Season 20 of South Park: Why Was It so Terrible?
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.
6. The Member Berries Sucked
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.
5. The Danish Guy Was a Boring Villain
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.
4. Cartman Was Boring
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.
3. The Ending Goes Nowhere
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.
2. The Political Stuff Was Lame
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.
1. The Narrative Separates and Divides Main Characters
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.
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.