Another year, another season of South Park to help Americans make sense of the modern political and social climate of the U.S., or at least laugh at it. And if ever there was an election year that begged to be satirized, it’s this one. Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s series has been enjoying a modern-day resurgence, which means hopes for the show’s 20th season are perhaps unreasonably high. The season started off on a strong, intriguing albeit incomplete note this Wednesday with the season premiere episode, “Member Berries.” With that episode setting the stage for what looks to be a highly-serialized season, let’s speculate about what’s to come in South Park‘s 20th season.
1. Social commentary
This one goes without saying by now. South Park has grown from a crude show about potty-mouthed kids into a veritable cultural institution to help cut through the frenzied hysteria that characterizes much of American media. It’s unclear precisely what topics the show will take on (more on that later), but given the show’s lightning-fast production schedule, that will likely depend on how our news cycle plays out in the coming weeks. “We don’t try to make social commentary,” Parker recently said. “We get into a room six days before we go on the air, and that’s why it ends up being somewhat relevant.”
2. An overarching storyline
The biggest shift for South Park in recent years found the show embracing serialization and continuity across episodes. “Member Berries” felt incomplete because it seemed to be setting up for what will likely be the show’s most serialized season yet. Expect lots of callbacks to previous episodes and satirical points that take a few episodes to fully pay off.
3. Continuing plot threads from Season 19
South Park continuity not only spans episodes now, it spans seasons. “Member Berries” was full of continuing unresolved threads from the previous season. PC Principal seems to be a permanent presence at South Park Elementary. Former teacher Mr. Garrison (now orange-faced to make the Trump parallels even clearer) is still running for president with his running mate Caitlyn Jenner. Speaking of which…
4. Some election satire, but not too much
The most obvious event South Park can satire this year is the American election. They touched upon the primaries and the appeal of Trump’s brashness last season, and the election played a large part in the Season 20 premiere, which seemed to equate the regressive, vaguely racist nostalgia of the “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan with the reboot culture of Hollywood film.
For those with election year fatigue, fear not — according to Stone, the election won’t be this year’s sole focus. “This is our fourth or fifth season that we’ve done an episode dedicated to the election,” he said. “It’s tough to come up with new ideas, but we also don’t want it to take over the season. We need to do more than that.”
5. More of South Park‘s adults
As the series has gotten older, the focus has often shifted from the South Park kids to their parents, in part because that’s just who Stone and Parker relate to among the cast now. Stan’s father Randy is the most obvious example. So far, in Season 20 he has begun to succumb to the allure of the superfruit “member berries” to cope with his outrage that Mr. Garrison might win the election.
Will this plot carry as much weight as it did last year, when Randy joined the PC fraternity? The ending of the episode leads viewers to believe Kyle’s father Gerald will play a major role this season, as he’s outed as the mysterious online troll terrorizing local women. Will he become the show’s embodiment of latent racism and sexism, or will the show be taking another route?
6. Will the show satire itself?
Season 19 had no shortage of things to say about modern America, even turning a critical eye on South Park‘s role in a world of Whole Foods and political correctness. The show may be set to satirize itself once more with the introduction of the nostalgia-provoking “member berries,” inviting the town citizens to comfort themselves with rosy thoughts of the past (plus a few thoughts of veiled racism).
Tellingly, the episode also reintroduced a concept from the previous election episode, “Douche and Turd,” which compared choosing between bad candidates as choosing between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. Knowing the series and the attention to detail of its past couple seasons, I’d doubt this is coincidence — South Park is waxing nostalgic at the same time as its characters are succumbing to the harmful effects of it, so Season 20 might well see the series grappling with its own past, just as the nation is grappling with its own.
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