Hey there all of you Oners, thanks for coming down to Animated Anarchy to unwind, leave your woes behind, and read some opinions of mine.
South Park is a cultural institution. As much as some people want to deny it’s sensational beginnings and what it’s doing now, South Park is one of the sharpest existing properties that delivers brilliant satire on a weekly basis. In a time where we acknowledge the influence of shows like All in the Family, The Daily Show, and The Simpsons, we have to appreciate the merit of shows that manage to say something about society even if they do it through foul-mouthed 4th graders or talking Christmas Poo. And yes, I have had to argue this point with professors of pop culture.
In recent years, people started questioning South Park’s meandering quality as the show was starting to return to more silly episodes rather than topical ones. Especially by Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s own admission saying that they were getting burned out with the show and that they were intentionally tired of hating trends or news topics to create episodes. But somewhere around the time of Season 15, with the dark, poignant two-parter of “You’re Getting Old/Ass Burgers” did I feel like the creative duo hit an epiphany.
Parker and Stone seemed to come to an understanding that they could continue to use the main cast of Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny as developmental characters but shift many of the townspeople like the boy’s parents, Mr. Garrison, and Mr. Mackey to be the over exaggerated reactors to current media. It’s been a steady change since the duo became more satirical around the time of Season 4/5, but quite noticeable nowadays nonetheless. Very similar to how Bart became the standout character of The Simpsons who has now be replaced by Homer, much of the focus has been shifted to Stan’s dad Randy, who manages just to be idiotic and extreme enough to be consistently hysterical.
When you look at South Park scope as a whole, it has always been an incredibly enjoyable, fantastic show. Even at times when it dipped or felt lazy, I don’t think it ever got bad. There was always one episode or two to stand out per season that everyone would praise like “Canada on Strike” of Season 12 or “Trapped in the Closet” of Season 9. The fact that this show is at Season 18 and is still quite relevant and enjoyable is really something special. But all of it comes down to the fact that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are some of the hardest working, most insanely talented people in Hollywood.
South Park has been able to survive through some many big measures and shifts in medium because of the creative genius amongst all the writers. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut is probably the best TV-to-Movie adaptation there is and showed that you could take the simple premise and expand it to be absurd, brilliant, and topical all at the same time. Book of Mormon is completely separate from South Park, but Parker/Stone practically foreshadowed their success of musicals with their movie, and the episodes “All About Mormons” and “Broadway Bro Down.”
Thanks to their involvement with Obsidian, South Park: The Stick of Truth stands out as one of the funniest games in recent memory, with enough story to encapsulate an entire season. And what was clever about this year of writing is how the Season 17 Black Friday/Game of Thrones trilogy worked as the perfect prequel to this game. That’s why I wanted to create this article, as Parker and Stone have shown off that they understand the importance of continuity.
Let’s look at some of South Park’s greatest episodes. If you were to narrow the list down, many of the great two/three episodes would appear on people’s lists because they happen to be so genius and rip-roaringly funny.
-The Imaginationland Trilogy
-Cartoon Wars I and II
-You’re Getting Old/Ass Burgers
-Pandemic/Pandemic 2: The Startling
-Go God Go (Probably the weakest, but still great for it’s commentary about religion versus scientific atheism)
-The Coon Trilogy
-The Black Friday Trilogy
-200/201 (Which has been making waves with the uncensored version of Kyle’s “I’ve Learned Something Today” Speech has hit the internet)
Season 18 is the build up to all of this research and time spent creating over-arching storylines. When this season was airing, many people were surprised at how great it was to see South Park work with continuity from episode to episode. But looking back at the pedigree of the show, it’s easy to understand how this all worked so well. I would put Season 18 up their with other great Seasons like 8, 10, and 14, which are some of the most consistently funny and biting seasons in the history of the show. Particularly because Season 18 has three of the best episodes in recent memorable that perfectly explain and/or decimate the subject at hand.
“Go Fund Yourself” was the best way to kick off the series and was practically tailor-made to make the Inside The Locker crew smile. As the boys start to see how people can succeed practically through doing nothing, they’ve adopted the name “The Washington Redskins” much to the chagrin of Dan Snyder and the team. (Perfectly coupled with punches at Roger Goodell and Jerry Jones too) It plays out beautifully as we just watch Cartman revel in his own self-satisfaction of finding this loophole while The Redskins struggle with losing their identity. This is irony at its juiciest level folks, and it continues to move on from there. But what really threw fans for a loop was how Gluten Free Ebola started with things the boys’ did off screen last episode.
