Should South Park Season 26 Be Longer Than Season 25?

While South Park season 25 featured only six episodes, that does not necessarily mean that season 26 needs to be longer. South Park’s six-episode season 25 was a mixed bag, stronger than the show's weakest outings but still burdened with a few episodes that seemed like filler. The show’s shorter run did not stop the topical satire from taking on everything from Ukraine, to gentrification, to racism and cultural appropriation.

However, South Park season 25’s scattershot writing meant that not all of the show’s satirical blows landed. Despite the season’s extreme brevity, at least half of the episodes included in South Park season 25 had all the hallmarks of padding, with even perfectly passable outings such as “Help, My Teenager Hates Me!” being middling efforts for the show's usual standard. In 2022, South Park’s strongest jokes came instead from its two-part feature-length special The Streaming Wars, released months after season 25 ended.

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Related: Everything We Know About South Park: The Streaming Wars Part 3

Like season 25, South Park: The Streaming Wars featured some weak gags and ill-considered material. However, the two-part special was also more consistent in its messaging, faster-paced, and more inventively plotted than South Park season 25, with the special boasting a level of focus that was absent from the six-episode season earlier in the year. Thus, although South Park season 25 was one of the show’s shortest outings ever, it is worth asking whether or not this was a bad thing before South Park season 26 arrives. If South Park's feature-length specials are stronger in terms of both character writing and comedy, then the show could be better off prioritizing these in the future and producing more of the show’s shorter seasons as a result.

Why South Park Season 25 Was So Short

South-Park-Season-25-Cartman

As part of the show’s historic August 2021 deal with Paramount Plus, South Park’s creators promised 14 feature-length specials like The Streaming Wars parts 1 and 2 as well as a further six new seasons of the series. The pre-pandemic South Park season 23 consisted of ten normal episodes while 2020—2021’s season 24 consisted of four feature-length specials. South Park season 25, meanwhile, featured 6 episodes and 2 specials (The Streaming Wars parts 1 & 2). Since the longer, more ambitious Streaming Wars saga was a bigger undertaking, it is reasonable to assume that South Park season 25’s run was cut short to allow the creators to focus on the special. This would explain why there were no normal episodes in season 24, with South Park’s creators instead working on four feature-length specials that comprised the entire season (although the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on television production schedules likely also played a role in this decision).

South Park’s Specials Are Getting Better

Cartman and Butters run smiling in South Park The Streaming Wars Part 2’s Ending

With the special managing to both improve Randy Marsh’s characterization and fix South Park’s Tegridy Farms plot, The Streaming Wars was the most cohesive feature-length streaming outing of the show so far. The two-part special improved on the two-part "Post-Covid" saga while the "Post-Covid" saga itself was an improvement on "The South ParQ Vaccination Special," with a clearer satirical throughline and a more ambitious story than its predecessor. Meanwhile, the first special "The Pandemic Special" remains the weakest of the bunch, providing further proof that the creators of South Park have been fine-tuning their ability to tell a longer, more immersive story over the last two years and rediscovering some of their ambition and wit in the process.

South Park’s Regular Episodes Are A Mixed Bag

South Park Randy Marsh In Jail

There is no doubt that the creators of South Park haven’t lost their touch entirely when it comes to the show’s regular outings. Season 25 featured some classic South Park outings like "Back To The Cold War," a superb skewering of the international media’s hawkish reaction to the prospect of war. However, even in its six-episode run, South Park season 25 found time for weaker outings like "Credigree Weed St Patrick’s Day Special," whose muddled attempts at anti-cancel culture satire managed to say very little despite dominating the episode’s plot. South Park season 25 also included middling efforts like "Help My Teenager Hates Me" and "The Big Fix," weaker outings that would have been fine in a stronger season but stood out due to the season's brevity. Meanwhile, South Park season 23 was often outright bad, containing the transphobic and outdated "Board Girls," the pointless "Tegridy Farms Halloween Special," and the show’s weakest holiday outing so far, "Christmas Snow."

Related: The Streaming Wars Part 2 Could Fix A South Park Story Problem

Why South Park’s Specials Beat Its Regular Episodes

Reese Witherspoon Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow in South Park The Streaming Wars Part 2

Unlike the show’s regular episodes, South Park’s specials allow the show to comment on current events with more specificity and structure. The Streaming Wars satire of cryptocurrency and the celebrities who promote it, for example, packed more of a punch than many of season 25’s weekly outings. The special's longer production process allowed the creators of South Park to observe the NFT/cryptocurrency bubble for some months before mocking the phenomenon on the show, resulting in sharper satirical blows. Although the special arrived after the initial NFT craze had largely died down, the brutal dismissal of celebrities promoting the trend as soulless, dignity-free sellouts was as strong as South Park’s best satire. South Park’s strongest jokes come not from the show’s ability to comment on the news as it happens but from the show’s ability to take a definitive stance on issues (something missing from the more anodyne quick-response satirical institution Saturday Night Live).

Particularly when South Park’s specials take on bigger topics like climate change and big business, the show proves that it doesn’t need to respond to issues as they occur to create effective satire. While this can occasionally result in stellar pieces of articulate satire like “Back to the Cold War,” South Park’s need to react to the news as it occurs just as often results in filler episodes wherein the show’s heroes play Airsoft and parent belligerent teens. This approach proves that less regular episodes and more feature-length specials is the best path forward for South Park, allowing the show to tell more ambitious stories and take the time to work out what the series wants to say about an issue instead of reacting immediately or coming up with disposable plots on a week-by-week basis. The show’s best future would learn from South Park season 25’s mistakes, resulting in a shorter, sharper South Park season 26 and more feature-length specials sooner.

2022-08-14T20:51:20.000Z

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