South Park (Season 26) Review
Updated: Apr 24
FOR OVER 25 years, animated comedy series South Park has blessed television screens with its controversial humour and derisive social commentary; no person or event is safe from being mocked by series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone - not even themselves. Recent seasons have rarely held back, never giving an inch and providing meaningful messages by the episode's conclusion more times than not. The recent deal between Paramount and South Park has resulted in the length of seasons being cut down to a mere six episodes; a factor which may have played a heavy role to why this most reason sextet of episodes was a massive hit, or a squandered miss.
Season 26 kicked off on February 9th in disappointing fashion with the episode "Cupid Ye". The episode revolves around the new-found friendship between Kyle and Tolkien, a relationship Stan begins to become jealous of. Since it is Valentine's Day, the episode marked a return of Cartman's alter-ego Cupid Me, a figment of his imagination eager on spreading love to South Park. Aside from poking fun at the concept of TikTok and its unorthodox dance trends, the episode is unmemorable and doesn't stray far enough from the typical South Park jokes of "Kyle is Jewish" and Stan learning not to be jealous; a disappointing premiere to a highly-anticipated season.
Episode 2, "The Worldwide Privacy Tour", made waves around the world for being an shameless parody of the lives of Prince Harry and wife Meghan, and their recent departure from the Royal Family. The two travel the media world as they ask for privacy from being hunted by media, obviously resulting in their move to the small mountain town of South Park. The episode was easily the best of the season due to its sharp writing and well thought out commentary, rightfully pointing out the royal couple for their hypocrisy of wanting to live in solitude despite releasing a top-selling book and promoting their wants and needs on all forms of media during this time. Portraying them as the Prince and Princess of Canada further adds to the episode's greatness, seamlessly fitting into an animated world that already considers Canadians a joke which, by nature, adds even more to the beauty of an already classic episode.
"Japanese Toilets" is perhaps the laziest episode in a while, revolving around the concept of Randy Marsh buying a Japanese toilet and how he discovers the wonders that come from said toilet. Aside from a couple of chuckle-worthy moments in the first act, there isn't much to discuss regarding this underwhelming follow-up to the prior episode.
The following episode, "Deep Learning", has seen criticism from a vocal minority due to its lack of creative writing hidden underneath a basic plot - and that's what makes this episode so great. The story revolves around Stan as he is introduced to an app called ChatGPT which allows him to generate AI messages to send to his girlfriend Wendy. The different ramifications that emerge from this seemingly-harmless app is almost believable, with Butter suffering yet another beating and Clyde getting his comeuppance for introducing Stan to the app in the first place. However, the ending is what makes this episode stand above the others, with Parker and Stone leaning heavily into the app by having ChatGPT write an ending for the episode. The generic voice lines and by-the-numbers ending makes the commentary behind the episode all the more hilarious and shows just how easy it is to create a half-assed episode without the quality suffering itself.
Unfortunately, this is where the season begins to fall off as while "DikinBaus Hot Dogs" felt like a classic Cartman-Butters affair, the season finale failed to impress beyond a few sequences here and there. Mr Garrison and Randy take centre stage in the final episode; two characters that fans have sadly soured on in recent years due to overexposure in the past four seasons. "Spring Break" once again takes a crack at Donald Trump while also parodying Andrew Tate in what felt like a filler episode, and although it could've worked as a mid-season refresher, this is your season finale; the episode most people will remember the season for. To have Season 26 end in such lukewarm fashion was disappointing and ruined what could've been a mainstream renascence for South Park.
However, I can't lie and say I had a bad time with this latest season. The quality of seasonal South Park has diminished over the years due to their deal with Paramount, but there will always be a part of me that will tune into the show every week. Season 26 offers some truly memorable episodes like episode two and four, but begins to fade out by the time the final two roll around. It's a mixed bag for sure, so if you want to check out South Park's most recent season, watch the middle portion and don't feel bad by skipping the rest - they're just not worth it in the end.