Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 21, 2017)
How can South Park now have 20 seasons in the can? Damn, I’m old!
Amazing as it may sound, this Blu-ray set provides the series’ complete 20th season. I’ll examine all 10 programs in the way presented on the discs, which also is the order in which they were first broadcast. The synopses come from the package itself.
Member Berries (aired 9/14/16): “An Internet troll known only as ‘SkankHunt42’ terrorizes the girls of South Park Elementary. In response, the girls stage a shocking protest prior to their volleyball match.”
In an unusual movie, Season 19 offered an overall narrative arc that connected all 10 of its episodes. S20 goes down the same path, which disappoints me – while I admired S19’s ambition, the overarching theme didn’t really work, and the lackluster “Berries” doesn’t make me optimistic that this will change during S20.
Skank Hunt (aired 9/21/16): “’SkankHunt42’ continues to troll the school’s message boards. While the students and parents struggle to identify the horrific troll, the boys – suspecting Cartman – take matters into their own hands.”
At its best, South Park offers social insight, but here, it just goes down a dopey path. It trivializes the impact of bullying, a risky move that flops. Some of the moments with SkankHunt42 amuse but the episode’s overall presence sputters.
The Damned (aired 9/28/16): “As the presidential race heats up, Mr. Garrison tries to destroy his political chances. Randy suspects there is more to the memberberries than anyone thought and investigates.”
While I don’t expect or want South Park to simply be wacky fun all the time, S20 tries too hard to “go dark”. With a suicide and other grim elements, “Damned” continues that path, and it still doesn’t work.
Wieners Out (aired 10/12/16): “After the tragic death of Freja Ollegard, the country of Denmark vows to discover the identity of the troll. Gerald grows increasingly paranoid of being discovered and has no choice to meet with the mysterious ‘Dildo Schwaggins’”.
It’s always been a South Park trait to pound ideas into the ground, and that becomes a particular problem in S20. In the past, we’d deal with an overdone concept for an episode and then move on, but here we’re stuck with the same notions across the whole season. So far, that’s not been a recipe for success.
Douche and a Danish (aired 10/19/16): “The Danish develop a website called ‘TrollTrace’ which will recall everyone’s Internet history and identify trolls for who they really are. As it gets closer to launch, Gerald and other trolls band together to stop it before it destroys them.”
Halfway through the year, S20 enjoys one saving grace: the sight of Cartman with a girlfriend. Those moments add actual mirth to the proceedings, but the rest of the episode remains scattered and without much positive impact.
Fort Collins (aired 10/26/16): “Using a technique called ‘Emoji Analysis’, Heidi is able to identify that SkankHunt42 is not a student at South Park Elementary – but actually a parent.”
Six episodes along, I continue to dream that S20 will gel and start to prosper. Alas, “Collins” fails to ignite the year, as it offers another spotty episode. I’ve not completely abandoned hope for the season, but I’m close.
Oh, Jeez (aired 11/9/16): “It’s the day after the presidential election and to everyone’s surprise – including his own – Mr. Garrison is the president. Fearing TrollTrace’s power, Cartman decides to start a new life – on Mars.”
On one hand, it seems natural that S20 delved into the election. On the other hand, South Park spent so much time with the “Garrison equals Trump” analogy in S19 that the joke is old at this point. “Jeez” goes even farther down the tubes as it connects Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby in a theme tacky even by this series’ standards.
Members Only (aired 11/16/16): “President-elect Garrison undergoes a ‘transition’ to become more presidential.”
This episode’s big new gag: Garrison forces those who previously offended him to suck his dick. Add to that the continued presence of the annoying Member Berries and this becomes another weak episode.
Not Funny (aired 11/30/16): “TrollTrace goes live and the ability to look up anyone’s Internet history causes worldwide panic.”
With only one more episode left, “Funny” tries to heat up matters for S20, but it remains as limp as ever. Only the brief return of Mr. Slave adds life to this forgettable show.
The End of Serialization As We Know It (aired 12/7/16): “Cartman has seen what life will be like for him on Mars and tries to change Heidi’s mind about going. Ike and Kyle – with a little help from the Pentagon – come up with a plan to destroy TrollTrace.”
When Kyle tries to generate massive amounts of troll content, S20 reminds us why we like South Park. Too bad this becomes a rare glimmer of cleverness in an otherwise mediocre season, one that lacks the wit and insight we expect from the series.
This makes two subpar years of South Park in a row, both of which sputtered due to their attempts to tell one long story. Hopefully S20 ends this process and we go back to more traditional episodes in Season 21. I still admire the series’ ambition but the end result just doesn’t connect.