South Park – Season 20: What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
South Park is a Wisecrack favorite, and with the success of the serialized narratives of seasons 18 and 19, Season 20 was set up to be the best, and most relevant, season yet. But, it turned out to be…. less than that. Find out what went wrong on this Wisecrack Edition of South Park season 20!
Written by: Amanda Scherker
Directed by: Michael Luxemburg
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com/)
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Jacob Salamon & Emily Dunbar
South Park – Season 20: What Went Wrong? – Wisecrack Edition
Hey guys, Jared again. Today, we’re talkin’ about your favorite little town in Colorado — Yup, South Park. For the past three seasons, the show’s ditched its signature stand-alone episodes and embraced season-long serialization. And it’s largely been awesome. Season 19 brilliantly blended themes of PC culture, advertising, and gentrification over a multi-episode arc. And most recently, season 20 kicked off with an even more ambitious storyline that juggled the presidential election, member berries, a militant-feminist Cartman, a girl-hating, dick-flashing Butters, and a whole lot of Internet trolling. It all seemed to be leading up to some epic conclusion. And then everything just fizzled out into confusion, convolution, and… holy sh*t, they just blew up the Internet? So, why did season 20 leave us feeling all itchy and uncertain like a 4th grade, school-wide outbreak of lice had just surfaced? Well, we have an idea and it all has to do with Matt and Trey’s secret sauce that makes South Park’s writing so good. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on “South Park Season 20: What Went Wrong?” And as always, spoilers ahead. Watching South Park feels like peering inside the mind of the world’s funniest stoner — it’s unpredictable, imaginative, and completely unhinged in the best way possible. But make no mistake — there’s a strict order to the madness. The show is constructed with one rigid plot line rule: “We found out this really simple rule that maybe you guys have all heard before. We can take these beats — which are basically the beats of your outline — and if the words ‘and then’ belong between those beats? You’re f**ked.”
For instance, here’s a three-plot storyline about stick-figure John: John adopts a stray dog. And then, John wins the lottery and then, John becomes a Scientologist. John’s story has a sucky narrative because there is no cause and effect. You could rearrange each action into any order, and it would remain a random series of events in the life of a lottery-winning, dog-rescuing intro-level Scientologist. So what makes good, South-Park approved writing? “Whenever you can replace your ‘and’s with ‘but’s or ‘therefore’s makes for better writing.”
Take South Park’s famous Mormon episode: an annoyingly perfect Mormon kid moves to town. Therefore, he pisses everyone off. Therefore, Stan decides to kick his ass. But, the kid is so nice that he tells Stan to go ahead and beat him up. Therefore, Stan doesn’t beat him up. Instead, he agrees to go to the kid’s house for dinner. Notice how each action that begins with “therefore” or “but” indicates a consequence or reaction to the previous action. Every plot point matters, which is why the show never loses momentum. Okay, so that’s South Park’s golden rule. But before we dive into what went wrong with season 20, it’s time to talk about the orange-tinted elephant in the room. Yup, the president of the United States. Stone and Parker have been upfront about the fact that, like 99% of pollsters, they expected, “Turd Sandwich” to win the election, and planned the series around that outcome. They had to do desperate last minute rewrites in order to air an episode the day after the election. So, not ideal. As soon as “Giant Douche” Mr. Garrison wins the election, the show starts breaking the creators’ core rules — “And f**king them all to death.” — as seen in the two main plotlines: Member Berries and Trolling. Let’s map out the Member Berries plot line. Randy tries member berries, falls into a nostalgic trance, and things get a little dark. “‘Member when there weren’t so many Mexicans?” Therefore, Randy realizes Member Berries are dangerous, brainwashing jerks. “What the f**k’s going on with these member berries?” Meanwhile, Mr. Garrison (along with his VP, Caitlyn Jenner) is leading in the polls. But, he realizes he doesn’t have a plan to carry out his campaign promises and will look like a jackass if he wins. “What the hell do I do? If I win, I won’t be able to do what I promised.”
