South Park’s 18th season came to an end with “#HolidayHolograms” and “The Washington Redskins Go F*ck Yourself Holiday Special,” putting an exclamation point on a wacky season unlike any other in the show’s history. For series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, it showed a willingness to tinker with form that other shows (*cough* The Simpsons *cough*), wouldn’t dare to dream of this deep into their run.
With another season in the books, our writers took a shot at making sense of the experimentation with form, the clit-rubbing Lorde and the evils of freemium gaming, as well as handing out some awards to wrap up our coverage of South Park season 18…
This season has seen South Park experimenting with continuity more than they ever have before. Do you think this experiment has worked? Will this be an approach they’ll continue with?
Chris Longo: By now we’re used to, and maybe expect, two or three episode arcs on South Park. We’ve even gotten a taste of continuity way back when Kenny died in season five and the search for a new best friend (dawning the age of Butters) carried on into season six. But we’ve never seen anything like this. Without #rehashing the recurring jokes throughout season 18, I’ll say this: more often than not, it worked. At times it felt out of place, especially early on, considering we’ve been conditioned to think one way for 18 seasons. The experiment passed the test for me on the strength of Lorde, in all her angsty, misfit teen glory.
As for whether South Park will continue this trend, Matt and Trey seemed to have found something that keeps the show fresh for them as writers. To keep a running joke going for 10 episodes, to me, indicates that this is a wrinkle of the show that will likely stay. I think for the most part fans enjoyed and appreciated it.
David Crow: I think the continuity of season 18 worked for the same reason that they should not continue it past this year: it’s never really been done on South Park before.
Sure, everyone has (mostly) enjoyed the two or three-parters in the past like “Go God Go,” “Cartoon Wars,” or even “Black Friday.” But seeing how for at least the first four episodes every plot development could be traced back to the boys trying to go fund themselves—which led into trying to get Lorde into a party, which spiraled into Lorde being “investigated” by Spin Magazine, which then culminated in Stan abusing Randy/Lorde’s newfound wealth with freemium gaming, etc.—the joke became all the richer. The only downside is that the writers never further explored why Butters burned down the gym.
I found this running joke, including Randy only now drinking gluten-free beer, to be worth a relatively sly chuckle every week. However, I don’t really consider South Park to be Dan Harmon when it comes to callbacks. Doing it once for the first time in 18 years is hilarious. Promptly ignoring the continuity for year 19 would be even better.
Daniel Kurland: I thought South Park mixing things up this year with a somewhat serialized season was some wonderful stuff. It wasn’t a complete success, and there were certainly episodes that were still self-contained and stood on their own, but episodes like the two-part finale that literally connected all of these dots together had such a satisfying, chaotic payoff.
Again, it might not have been perfect, but 18 years into anything, you’re bound to get bored, so Matt and Trey playing with the formula is more than fair game. They’ve even been pushing more and more in this direction through recent seasons, with the increasing amount of multi-part episodes, and off-handed callbacks to previously in the year. Let’s not forget that we’ve also had full seasons in the past dealing with larger stories like the “permanent” death of Kenny and the replacement of him in the gang. I think it was an experiment that turned into something much better than they could have hoped, and it’ll probably continue into next year. Unless they get bored again.
Last year saw Matt and Trey spend a lot of time creating the often-delayed South Park video game, “The Stick of Truth.” As a result it almost feels like this experience has heavily informed the season, taking the most video game-centric tone to episodes ever (freemium games, gambling, “Let’s Play” culture…). What did you think of this? Would you like to see other thematic ideas explored in future seasons?
CL: I spend a lot of time in my reviews (and in our preseason predictions) talking about which topics they chose to skewer and why. The extent to which they used gaming as a common thread this season didn’t shock me at all, considering how many episodes we’ve seen based on video games and gaming consoles. That being said, coming off the carefully structured Game of Thrones arc from last season, Matt and Trey clearly have a lot to say about the video game industry.
It wasn’t necessarily overkill, but I would have liked to see them hone in their ideas a bit, particularly with freemium gaming and Let’s Play. Both topics were all over the place in their respective episodes — in my opinion two of the weaker efforts in season 18. For future seasons, the idea of an underlying thematic element running through an entire season can definitely work, but I think we’ve seen enough on video games for now.
DC: I personally appreciated all of their diatribes on freemium gaming and Let’s Play culture, because as someone well into my 20s, I’m far past the “grandpa” stage of this side of pop culture. I didn’t even know that “freemium” was a word until South Park, much less who Pewdiepie is. Hell, after watching that episode and some of his videos, I still don’t know what’s going on with that.
I would love to see them continue unpacking themes just as they did with Broadway after Book of Mormon. Maybe they have something to say about the basic cable business model as more and more premium networks are now considering going “off-script” from cable packages?
DK: Whether this was an intentional goal of Matt and Trey or just something that slipped out of their subconscious, I thought it led to a lot of great material for the season. While I wouldn’t go as far as saying the theme of the season was “video games” or anything, just having a well to keep returning to and giving a broader framework to it all providing a nice, restrained focus. It didn’t monopolize the season in a way that if you had no interest in this larger topic at hand that the season would fall flat for you, but if you did pick up on it, it was an appreciated unifier. Having this sort of thematic brainchild idea that is driving all or most of the stories behind a season is a great concept. I can only support it.
We certainly got more Randy this season than we have in quite some time. Has he become an essential character to the show, on the same level as the four boys (and the fifth wheel, Butters!)?
