Television

19 Years on, 'South Park' Is Serialized, Fully Realized, Never Homogenized SoDoSoPa

Who better to mock and satirize our world than our ever-evolving South Park characters?


South Park: The Complete Nineteenth Season

Director: Trey Parker
Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Adrien Beard
Length: 212 minutes
Studio: South Park Studios/ Comedy Central
Year: 2015
Distributor: Paramount Home Video
MPAA Rating: TV MA
UK Release Date: 2016-11-07
US Release Date: 2016-09-06

It’s almost impossible to believe that 19 seasons have gone by since Trey Parker and Matt Stone debuted the crudely animated little show called South Park on basic cable network Comedy Central. As the show matured, somehow so did its characters and creators, and the show that once focused on shock value and scatological humor somehow managed to become one of the smartest and most topical comedies on television. South Park has never been “the same old show” from season to season, but it managed to keep the best parts that have made it a favorite.

Although they have played around with multiple episode story arcs in the past, the 19th season is the first to be completely serialized with a single overarching saga tying each episode together. More than just about anything South Park has done since “Imgainationland”, the 19th season feels like one complete and cohesive story (that happens to clock in at 212 minutes).

What starts out as a funny indictment of political correctness (Principal Victoria is replaced by a violent frat boy named PC Principal) soon becomes a spoof of the entire political climate, with Mr. Garrison running a decidedly non-PC bid for president. Just as Garrison’s candidacy parallels that of Donald Trump’s, South Park ups the political incorrectness quotient with Caitlyn Jenner stepping into Sarah Palin’s shoes as his not-all-there VP pick.

As the episodes flow together Randy Marsh tries to gentrify the “stupid” and “backward” town, as an influx of Canadian immigrants cause an anti-immigration sentiment. What follows reveals the neighborhoods of South Park, Colorado competing with each other in a strange spoof of the divides of the country on the whole. SoDoSoPa (formerly the wrong side of the tracks, meaning: around Kenny’s house) is briefly the trendy area of town before a Whole Foods Market moves the whole thing to the neighborhood surrounding “Shitty Wok”.

Although the new continuing format from week to week feels a bit forced and disjointed at first, soon the story arc begins to stabilize each episode. Although there are no actual throwaway episodes this season, if there were weaker entries, the arching saga creates a cohesiveness that brings about a singular and sold high concept that builds to a remarkable finish. Said finalé is not only hilarious but also satisfying, like the end of a really gripping epic.

To be sure, there will be fans who object to any tweaking of the format after two decades (season 20 kicks off next month); however, just like every surprise change over the years, Stone and Parker are smart and cool enough to make it work. On the other hand, it isn’t terribly surprising that the guys behind TV’s most envelope pushing and taste challenging hit would take on PC culture first hand.

Back in 1997 when the show first debuted, South Park really was disturbingly edgy and groundbreaking. The creators intelligently pushed the boundaries of good taste and said things in ways people were often afraid to say themselves. They firmly came out on the side of gay rights and were the first comedy show to dare to do a September 11th episode. No subject has been too taboo from depicting the Prophet Muhammad in multiple episodes (around 2001 he was visible in every episode’s title card) to exposing some of the more bizarre (and once protected) secrets of the Church of Scientology.

But considering later season episodes, it’s hard not to wonder if the world has simply moved a bit past the mirror South Park holds up to nature. “The F Word” (2009) was something of a defense of their use of the word “fag” when such an epithet had long since been decried as offensive as the N word. “Mr. Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina” (2005) similarly dealt with transgender people and flippantly declared that gender reassignment surgery does not actually change the gender that an individual was born with. Today the same creators are working to satirize Caitlyn Jenner and remain edgy without seeming to resort to hate speech.

PC Principal is Parker and Stone’s pastiche of PC culture gone mad. He shoves political correctness and sensitivity down the throats of his opposition (something that South Park itself has been fairly accused of). What is PC today isn’t what was PC 19 years ago, and it takes a special kind of intelligent writing to continue to satirize these things in a town that has been essentially frozen in time.

To be sure, Parker and Stone have had their spoofing success from The Book of Mormon to Orgazmo to Team America: World Police. That said, South Park remains their main paintbrush and canvass and that intelligent and edgy (yet somehow still correct) writing is best seen in this evolving (and now classic) TV show.

In this weird world in which Trump can become the nominee of one of the USA’s two major parties after espousing racist terms and slogans and regressive ideologies, while real people like PC Principal react furiously on the other side of the aisle (at least in their minds), we can all be outraged, confused and even nervous in our laughter. However, with this many years of experience with parodies of these more extreme topics, is there anyone better to mock and caricature our world than Parker and Stone?

Bonus features on the 2016 Blu Ray release include social commentary on all episodes along with season commentary by Trey and Matt and a collection of deleted scenes. As Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny and Butters have broken out into other media another most welcome extra is the E3 2016 trailer for the video game South Park: The Fractured But Whole (ha ha).

However, as great as this grab bag may be, the main attraction is as it has always been for the previous 18 seasons: South Park itself. Perhaps now more than ever South Park is the best at a modern version of Jonathan Swift-style satire. The times may be changing and Parker and Stone may be pushing that change along and raging against it, but this is the farce we need to shine the light upon and lampoon these oddball, entertaining days.

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