This South Park review contains spoilers.
South Park Season 23 Episode 1
The end of serialization as we know it? Bullshit. Matt Stone and Trey Parker couldn’t resist. South Park’s season 23 premiere set the wheels in motion for what looks like a long arc. And it’s already a runaway train off the tracks.
I’ve been an advocate of South Park’s push for serialization and used it in arguments against the crowd shouting from the mountains that the show has jumped the shark. The opening minutes of “Mexican Joker” highlight what’s made this narrative experiment worthwhile. Switching up the show’s intro to “Tegridy Farms,” Randy’s guided tour, and the evolution of his weed business into an attraction, right down to the show’s attention to detail with Randy’s own plush dolls in the visitor center, was really fun stuff and a great way to call back to one of the stronger episodes in recent memory.
Tegridy Farms is a place I never want to leave, but alas, “Mexican Joker” falls into some typical South Park pratfalls after we leave its luscious green grounds. I’m so damn tired of writing this, but Cartman and Kyle isn’t South Park’s version of Batman and the Joker, destined to do this forever. Their rivalry ran its course 10 years ago and is perhaps my least favorite part of the show. So instead of exploring new ground in the B plot, we get the absolute laziest version of this rivalry.
Mopey Cartman calls ICE on Kyle’s family and the law enforcement agency shows up to immediately arrest the Broflowskis and separate their children. If there’s any humor in that scenario, it’s completely lost on me. South Park could have went completely over-the-top with the scene and displayed the actual horror that a family separation like this is in real life. Or it could have played the scene for laughs as a sharper critique on the abhorrent government policy. It did neither in the toothless execution of the scene. Okay, fine, so we’ll see where this setup takes us.
When Kyle gets to the detention center, he’s confronted with half-sketched out guards who add little comedic value to the rest of the episode with the exception of a one-liner about how people will think they’re racist because Kyle, a Jew, was detained. It all reeks of the writer’s room feeling like they needed to address ICE, then justifiably finding it a hard topic to penetrate, especially to play up for shock value, then waiting until Monday night to pair it with something topical (the Joker movie) as a crutch to flesh out the rest of the episode. Conflating traumatic childhood experiences with future domestic terror not only misunderstands the character of the Joker, but feels like an incredibly clumsy reaction to some valid concerns, particularly from survivors of the Aurora shooting and mental health advocates, about the yet-to-be released film.
I expect this sort of plotting in episode 7 or 8 of a new season. It’s disappointing because South Park, over the past 22 seasons, rarely swings and misses this big with season openers. Even last season they were able to tackle another serious issue, mass shootings, and come up with an episode that was pointed, topical, and still had shock value. Randy’s plot takes a backseat in the third act, but it feels as though the Big Weed industry idea has more legs to it, especially when the show did a pretty decent job skewering Amazon and the gross underbelly of capitalism last season.
Again, serialization could prove these hanging threads fruitful. Cartman and Kyle are still in the detention center. Randy lost all his “tegridy” and is now a domestic terrorist. I feel like the wholesomeness of Tegridy has been ripped away from me. With all the bad in the world right now, why couldn’t we just keep our Tegridy? Sigh. I don’t have much hope for where this arc is going, but I’m a masochist and I’ll be back next week.
On a serious note, there are real families being torn apart across this country right now. We support the mission of the ACLU to protect the rights of individuals. Learn more at aclu.org