CL: If the four boys are the titties and balls of South Park, then Randy is its heart and soul. It’s been so much fun to see him develop over the years from auxiliary character to fan favorite (same with Butters) to an indispensible part of the show… and he’s inspired me to take up Cock Magic. Coolest dad on TV.
DC: For years now, Randy has been the unofficial heir apparent to Cartman, even if he is about 40 years older. Once just a simple geologist who is as mindlessly obnoxious as the rest of the adults in South Park, he has become a comedy MVP, finally wresting the title away from Butters this season. I’ve loved him ever since his battles with “Bat-Dad,” never mind his stints as a Broadway producer and being a busy little bee. But whether as an in-denial alcoholic, a cock magic professional, or as of course Lorde, Randy was the star of Season 18. He had the best storylines. I still can’t get out of my head how he accomplished getting the “Barbie, let’s go party” guy from Aqua in his pants.
But his greatest trick? Finally becoming the star of the series for at least a season.
DK: Randy—or rather, I guess—Lorde was really the lynchpin of the whole season, wasn’t he? Randy has certainly become as essential to the show as the main boys have. Each year we’ve typically gotten at least one Randy-centric episode, almost acting as an acknowledgement of his acceptance into the main fold. He’s firmly established himself, and his presence is felt, just as we usually get one episode a season that doesn’t feature any of the main boys (this year it was “Handicar”). This year went even further with this though, almost using Randy as the connective tissue through the year.
Best Supporting Actors: Which characters besides Randy stood out for you during season 18?
CL: Timmy’s enemies, Mimsy and Nathan, deserve more screentime. They are throwback cartoon characters in every sense and it’s a nice way to mix things up as we saw with the unique Wacky Races episode. Cartman also deserves a shout out for his Steve Jobs-like performance on stage in “Go Fund Yourself” and his Aunt Jemima dream in “Gluten-Free Ebola.”
DC: Does Lorde not count?
I suppose if I were to give an honest answer, I’d lean once more towards Butters. While he never had a full episode to himself to really shine, he still got a number of moments that while always stood out. Be it how he uses the bathroom in “Cissy,” inexplicably burning down the gym in “Go Fund Yourself,” or simply being allowed to live out his greatest fantasy in “Grounded Vindaloop” (which consists of punching his power-happy father in the balls), he always was able to steal the show. “He’s not a woman, he’s not a man, he’s something that you’ll never understand. But he would die for me.”
DK: Cartman, as predictable an answer as that may be, definitely won me over the most this year. Whether it was through his wonderful cis-gendered antics, blowing up the concept of virtual reality with Butters, or the infectious CartmanBra (Cartmaaaaaan Braaaa!) persona that fuels the devastation of the finale, Cartman was in top form this year.
Runner-up goes to Nathan and Mimsy.
This was a big season for new celebrity cameos… and holograms. Who was your favorite superstar to get the South Park treatment?
CL: Matthew McConaughey was driving Handicars long before he was getting paid to drive Handicars. I’m surprised it’s taken this long for Matty to show up in South Park, but now that he’s here I never want him to leave. As much as I liked “Go Fund Yourself” I think they missed a big opportunity with scumbag Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, but the Roger Goodell bot and fish-eyed Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones more than made up for it.
But what was the icing on the cake? Bill Cosby luring in Taylor Swift to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Nothing was held back during “The Washington Redskins Go F*ck Yourself Holiday Special.”
DC: I’m not sure if this counts as a “celebrity,” but seeing Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, be treated with the same “respect” by Eric Cartman that his team’s brand holds for Native Americans was a joy.
DK: The return of Michael Jackson really did it for me, not just because it shows that, okay, we’re ready to make fun of Michael Jackson again, but it came as such a surprise with such a foreboding, dark undercurrent to it. And, it was nice to hear “you’re ignorant” again in that high register.
Pick a quote, gag or phrase that you couldn’t get out of your head…
CL: Feeling good on a Wednesday. Ya, Ya.
DC: I really feel like I’m being baited to quote Lorde at this point. But instead, I’ll pull from the scorched Christmas tree finale when a South Park police officer shouted, “It’s a black guy. Shoot him! Shoot him and then choke him!” Wildly inappropriate and probably too soon, it’s also mercilessly eye-popping commentary for these days.
DK: The tag at the end of “Grounded Vindaloop” is really something else and a beautiful end note to an accomplished episode. The Internet went nuts over these few seconds, and not without good reason.
And the best episode of the season was…
CL: My two favorite episodes, “Grounded Vindaloop” and “Handicar,” were hit or miss judging from the online reaction from fans. The latter was a ton of fun, but I can make a stronger argument for the former. It took Oculus glasses and a time loop for South Park to return to the storytelling it does best and the payoff was a perfectly executed live-action scene — one of my favorite moments of the entire series.
DC: Easily “The Cissy.” Trey Parker and Matt Stone achieved their best social satire aspirations by approaching the delicate line on gender politics and then jumping over it and calling everyone else a “cissy” for gawking. At the end of the day, it maintained their trademark progressivism of “whatevs” while simultaneously daring to offend by the mere presence of Cartman. And then it also had the truly most memorable subplot and line of the season…
DK: While this finale did a wonderful job pulling everything together, “Grounded Vindaloop” felt like the first real classic of the year. It’s such a dense, ambitious episode and as soon as the first reality “breaks” you know this is going to be something special.
If you could sum up season 18 in one sentence…
CL: “Go Fund Yourself.”
DC: I am Lorde (ya, ya, ya).
DK: “Engaging in a feedback loop with the audience.”