that you can't make about Mr. Garrison miming Trump.

Ryan on September 12, 2017:

I much agree with your article. Well written and accurately describes the flaws with the past 2 seasons. Real sad, especially as a fan from the beginning, to see season 21 taking the same path.

Guess I won't be watching South Park anymore.

Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on July 24, 2017:

Rick, yes, I'd like it more if they stuck to wacky adventures like in earlier seasons instead of trying to make everything topical. Later seasons of Futurama failed for this same reason. One problem with doing current events in South Park is that the show's main characters are supposed to be elementary school children. In the earlier seasons, they showed naivite and innocence and the confusion about adult topics typical of boys their age. And that's where a lot of the humor comes from. Now, they're acting like little adults or like high-school aged kids. They should age them up or make the show fit what 4th graders are actually like.

Rick on July 24, 2017:

The problem with this show since season 12 is that they are trying to make South Park keep up with current events. Anything that's trending or popular South Park will make an episode about. South Park was good when the four boys were going on crazy original adventures. I watch South Park to get away from the world, watching South Park is like watching the news now. If I wanted to see Colin kaepernick or trump I'd turn on the news. The show lacks originality and needs to go back to doing silly stuff with the boys and their peers. Randy is a cool side character but they need more stand cartman Kyle and Kenny not randy or the adults

Some guy on June 20, 2017:

Also, where the hell was Kenny?

Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on June 14, 2017:

I was referring to Milo Yiannopoulos.

rpm on June 14, 2017:

Agreed 100% that this season was below par.

Q: Who is the flamboyant gay man that is Trump's biggest supporter?

ak on April 24, 2017:

This is by far the best, deepest, and fairest review of season 20 that I've read. After reading, I scrolled up to see who the author. I was very pleasantly surprised to see it was a female, since the author admitted to not liking Hillary much. (I too despised both candidates.) Thanks for the great read.

Nudder Guy on March 20, 2017:

Great article. You clearly articulated my frustrations with this season, some of which I couldn't put a finger on. Thank you.

Guy on February 03, 2017:

Great read. Thanks