After 26 years of being on Comedy Central, Trey Parker and Matt Stone are showing no signs of stopping their highly-successful, critically-acclaimed animated satire, South Park. Chronicling the misadventures of a group of fourth-grade boys and the other townsfolk of South Park, Colorado, the show tackles hot-button social issues, current events, and celebrity mockery in its own distinct style that separates it from other long-running adult cartoons that are still on today. Season 26 pulls no punches this time around, mocking many aspects of modern American culture in the year 2023 that speak truth to power while not sparing anyone along the way. No one is safe in Parker and Stone’s eyes.
Season 26 provides relevant commentary on issues such as Kanye West’s antisemitism, the overabundance of “brand management” involved in people’s identities, the dangers of the rise of AI, Japanese toilets, and several other topics. What the show does so well is that it takes its long-established cast of characters and finds organic ways to adapt those characters to represent different roles in our social climate, effectively mixing interesting character development with biting satire. It ties these elements together in order to send a message to its viewers that is simultaneously enlightening yet absurd, to make a point without coming across as preachy.
What makes this season work particularly well is the variety of topics covered and the effectiveness of covering them. For instance, you could go from a simple episode about the boys starting their own hotdog restaurant to the very next episode that covers the complicated political climate of the United States, all under the guise of characters going on a spring break trip. These plots all work really well for the comedic nature of the show because none of them take themselves too seriously, and usually distort the topic into a more absurd version of itself to fit within the established universe the show has created to this point. One could be watching an episode and go from laughing at a whimsical gag in one moment to feeling engaged by the satirical message of the episode, right back to laughing at the absurdity of the situation mere moments later.
Despite the show’s ongoing popularity, many critics and fans alike have criticized recent seasons of the show for taking itself too seriously, having over-complicated continuity between episodes, and relying too heavily on current events and meta-commentary instead of just making funny episodes. Thankfully, season 26 is the first season in many years to break these trends and creates a consistent batch of episodes that are funny and entertaining from beginning to end. It is obvious that the short season length (consisting of a mere 6 episodes) has encouraged Parker and Stone to take a “quality over quantity” approach, which has paid off well. A show that has gone on for this long suddenly getting a second wind, in its 26th season no less, is an admirable feat, to say the least. Any older fans of the show who have dropped off in recent years would be doing themselves a favor by going down to South Park to have themself a time once again.