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Review: South Park - Season 22

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Unfulfilled

I can't think of many other shows on television that have remained relevant after 10 seasons. There is almost always a dip in quality with regards to writing either because the original showrunners have left or networks start to influence the decisions made with regards to plotting. If something is successful and has a strong reach, you can't risk putting off people with controversial opinions.

South Park has given the finger to that idea for its entire existence. While not every season is a winner, I'm astonished that this plucky cartoon about foul-mouthed children is still on the air. When the show isn't making me question myself and the world around me, it is turning around topical episodes at an incredible rate that keeps the show constantly ahead of the curve. You never quite know just what is going to come next with South Park.

Sadly, Season 22 sees the show stuck in a slump that I'm not sure is possible to return from.

South Park S22

As with Season 21, this new season of South Park avoids becoming a serialized program. Mostly down to creative reasons from showrunners Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Season 22 is more in line with the classic seasons of the past than the heavily structured plotlines we've seen since season 18. While certain off jokes make recurring appearances throughout each episode, there isn't a constant thread building up to a big payoff.

What this means is that while each episode is able to fully explore a single idea, the season ends on a pretty flat note. I kept thinking that the rug would be pulled out from under me and reveal something big, but I just got a bunch of disconnected ideas that had been tackled years prior by the show.

I'll start from the beginning and do a quick run through of each of the 10 episodes. The first, titled "Dead Kids," plays up the mass shooting hysteria that has been sweeping American news networks. Basically every day, South Park Elementary is getting shot up and the whole town has gotten over it. Well, mostly the whole town, as Stan's mom, Sharon, is outraged that no one seems to care.

The idea is clear here: this is a commentary on how our nation has become numb to the violence that permeates our airwaves. While a fine topic to start a discussion, the ending sees Sharon overcome her outrage to just accept she can't change anything and join in with the masses. It's like she is giving up, which is what I thought the main theme of the season would be.

The next episode, "A Boy and a Priest," sees the town ridiculing Father Maxi after another case of Catholic priests molesting children gets out. I honestly didn't know this was topical (priests in Pennsylvania were involved with a cover-up a few months prior), but I enjoyed how it played back into the classic episode "Red Hot Catholic Love" from Season Six. Still, I was a bit unsure why this needed further addressing.

The episode sees Maxi start a friendship with Butters after feeling like his sermons aren't working. The Catholic Church gets wind of Maxi's "friendship" and assumes the worst. This leads to a kidnapping and Maxi having to save the children, accepting his role as a martyr for the cause. He might not be able to stop the Church from its horrible ways, but he can make sure his town is safe.

South Park S22

This is all fine and dandy, but the jokes are minimal, the relationship between Butters and Maxi is hardly developed and it sees the entire town joining in on a joke that kind of defeats the point of the first episode. I thought everyone was numb to the outrage on TV, so why are priests doing anything even seen as worthy of attention?

The third episode, "The Problem with a Poo," is the most on-the-nose of the bunch and really misses the mark. This episode throws Mr. Hankey under the bus to satirize Roseanne's racist tweets and poke fun at the "controversy" surrounding Apu on The Simpsons. To say it casts a broad stroke is putting it lightly.

Kyle tries his best to defend his old friend, but when the entire town is against him for Hankey's increasingly stupid thoughts, he has to give up out of concern for his own image. He can't become a pariah like Hankey simply because their pasts once aligned. It's pretty sad, but Hankey shows no remorse and learns nothing, which makes it feel hollow.

South Park S22

Episode Four, "Tegridy Farms," then shifts gears and becomes a lot more lighthearted than the beginning of the season. Randy has given up on believing anything is in South Park for his family, so he packs up and moves out into the country to start a weed farm. His naivety convinces him that anything is possible with a little faith, but soon vape salesmen are making moves on his territory and Randy needs to fight for what he "believes" in.

I actually enjoyed this one, but there doesn't seem to be any clear message to the whole thing. There are jabs at how vaping is lame and a moral about how relying on yourself instead of corporations might do the world good, but this is mostly another goofy Randy episode where he makes a jackass of himself. I like the touch of him cribbing a fake Southern accent and then losing it when he has to get serious, but this really threw my analysis of the season out the window.

The next episode, "The Scoots," just further cemented, to me, that Season 22 doesn't know what it wants to be. The requisite holiday episode of the bunch, this one sees the town overrun with e-Scooters. It mainly focuses on Mr. Mackey being pissed about how people aren't paying attention while throwing in some contrived plot about Halloween candy and the boys abandoning Kenny.

South Park S22

For my idea to be correct, this episode would have ended with Mackey giving up and accepting e-Scooters as a part of life, but that isn't the case. He and Kenny join forces and knock out the cell towers in the town, which then render the scooters useless. Now the town has to return to life as normal, which I guess is what the writers were going for. This is then a commentary that comes off like an old man yelling, "Back in my day, we didn't have these fancy, new-fangled scooters. We walked 10 miles uphill in the snow both ways!" It doesn't develop Mackey or Kenny further and it certainly doesn't make heads or tails of what the central conflict is.

