For many years, South Park has been in a state of slow, but noticeable decline. Ever since Chef got brutally and symbolically killed off in “The Return of Chef” (s10, ep1), things just haven’t been the same. Since 2007, each new season of South Park has gotten steadily worse, and in my opinion, season 18 is the very worst in the whole series. To understand how South Park suddenly became what I call “South Krap”, let’s take a good look at each of the episodes, starting with the worst opening episode I’ve ever seen in any TV show (and that includes The Simpsons by the way). I already talked about “Go Fund Yourself” in great detail a few months ago, so I’ll try and condense my argument into something simpler. It had one of the worst possible plots of any episode, wherein the boys try to set up a start-up company so that they can make money by doing nothing. That episode spammed swear words so repetitively that they were devoid of context, almost as though the writers think comedy is nothing more than dirty words.
Immediately after that, we had “Gluten Free Ebola”, where the story continues right after the previous episode. The boys try to win all their friends back by throwing a party for Scott Malkinson, a boy with diabetes (you may have seen him in last year’s “Black Friday” trilogy). However, panic quickly ensues after the people of South Park start believing that gluten “makes your dick fly off”, which the writers have sadly decided to play straight. Terribly unfunny and poorly written, it was then followed by the even more redundant “The Cissy”, where Cartman pretends to be transgender and gets his own bathroom, while Randy tries to deal with his dual identity as pop singer Lorde.
In my opinion, “The Cissy” was extremely disappointing, and in my opinion, this is mainly because the writers waste a lot of the potential this episode could have had. More specifically, in this episode, the writers betray one of the show’s core values by being nice to Lorde. After Sharon explains the reason why “young people like Lorde so much”, the next scene shows people being influenced by “Lorde’s” music, and the reporter for Spin magazine proceeding to delete his article, all to the tune of the singer’s latest tune. If that isn’t the biggest case of cosying up to a trendy celebrity, I don’t know what is. Another thing that really irritates me is that Cartman shouts nearly all the time, very angrily in fact, and that just creates a negative atmosphere that makes it harder to laugh. Is this a comedy, or a drama?
Of course, it’s not nearly as bad as “Handicar”, which also happens to be the latest episode to not feature the four main characters. In my opinion might just be the worst South Park episode ever made. Why? Well, aside from the writers’ reckless caricaturing of children with special needs, there was nothing funny about the episode at all. The episode’s choice of subject matter was very poor (who even cares about ride-share apps anyway?), but it was executed in an even worse fashion. For me, the Wacky Races scene perfectly illustrated how antiquated South Park had became, and I think that it’s ironic that South Park, already an empty shell of its former self, managed to make itself look even more like an embarrassingly dated relic.
It’s worth noting that the first three episodes had an episode-to-episode continuity, which they put in order to seem like they were being experimental. That’s fine, except for the fact that they already did it before in Season 3 (with the first two episodes), much of Season 4, and all of Season 6. They’ve essentially taken an old idea and made it seem new. All it actually does is show a total lack of effort on the part of the writers.
The fifth episode, “The Magic Bush”, had a lot of potential, but the writers just wasted it on another sub-par South Park episode. It opens with Cartman being his usual horrible self, and eventually persuading Butters into using his dad’s drone to spy on Craig’s mom. The ensuing frenzy causes drones to descend upon the town until they are lured away by another drone, one that carries a blow-up doll that is supposed to look like “Craig’s mom”. This episode tries to touch on the issue of privacy, but the writers seem to have trouble dealing with the fact that they’ve irredeemably failed at doing so. The writers, through Cartman, make the assumption that privacy is dead and gone, when in fact it isn’t. If privacy is gone, we’ve just let it slip away. The last nail in the coffin for this episode is the minstrel singing about Craig’s mom. Not much more needs to be said on this one.
