I’m starting to worry that South Park has learned the wrong lessons from last season’s success. Season 19 had a series of socially relevant episodes focusing on PC culture, Caitlyn Jenner, and Yaoi art which were all interlinked in some way. The season didn’t quite form one complete story, but the chaining of episodes ultimately culminated in the final few episodes which formed a larger picture about evil advertisements trying to take over the town. (It sounds silly, but in context, it worked.)
Season 20 is openly copying the “long game” format, but it’s not working in the same way Season 19 did. Last season’s episodes were largely self-contained, with just a hint here or there that a thread from one episode would appear in the next, or a joke would recur between episodes (“SHUT YOUR PIE HOLE, LESLIE!”) and we’d wonder where it was going. So far, Season 20 isn’t teasing us. It’s very openly saying that we’re playing the long game. Unfortunately, the long-term narration is interfering with South Park‘s ability to pick apart a single issue and rip it apart.
Maybe it’s best to pick apart the running plotlines right now and where they’re at so far, because as a whole, it didn’t seem like “The Damned” was saying anything in particular.
1. Garrison the Douche. Mr. Garrison is still running for President, badly, and wants to get the hell out. In what could have been an obvious focal point of the episode, Garrison debates Hillary Clinton in an open crib of Monday’s real debate with Donald Trump. Garrison comes clean, admits he’s a terrible candidate, and tells people to vote for Hillary. Unfortunately, Hillary’s been instructed to respond to everything with “My opponent is a liar and he’s not to be trusted,” and the audience falls more in love with Garrison than ever. This joke at least works initially (though I don’t know if Stone and Parker are hinting that Trump is trying to lose on purpose), but it’s a chuckleworthy look at the fact that people are still supporting certain candidates. It’s just too bad that the joke kept running.
2. Social Media Suicide. After the kids mistakenly assumed Cartman was “SkankHunt42,” the police are looking into suspicions that Eric was taken out by foul play. After all, people who commit social media suicide are usually very dramatic about it–Cartman simply disappeared. The kids are now nervous and need to cover it up, as they basically “murdered” their friend. The cops’ inability to just go and ask Cartman why he’s off social media is the kind of vintage humor the show is known for, and it’s too bad there wasn’t more of this kind of joke.
3. Cartman the Damned. Off social media, Cartman has become a non-entity. He’s found by Heidi Turner, who committed “suicide” last week, and she introduces him to a world where people live without social media. (Read: a public park.) In Heidi, Cartman finds a kindred spirit, someone who actually wants to be his friend and show him…well, that’s the episode-ending stunner. But seriously, this plotline goes for a combination of social commentary (social media divorces us from real human contact) and humor (they’re quietly introspective about it) and it just doesn’t work.
4. Gerald the Troll. Kyle’s dad continues his online trolling, going to all lengths to screw with a Danish olympian. And woah, the episode goes extremely dark when Gerald’s trolling actually gets her to kill herself. Look, South Park‘s done suicide before, but it’s normally in that cartoonish absurdist way. This was just bleak. But now Gerald’s a murderer, and the entire nation of Denmark has sworn to find out who did it. And, indeed, someone in town seems to know that Gerald is SkankHunt, and now he’s on the run.
5. Randy the Voter. Randy’s the lone person who’s fed up wth Garrison the douche candidate and can’t understand why people are voting for him. When Randy finally comes around on Garrison’s frank honesty, he’s ready to change his vote–until the town suddenly flips back. Randy begins to get a sense that some outside force is causing life to suck and people to choose lousy candidates, and the Member Berries are somehow connected…but that will have to wait until next week.
Are there funny bits here? Yes, and the episode definitely felt better than last week’s. But it really felt like five incomplete mini-episodes crammed into one, and the debate segment–while much needed–came off shoehorned in the larger context of the plot. Here’s hoping next week puts the running plots on the backburner and buckles down on a single thread.
Rating: Two and a half cheesy poofs out of five.