The next two episodes, "Time to Get Cereal" and "Nobody Got Cereal?", are the first of two two-parters and this really throws me for a loop. These episodes revolve around Al Gore and Manbearpig and it's revealed that the mythical creature actually exists. Now that the town has a reason to listen, everyone is trying to find Al Gore and get him to help them. He is reluctant but eventually comes around once they sit through his stupid film and shower praise on him.

In a way, this goes back to my idea of everyone giving up as the resolution sees the town make a compromise with Manbearpig that shifts the problems off to later generations. This is meant to parody how people still don't believe in global warming and that a lot of citizens aren’t thinking about the future of this planet. People are willing to toss garbage on the street or pollute the air with smoke and aerosol instead of becoming just a bit more environmentally conscious and making our planet greener.

South Park S22

What it mostly plays like, though, is an apology from Stone and Parker. Years ago, Al Gore was ripped a new one and turned into a walking punchline by the duo. Now, when natural disasters are becoming more abundant and weather patterns are starting to shift, it turns out even the most jaded of critics are starting to take notice of theories like global warming. Maybe Al Gore wasn’t just blowing hot air the whole time.

After that, we get to my least favorite episode of the season, "Buddha Box." This one is a bunch of mixed messages about anxiety and cultural apathy to the people around us. Cartman visits a therapist that diagnoses him with a crippling case of anxiety and this leads to Cartman somehow finding Buddha and developing a product that lets people channel out the world around them and play with their phones.

I get that the message is supposed to be people have a flimsy understanding of what mental illness truly is, but Kyle has always acted as the soapbox for Stone and Parker's personal beliefs. What's his ultimate answer to Cartman’s problem? "Get the fuck over it." That immediately made me tune out, especially since I deal with some heavy anxiety and depression that has nearly crippled my life.

South Park S22

This episode has moments where it can be funny (Cartman's speech to the mayor with multiple pokes at Kyle being a dick is funny), but the fundamental misunderstanding of how mental health afflicts people makes this a total failure to me. This is something South Park has tackled in the past to much better effect. All they needed was to have Tweak balance out Cartman's adoption of a sickness and show that not everyone is faking to hide themselves away. That would have made it a more well-rounded episode.

Finally, the last two-parter of episodes "Unfulfilled" and "Bike Parade" tackle the recent string of news about Amazon's unfair working conditions and depicts Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as an alien from Star Trek. For a season that started its focus on a lethargic community forfeiting its desire for growth, this duo of episodes goes in the opposite direction and ends the season with a whimper.

The main thrust of this episode is how an accident in the South Park Amazon fulfillment center gets swept under the rug by management and causes the town to become outraged. At the same time, the kids are all trying to create bikes for the bike race and are disgruntled that their Amazon packages aren't arriving. The setup is pretty clear: this is meant to show how dependent we've become on a single online retailer to the detriment of our local businesses and how we neglect the individual workers at big companies, but then the episodes just end with everything reverting back to normal.

South Park S22

There are certainly developments that tease a payoff, but then Randy gets the entire town high and they all tell Bezos to screw himself. I guess it is neat that a few of the disparate objects come back into play (Randy and Towlie use the e-Scooters to make a weed delivery service, for instance), but the episode drops its main plot well before reaching the finish line.

Just like that, the season ends and I'm left utterly confused. With how careful the plotting was for the past few years, Season 22 almost feels like Stone and Parker giving up on South Park. I know there was a running joke of "#cancelsouthpark" at the end of each episode, but is the duo really saying they are finished with the show? Was this season purposely bland to make some type of social commentary about apathy?

Not every moment was disappointing and I did laugh a few times, but there isn't a single episode in season 22 that feels like it is worth revisiting. This is saddening, for me, as I found my interest reinvigorated after season 18 thanks to how well written it was. While the next few seasons didn't match that quality, they still brought good episodes alongside clever jokes and socially conscious plots.

South Park S22

With this latest season, South Park just feels like it has run out of steam. Maybe everything will turn around next year, but I'm not holding out much hope. How much longer can Stone and Parker really keep doing this show before the well runs dry? They've had a fascinating run with plenty of highs and lows, but maybe it is time to say goodbye to South Park.

I suppose I'm just as over this series as its citizens were with school shootings. If it turns out that was the whole point, then maybe I'll reconsider my stance. For now, I'll just chalk this up to being a misfire. Fool me once, as they say.


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South Park - Season 22 reviewed by Peter Glagowski

4.5

BELOW AVERAGE

Has some high points, but they soon give way to glaring faults. Not the worst, but difficult to recommend.
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