Then we come to “The Cissy”, which is not only funny but also surprisingly heart-felt with its message of supporting the transgendered. I mean, an embodiment of evil like Cartman would abuse a new social query just to get himself a new bathroom, but there’s also Mr. Garrison there to explain trans/cis identification. Stan struggles through the episode being confused, but comes to an understanding of how to deal with himself through his father unveiling that he is Lorde. On top of all that subtext, but we get to follow the big plot-point of the season with Randy’s new career and observing how corporations handle the media.
The final standout is with the episode Freemium isn’t Free. It boils down the science of the addictive qualities of Pay-to-Play Mobile Games with gleeful vitriol while covering the negative influence of the alcohol or other forms of dependence. I love craft beer personally, but I got a real kick when Randy was trying to justify a wine tasting as “elegant and classy.” Not only do we get the A-plot of Stan trying to understand addiction, but the sheer evil of Canada’s new Minister of Mobile Gaming. It astounded me how they were able to make such brilliant points about this issue only within 30 minutes. And that explanation factor also comes into play, as Satan himself talks about the hard chemical and genetic facts to why we create our own vices.
Although not every episode was about following the big story, this season felt extra topical and fresh to make fun of new issues or rant about today’s technology focused culture. I guess that what comes from waiting until the last possible minute to write and develop an episode. I actually really enjoyed the finale too, which really made the whole season come together with Randy’s arc dealing with record companies and Kyle’s desperation to pry his brother away from Pewdiepie. What could have been an easy lambasting of kids who couldn’t get off their phones turned into a better commentary of everyone’s obsession with the media and comments above all else.
What also worked as a fantastic theme all throughout this season was the idea of #ReHash or Repeating ourselves. It didn’t hit me so much until the two-part finale, there’s some good subtext there about how we rely so much on other people’s commentary or nostalgia for just tweet and views. Some of the episodes felt like revisited version of another South Park episode, but they all ended with an acknowledgement of letting things go (“The Magic Bush”) or changing the world to adapt to a new, silly idea (“Cock Magic”).
That being said, this season has had a few problems. Most notably is the “Handicar” episode, which was a revisit of Looney Tunes parody from “Crippled Summer”, but made unnecessarily dark and sad with too many running gags. Still, it produced a really funny scene with the parents freaking out over the return of The Wacky Races complete with cereal and pajamas. And although many people don’t like “Grounded Vindaloop” for being so repetitive with it’s gag, I thought that it made everything all the more funny playing with the sci-fi tropes of dreams/alternate realities.
Taking in people’s reactions, this season has been a real hit for Matt and Trey with everyone wondering what South Park will do next. I really do hope they stick by this reign of continuity because it really caused people to invest their time into the show again and love the wonderful satire told through all these characters. If I were to give it a rating, it would be 9 Out Of 10 Holograms of Famous Musicians.
As I was writing this review, I started to think of another time an adult animated show got attention for trying to establish continuity. Does anyone else remember in 2013 when Family Guy made a big deal about killing off Brian? I sure do, as people were pretty passionate over the death of a major character in the show. Family Guy has significantly fallen off in quality since Season 6 and has almost become vindictive of it’s own audience with offensive plots and most of the characters taking a mean-spirited turn. And although they buzzed a lot of attention with the announcement, I had no question in my mind that this change was not going to stick.
And look? It didn’t. What could have been a way to bring attention back to the shambling zombie on Fox was just became another reminder to how far Family Guy has fallen. It’s clear that Seth MacFarlane has moved on to doing movies and with the cancellation of Cleveland Show and American Dad’s move to TBS. The only thing I’ve come to learn about Seth MacFarlane over the course of a decade is how much he desperately wishes he could have been born in the flippant, openly racist time of the 1950s. We all know who really won “The Cartoon Wars” at this point.
If this revival of South Park has taught me anything, it’s the importance of taking a break and learning how to assess yourself before continuing on with your current interests. The time taken to produce Book of Mormon, Stick of Truth, and Bigger, Longer, and Uncut really details that the creative mind needs time to flex before you become stale and settle into popularity and mediocrity. That’s what I wish for this website and what I plan to keep doing with this blog. You can make an idea run for a long period of time, but the best writers are those who know how to diversify and keep an open mind to new ideas before deeming them stupid.
Thanks again for reading this entry into Animated Anarchy and I hope 2015 treats us all well. Do you want to suggest some new ideas for my blog? I would really appreciate it, as this blog is not going away! Come again next time, as I’ll be listing the Best and Worst of Animation in 2014!