In the sixth episode, “Freemium Isn’t Free”, the only thing that’s even remotely funny is the fake ad for drinking responsibility, but that’s merely a hollow attempt to recapture the style of humour present in Season 5, but without any intelligence whatsoever. The rest of the episode is simply unfunny and, may I add, stupid. The premise is based around so-called “free-to-play” games, but they do it in such an incredibly dumb way. They assert that the “mium” in “freemium” means “not really”, and I think the writers only did this because they assume we’re all stupid. The “muim” in Latin actually means “too”. It’s also really annoying that the writers constantly compare freemium gaming to the alcohol industry, saying that they’re exactly the same, when in truth the alcohol industry is far worse because everyone accepts it. The only good part of the episode is when Satan shows up, only for it all to go down the tubes with the cheesy and utterly banal introduction of “the Canadian Devil”. Like the other episodes, “Freemium Isn’t Free” should be avoided like a plague.
The seventh episode, “Grounded Vindaloop”, is both a premature and immature jab at the Oculus Rift. In this episode, Butters is tricked by Cartman into wearing a fake Oculus Rift for his own amusement. We already had an episode where Cartman tricks Butters into doing something stupid in the same season. Did we really need another one with even stupider acting? Here, however, this takes on a new low as Cartman seems to made Butters lose all perception of fantasy and reality. After Butters lands in the hospital, Cartman tricks Butters again into thinking he’s no longer in reality in a bad Matrix parody. It turns out that the whole episode is actually Cartman stuck wearing a real Oculus headset (never mind that the actual Oculus Rift isn’t even out yet), and in the virtual reality, he’s in complete denial. It’s nothing new, and there’s no jokes to speak of. Like in the other episodes, there’s way too much shouting and overuse of the f word. There’s also a racist caricature of customer service call centre that isn’t even funny at all. All the writers do in this episode is make the story sound much more convoluted than it actually is. What’s even worse is that the characters take the whole plot seriously, like it actually is The Matrix, and the ending was simply a failure in my eyes. The only shred of potential came from the short moment when we saw a real life version of the characters, and it was too short to be worth it.
The eighth episode, the unfortunately titled “Cock Magic”, really seems to show that the writers are running out ideas, right down to the title. One thing that’s apparent is that the writers seem to be under the illusion that playing Magic: The Gathering is “hardcore dude stuff”, even when it’s chickens playing the game against each other. Call me crazy, but if I ever played Magic: The Gathering, I wouldn’t play it with people who treated it like freaking football. Bizarrely enough, however, this isn’t the worst episode in the series. In fact, it’s one of the funniest, but for completely wrong reasons. The main source of humour in this episode is the age-old homophone, causing confusion between roosters and…let’s just say I’d rather keep my quiet dignity here. Randy’s stupidity in this episode is taken to an absurd new level at a birthday party, and it’s actually really funny, until the actual police force gets confused to the point of stupidity. The episode ended on a rather awkwardly high note, with Randy’s “magic” scoring a few laughs, but the actual ending was quite dry and quick. To be fair, this is one of the best episodes of the new season, but that’s not saying much. In fact, if I were to keep watching it, it’d get old just like the rest.
After a blatantly self-indulgent two-week gap, the semifinal episode, “#REHASH” begins a two-part story of trashy pop culture. It starts with Ike watching PewDiePie play the latest Call of Duty, in an overly cynical view of contemporary culture. Later on, it becomes clear that the writers are attempting a pointless cynical jab at young people for no reason, as if Kyle assumes that all “kids these days” are the same. Immediately afterwards, Cartman’s usual awful self takes perhaps the dumbest, laziest turn as he becomes a pastiche of PewDiePie, giving him total freedom to be as horrible, whiny and pathetic as he wants. Even worse is the fact that every kid and toddler in the show thinks that actually playing games in a living room is “for old people”, even though that’s how video games are supposed to be played. I can’t help but think that the South Park writers are surrendering to the times, rather than being the defiant anti-conformists that they were in the 1990’s, complete with the message to that “commentary being the content”.