Therefore, Mr. Garrison spends the first half of the season trying to sabotage his campaign so Hillary will win. “I don’t know what the f**k I’m doing. I’ve gotta come clean — I had no idea I would get this far, but the fact of the matter is: I should not be president.” But, his voters catch on and demand an explanation. Therefore, Randy tells Garrison the truth about his popularity. “When life is changing so fast, it makes us yearn for the old ways, when life seemed simpler. But it doesn’t mean those old ways are good for us now.” Therefore, the two of them set out to destroy Member Berries, but quickly realize that these little guys just won’t die. Therefore, Randy convinces Mr. Garrison to give a heartfelt speech denouncing nostalgia. “On November 8th, you must vote against me.And show the world that you didn’t think the new Star Wars was all that good.” There you have it: a perfect, half-season setup for a Hillary victory that follows the golden rule of South Park storytelling. Except newsflash — Hillary lost. Suddenly, they have to justify Garrison’s surprising win, and that’s when things get messy. Now, South Park has to improvise its way through the rest of the season and the writers start to break their own storytelling rules. We go from a strictly “but” or “therefore” based plot to a big clusterfuck of “and then”s. Starting with: And then… Mr. Garrison wins anyway. Out of nowhere. And then Caitlyn barfs, reinfecting Mr. Garrison and Randy with Member Berries. So, Randy and Garrison trip out on nostalgia, forget their quest to destroy member berries, and generally get stoked on Garrison’s victory. This presses the rewind button on the plot.
Watching them un-learn the perils of nostalgia is literally narrative back-pedaling. Also, you have this nagging feeling that it should take more than a bit of berry-flavored nostalgia to explain Garrison’s split-second transformation from terrified, self-sabotaging presidential candidate to the cocky leader of the free world. “Guess who’s here? It’s the President of the United f**king States!” From here, the Member Berry storyline just generally gets muddled. At the beginning of the season, they had a clear purpose: to set up a physical embodiment of the toxic nostalgia that will eventually be overcome like the human ads in the earlier season. They started out as lazy, intoxicating berries. And then, they magically turn into a weird vomit-inducing virus. And then, they stop by a 1920s nightclub in a brief side-story that seems quickly forgotten. And then, we find out they’re Nazis — “‘Member Storm Troopers?” “Sure, I ‘member.” “Not those Storm Troopers! The real old ones! People wanna ‘member? They’re gonna ‘member.” — also pals with Vladimir Putin, and by the end, they’re looking like a tiny fruit militia.
Ultimately, the show doesn’t offer any justification for the Member Berries’ transformation. Instead, we get a random progression of events that build without any apparent logic. And that’s just not the South Park MO. “Well, I’m getting pretty sick of it!” Now, on to another subplot that got tangled up by a Trump win — trolling. For most of the season, we watch Kyle’s dad, Gerald, living his best life as the wine-o troll, Skankhunt42. This initially conforms with the South Park philosophy of story structure: Gerald’s trolling angers the Danes. Therefore, the Danes threaten to release everyone’s Internet history, sending Gerald, Cartman, South Park, and the world into a panic. Enter: Hillary Clinton, who is confident she’s about to win the presidency. But she finds out Troll Trace might leak her online activities. Therefore, she needs… “Who is Skankhunt42?” ”We believe he’s the only one who can save you.”
Then… Crap! She loses the election and again, the narrative structure starts to crumble. Without her presidency to defend, Clinton doesn’t have any real reason to recruit Gerald/Skankhunt42. And then, confusingly, Clinton recruits him anyway, with a vague mission: he needs to infiltrate Troll Trace to protect “U.S. Secrets.” “We want to send someone into Denmark, undercover, and steal their technology.” This entire scene of Hillary meeting Gerald below the bridge feels super weird and disjointed. Almost like it’s from an alternate reality? That’s because it probably was recycled material from the original, “If Hillary had won” version of the episode. It certainly would fit the South Park rule of storytelling: a newly elected Hillary is afraid of having compromising emails released by Troll Trace. Therefore, she recruits Gerald to take down the Danes. Gerald wants to stop Troll Trace from revealing his secret identity anyway — therefore, he agrees to go and delete evidence, and save both of them from exposure. But in this strange, new President Garrison-run world, that can’t fly. So, in a desperate attempt to salvage the plot line, the show reveals that Clinton’s claim was merely a ruse, and she’s actually just helping the Danes kidnap American trolls in exchange for the protection of her emails. And then… oops, it turns out they’re just trolling the American trolls they captured. And then, this top Danish guy wasn’t trying to punish the trolls, he’s also just a giant troll, trolling the world for lulz. And also he’s… “Not even f**king Danish.”
