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Because of its production methods, South Park has always been able to cultivate and lampoon our culture in real time. Nearly every episode since season 9 has a cultural reference which has led to episodes like “Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow”, “Black Friday”, and “Make Love, Not Warcraft”. Lately, though, it seems like the show is relying too much on spoofing current events. It has gotten away from what the show is really about, the crazy adventures of a group of kids in Colorado, and part of that is due to its recent serialized format.
This shift in storytelling started in season 18 and really took off last year with its PC theme. Season 20, however, was the most continuity-driven season ever and it really changed the show. It felt like a five-hour South Park movie, and normally I wouldn’t complain about such a thing, but this year it just didn’t work. The story quickly got old, the jokes were dull, and many of the shows best characters were either absent or not the same.
One of the biggest problems with a serialized season is you are stuck telling one story, and if that story isn’t great the whole season is affected. Season 20, however, tried to tell too many stories and they were all affected. We saw a feud between the boys and girls, Gerald becoming a master troll, the 2016 election, J.J. Abrams, Member Berries, Bill and Bill (and Hillary), and whatever else I’m missing. Most of the episodes tried to cram too much in, leaving every story underdeveloped. In fact, the finale itself didn’t even mention most of the things that were explored this season. What’s worse is that almost every episode felt incomplete. It’s not like we were left with a cliffhanger either, the episodes usually just ended, there was no resolve. So, you can see how this season was a disappointment. It just felt thrown together and incomplete.
Also, with 2016 being an election year we knew Trey Parker and Matt Stone were going to have something to say about it. We’ve seen episodes like, “Trapper Keeper” in 2000, “Douche and Turd” in 2004, “About Last Night” in 2008, and “Obama Wins!” in 2012. Unlike the past, though, this year saw a season-long story arc that revolved around the election. Yes, it was funny seeing Mr. Garrison with an orange face and I loved how the character realized he didn’t actually know what he was doing. But after a while it became overdone. I don’t know about you, but I like using South Park as a way to get away from all the political talk, but season 20 was just a constant reminder of how much of a mess this year’s election was. In the end, it just felt like Parker and Stone were forced into this story because it wouldn’t be an election year without South Park’s take. However, because of their new format, the whole season had to have something about the election. I have a feeling Parker and Stone regret ever doing this story arc in the first place.
The main story, on the other hand, was actually pretty good. It was nice seeing Gerald, a character who doesn’t usually have a big role, at the center of everything. It was unexpected and something I would have expected Randy to be involved in. Gerald trolling the school message boards while sipping wine and listening to Rush was a highlight of the season. Some of the crude things he said were hilarious and I loved how he forced Ike to take over for him while he was locked up in Denmark. But like most things this season, it lost its focus and grew old after a while.
By far the worst things about this season, though, was Cartman. A character known for his knee-jerk reactions, selfish behavior, and crude mind, was the exact opposite this season. It was funny at the beginning, especially when the rest of the boys thought he was behind the trolling and smashed all his stuff, but he never recovered. I thought he would get his revenge for sure, but he was too busy telling us how smart and funny girls were. In fact, I want to know exactly how many times he said the words, “girls”, “smart”, and “funny” because it seemed like that’s all he said. I can’t help but feel like Parker and Stone missed out on a really funny story revolving around Cartman having a girlfriend. Luckily, Butter’s was there to take over Cartman’s role. The best part of the season was when he led a march around the town with is pants down. “Oh, he’s pressing pickle!”
This season had a lot of potential and most of the storylines would have been great if they wouldn’t have been spread out over the whole season. With South Park down to ten episodes as season, Parker and Stone can’t have a wasted episode. If they want to continue the serialized approach they’re better off keeping it to two or three episodes like they did with “Imaginationland” or the Black Friday special. But in all honesty, let’s hope the last episode, entitled “The End of Serialization as We Know it”, is foreshadowing what’s to come.