In the episode’s side-plot, Randy (a.k.a. “Lorde”) is about to play live with trashy pop celebrities Iggy Azalea, Nicky Minaj and Miley Cyrus (all of whom weren’t even fashionable when they were new), and he somehow can’t deal with it, for reasons already elaborated on in previous episodes. At the inappropriately named “Women of Rock” concert, Lorde gets into a fight with Iggy Azalea, who is apparently mad at Lorde seeing “herself” as a more positive role model. Later on, we see a holographic Michael Jackson being apparently summoned by Azalea, almost as though the dead themselves are being rehashed. To me, this is truly symbolic, as the writers themselves are rehashing a TV show that has been technically dead since Chef left the show. Sure enough, the Michael Jackson hologram runs amok, just after people realize that the Lorde they looked up to was actually a middle-aged man in a dress. Naturally, Randy tries to bring the crowd back by acting like the other pop stars, much to the crowd and Shelley’s disgust. Afterwards, the hologram company tries to stop the runaway Jacko hologram with another hologram, of the rapper Tupac Shakur, who later sleeps with Randy’s wife. I’m glad that the South Park writers are finally taking on the trashy pop musicians, but I think that they might be doing this the wrong way, mainly because they’re being far too objective of them. Where’s the writer’s perspective? What’s the harm in us seeing Lorde kicking the crap out of everyone (including the record producer) after being exposed for who he was. Instead, we get Randy rubbing his crotch in front of a whole crowd.
In the season finale, “#HappyHolograms”, Kyle continues his concerns for how the most important things are now trendings, and voices his concerns on Twitter. Later, he’s visited by Bill Cosby (the same Bill Cosby who we now know was a rapist), the only person who even remotely represents Kyle’s values at all, except he’s a hologram. Unfortunately, Kyle’s idea gets hijacked when Cartman appears in it via his online persona. Speaking of holograms, Randy is still pursuing the hologram conspiracy, while the writers recycle the Michael Jackson joke that was funnier in Season 8. Cartman’s commentary pollutes the episode, and the TV executives are willingly giving Cartman as much power as he wants, in what is very symbolic of the South Park writers always letting Cartman run amok, all while Stan and Kyle are being passed off as grumpy old men.
The writing in this episode is just as despicable as the previous episode, particularly because the writers assume that America’s police force is still racist. I know they were trying to reference something, but let me be frank before I stray away from the point. One racist police officer does not accurately represent an entire national police force. Besides, the jokes about racism are just getting old, and are starting to sound just as racist as the characters telling them. The story is written in almost exactly the same way as the other newer episodes, and with no improvement whatsoever. Every dead celebrity possible was crammed in, and in the most tasteless way possible (with the most tasteless being Kurt Cobain’s hologram and the singing snowman ass). All the while, numerous fictional tweets are shown throughout the episode, as the writers try and portray Twitter as the most prominent thing in the world. Meanwhile, the episode continues to reference past episodes, before culminating in an unfashionably idealistic and sappy ending that represents all that is low about new South Park. The episode takes a new low when PewDiePie is summoned to stop Cartman in the lamest possible way, while once again committing the cardinal sin of being nice to a celebrity.
All of what I’ve said in this entire article can be summed up into one central point. The newest episodes of South Park were complete, unmitigated crap, but it goes beyond just that. The newer episodes represent a show that has gone so far past its prime that it now resorts to the lamest, haphazardly gathered plots the writers could find, having run out of good ideas. If that’s not enough, the ratings for show have reached an all-time low. Episodes 7 and 10 in the new season both hold the record for what might possibly be the lowest ratings in the show’s history. With that in mind, why can’t South Park just die already? This is a show that stopped being funny over a decade ago, and yet because South Park is such a popular merchandising brand, the producers are interested in keeping it going just so they could milk the brand for all it’s worth. This is the kind of show that needs to go off the air before it goes even more stale than it already has, and no matter how the writers tried making the show better, they only made it worse. There’s no creative energy left in the show, and I’m absolutely certain that the next batch of episodes is going to be just like season 18, but much worse. I can tell from a mile away that South Park is suffering the same fate as The Simpsons, in that it has become yet another mindless cartoon with none of the intelligence, wit, edge, or artistic merit that older episodes had. In my opinion, South Park may as well be over and done with, but as long as there’s profit to be had, I have a distinct feeling that the producers aren’t going to let South Park go without a fight.