Did your brain just melt? If so, it’s probably because South Park abandoned its most basic narrative premise. None of the events in the trolling narrative actually build off previous actions. They’re just a seemingly random, increasingly complicated laundry list of plot points. The show-writers openly complained about the narrative hole they’d dug for themselves. “Come on! This isn’t South Park! What’s happened to us? We used to have a challenge and deal with it. Then move on to the next one! Now, we’ve just been dealing with trolling and internet stuff over and over, week after week. And I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty sick of it!” It almost feels like the Danish guy’s announcement that he’s “just trolling” the world is a last-ditch effort to rescue the narrative. “Maybe this is, like, the new, post-funny era of satire!” Just like Mr. Garrison when he’s drunk on member berries, a completely nihilistic troll doesn’t need plot consistency. From there, the writers need to wrap up a few incomplete story lines, most notably the risks Cartman and Gerald face from having their Internet history revealed. So, they commit plot hari kari by… blowing everything up. That’s — everybody from Kyle’s little brother, Ike, to the top generals at the Pentagon collaborate to take down the Internet with a massive blitz of trolling and a little help from Elon Musk’s Space X program. By blowing up the Internet, and deleting everybody’s ugliest secrets, they also destroy the cause/effect that had been building up all season.
Instead of a satisfying conclusion where things get, you know, resolved, audiences just got a big old “Psych!” we’re blowing everything up. Before that, the season had done such a good job of analyzing the way Internet has fragmented our public and private selves, how this sense of privacy has given us all the ability to behave like assholes without the people we love ever having to find out. This was all building up to a really promising conclusion, but we never got it. The show also brilliantly skewers the outrage cycles that dominate Internet culture, as trolls expertly push our buttons. This kind of simmering outrage actually seems like a more interesting explanation for Mr. Garrison’s victory than member berries. The show never develops this idea, aside from giving it one quick shout out during the finale. “What the hell is Trevor’s Axiom?” “Trevor’s Axiom is well-known equation in online trolling. It’s a way in which one person can create a massive reaction on the internet! All bringing out the worst in humanity!” “Huh, that sorta sounds like how I got elected.”
Because Matt and Trey thought Hillary would win, they spent the first half of the season teasing the perils of having your internet history exposed. But since Trump won, Hillary’s emails exposing her are no longer as relevant as say, the outrage cycles on social media. So, what might Season 20 of South Park have looked like in a parallel universe, where the Turd Sandwich triumphs? “Haven’t you seen the polls? It’s President-elect Sandwich.” According to a Deadline interview with Stone and Parker, viewers got a sneak peak in the post-election episode. Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby joined forces to announce their new South Park gentleman’s club — an obvious hangover from the If-Hillary-Won version of the episode. Later, Bill confides in Butters that the club was actually place for men to hide because: “Trust me. My wife is a crazy bitch. She and all the other women in the world are about to get payback, and we are all completely f**ked.”
Parker says that in the alternate reality season 20, they would have focused on Bill settling into his new role as the apparently-terrified First Gentleman of the U.S. It would have been a fitting way to escalate the battle of the sexes already underway at South Park Elementary. It also would give a lot more poignancy to Cartman’s newly-inspired fear of his girlfriend, Heidi, who he suspects is trying to destroy him. Instead, the First Gentleman’s club is understandably abandoned. So, what does the future hold for South Park? Well, the creators weren’t being subtle when they called the last episode of season 20, “The End of Serialization as we know it.” If they’re really leaving serialization behind, that’s kind of a bummer. Because as messy as season 20 was, there was a lot of promise. And in our humble opinion, they did some of their best work of the decade in seasons 18 and 19. Why let a silly election between a Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich ruin all that? So, what did you guys think of season 20? Let us know what you think in the comments. Thanks for watching, guys. Peace.