It’s not like South Park hasn’t dabbled in serialized storytelling before; indeed, for the past several seasons, the show has done more and more arcs over the course of a season, letting characters and storylines bubble over. But rarely has the show attempted anything like it did this season, turning the entire run into one long, bizarre story that somehow incorporated a PC movement, a new Trader Joe’s, gentrification, Caitlyn Jenner, Internet ads, and gun rights into one sprawling piece of storytelling that started simply and ended up as a weird sci-fi epic.
That’s not to say that it all worked, mind you; by the end, I’m not sure I could tell you exactly how the season’s Big Bad fit into public shaming at Trader Joe’s, or how Mr. Garrison’s unusual political platform (itself a vicious take on Donald Trump’s increasingly unhinged presidential efforts) tied into the gun show at the end of it all. On the other hand, though, I can say that it led to some of the funniest episodes the show has done in a long time, as Parker and Stone’s epic scope made each individual piece all the more ridiculous and absurd. And if that’s not enough, it ended up giving the show some fascinating meta commentary, as certain characters and aspects of the show fell under criticism for being less acceptable, even in a show that’s made its name through outrage and offense.
Really, though, the best thing about the season (well, second best; the best is the fact that the show is still hilariously funny, even after almost two decades) is that Parker and Stone still feel engaged and excited with their material, and rather than coasting on the same old storylines and ideas, they keep pushing themselves in new and unexpected directions. And if that means that I get episodes with as many great moments as this one gave me – the wonderful ads for the gentrified part of town, the gleeful embrace of guns, the wonderful confrontation with Canadians at the new wall – I’m not going to complain in the least.