South Park: “Member Berries” Season 20 Premiere Review

Before I dive into “Member Berries,” I have to acknowledge something. Season 20. That is a mighty accomplishment. And before you say, “Simpsons did it!,” it has to be said, South Park has stayed good far longer than The Simpsons did. Sure, the show may be past its prime, but season 19 was the best in years, shaking up the entire formula of the show for the better simply by making it serialized. The Simpsons has been on life support creatively for over a decade. In that show’s prime, it was one of the greatest, most iconic series of all time. South Park deserves the same label, and this smart, current events biting premiere is proof of that.

“Member Berries” may be a mess of an episode, but then maybe we’re still not used to South Park premieres setting up plot threads for what the entire season is going to be. What’s here is generally very funny, even if it lacks any and all cohesion. The premiere features a parody of the Colin Kaepernick controversy, the continuation of last season’s election subplot, commentary on the current reboot culture in Hollywood, and a sexist Internet troll writing terrible things about the girls at South Park Elementary. These varying plot threads don’t come together neatly at the end of the episode, but they all exist for a reason. Watching the premiere, it was clear that when more than halfway through the episode, we were still being introduced to different plot threads, that South Park is sticking to serialized storytelling for season 20. That is enough to keep me excited for the next nine episodes.

That’s because each of these various plot threads had major highlights throughout the episode. In the mindset of South Park, it’s both hilarious and makes total and complete sense that America would want J.J. Abrams to reboot the national anthem. The end result is, of course, pretty much the same exact song but sung by a woman, which is also how you could describe Star Wars: The Force Awakens if you were so inclined.

The material with a now orange-faced Mr. Garrison realizing he has no real plan if he gets elected president was also a lot of fun. How it got tied into the national anthem subplot felt like a forced, quick resolution to this particular episode, but setting up that Mr. Garrison is dong everything he can to sabotage his campaign so Hillary can win gives the season a lot of story/comedy potential.

Unsurprisingly, however, the character with the grandest return is one of the most iconic characters in television history. Twenty years in, Eric Cartman still pathetically touches on something so narcissistic and oblivious to the world that makes him a joy to watch. Here, Cartman is stuck in the overly PC themes from last season. He wears a “Token’s Life Matters” shirt and delivers his own brand of feminism by putting the girls at school on the spot and trying to force them to be funny. Cartman’s poor attempts at being righteous, and offending everyone he can on the way, is a welcome reminder of the basic formula that makes South Park work to begin with. But again, Cartman’s antics here have nothing to do with Mr. Garrison’s.

That makes “Member Berries” a premiere that’s really all over the place. It’s entertaining without a doubt, but we know from season 19 and of course the classic era that South Park can do better. These plot threads are enticing, however, and point to that level of quality being achieved once more. Grade: B

Some Other Notes:

  • Glad to have Caitlyn Jenner back, this year as Mr. Garrison’s running mate. She didn’t run anyone over this week or say “Buckle up, buckaroos!,” but her presence just adds to everything South Park does well.
  • “Little Red Riding Kyle,” the story of a gay boy with a black grandfather who’s also his age (because get over it) who thinks about how funny women are.
  • The weakest moment of the episode was the pointless reveal that Kyle’s father is the real Internet troll.
  • How far will the J.J. Abrams reboot joke go? Can he be asked to reboot the country’s political system?

By Matt Dougherty

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