Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 18, 2020)
It’ll never catch up with The Simpsons, but South Park shows no signs it plans to depart TV screens any time soon. I’ll examine all 10 Season 23 programs in the way presented on the discs, which also is the order in which they were first broadcast. The synopses come from the package itself.
Mexican Joker (aired 9/25/19): “Kyle falls victim to the family separation policy when Cartman tells ICE that the Broflovskis are illegal immigrants.”
With this episode’s opening credits, we get a daring choice, as it recasts South Park as Tegridy Farms, with Randy Marsh as the star. That becomes the extent of the rebranding, though Randy and his pot-selling business act as a major element of the episode.
And a major drag. As South Park progressed, it made Randy more and more of a leading character, a choice I never thought worked and “Joker” doesn’t change that opinion.
The plot line related to the immigration issues also flops in a major way. While “Joker” attempts to use that circumstance to mock comic book movies, it simply can’t find humor in the scenes with kids stuck in detention camps. “Joker” offers a poor start to the season.
Band in China (aired 10/2/19): “In his relentless pursuit of profits, Randy has a unique idea to introduce Tegridy Farms to the massive market in China. Back home, Stan’s new death metal band Crimson Dawn gets a biopic.”
Hmm… so businesses sell out so they can make money in China, eh? That doesn’t offer a particularly insightful concept, and “Band” doesn’t find a creative way to explore it.
I like a few gags here – such as when the record exec asks if the South Par kids are from the 90s – but too much of “Band” explores predictable material. Throw in too much emphasis on Randy and the show lacks much bite.
Shots!!! (aired 10/9/19): “Cartman faces expulsion from school when it’s discovered that he has never been vaccinated. Despite many attempts, Cartman has the almost animalistic ability to escape the doctor’s needle.”
On the negative side, we still get too much of Randy and Tegridy Farms. The series’ 300th episode, “Shots!!!” makes multiple lousy jokes related to the topic.
On the positive side, Cartman-focused episodes usually work, and his side of the episode brings some laughs. Not enough to redeem the show, though, as it becomes another iffy program.
Let Them Eat Goo (aired 10/16/19): “Randy’s partnership with China is over, and he’s found a new way to make money from Tegridy Farms. Cartman is so enraged at the thought of healthy food in schools that he gives himself a heart attack.”
On one hand, I must admire the series’ obscure spoof of There Will Be Blood. On the other hand, “Goo” comes with a muddled message, as it feels more like a lecture on how awful those plant-based meat products must be. Cartman brings some minor laughs but this seems like another meh episode.
Tegridy Farms Halloween Special (aired 10/30/19): “On a visit to the local museum, Butters awakens an Egyptian mummy and brings about an ancient love curse. Randy needs to face that his daughter has a drug problem: she hates marijuana.”
Boy, S23 really seems like it’ll never stop being the Randy Marsh Show. As I noted at the start, I don’t like the character, and the growing emphasis on Randy makes S23 more of a drag than it should be.
Still, “Special” turns into the best episode so far, mainly via the Butters storyline. While not brilliant, the theme related to his relationship with the mummy offers actual humor. This never turns into a great show, but at least it’s good, which makes it superior to the sub-mediocrity of the first four programs.
Season Finale (aired 11/6/19): “Randy has alienated everyone in South Park, including his own family. When he’s arrested for crimes attributed to ‘Mexican Joker’, no one will help him.”
The episode’s title reflects the apparent end of the “Tegridy Farms” narrative – and not a minute too soon. That theme got old… immediately, so I feel awfully pleased to see S23 finally bring it to a conclusion.
Other than this happy event, “Finale” falls flat. It again tries to muster comedy from the kids in cages, and racial aspects of the episode seem outdated only seven months after the episode’s debut. A few funny moments emerge but the program mostly sputters.
Board Girls (aired 11/13/19): “When Vice Principal Strong Woman loses an athletic competition to a surprising new competitor, she and PC Principal are thrown into an emotional tailspin. Cartman objects when the school starts admitting girls into the Board Game Club.”
The notion of a man who feigns identification as a female for various advantages isn’t exactly fresh, and “Girls” finds nothing creative in that vein. The PC Principal/VP Strong Woman characters always seemed one-dimensional anyway, and “Girls” doesn’t come up with anything new to say. The Game Club adds a little humor but not enough to turn this into a winning show.
Turd Burglars (aired 11/27/19): “Sheila Broflovski feels better than ever after receiving a fecal transplant. Stan, Cartman and Kenny see a way to get their hands on the latest video game: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.”
Wow – a Season 23 episode that produces multiple laughs! Obviously, the show goes for scatological humor to an extreme – it’s an episode about poop, after all – but it still manages some pretty good bits. It feels like a flashback to the series’ better days and easily turns into S23’s best.
Basic Cable (aired 12/4/19): “The new girl at school has diabetes, and Scott Malkinson assumes that the two of them must be soulmates.”
No one will confuse a show that relies on so many jokes about lazy cable guys as creative genius. Still, “Basic” manages some decent comedy – at least by S23 standards. While not good compared to the series’ stronger years, it seems positive for this one.
Christmas Snow (aired 12/11/19): “It’s Christmastime in South Park, but things are not so merry now that a city ordinance has been put in place banning alcohol during the holidays. Since no one wants to face the holidays sober, the town reaches out to Randy to come up with a Christmas special.”
S23 concludes with a relative dud, mainly because it brings back Randy. The season’s uptick coincided with his absence, and he creates a drag on the season finale.
Not that the rest seems memorable either. The theme about South Park’s love for impaired driving feels silly even for this series, and the preoccupation with drugs lacks cleverness. This becomes a dull ending to a mostly weak season.