How ‘South Park’ Became the ‘The Randy Marsh Show’ and Delivered Its Best Season in Years

     November 13, 2019

After 22 seasons following the misadventures of the most vulgar kids this side of the Rocky Mountains, this season of South Park started with a big change that took some fans by surprise. The opening theme song for this season introduces a new show called Tegridy Farms. Instead of watching Kenny or Cartman, the show opening focuses on Randy Marsh, his weed farm Tegridy Farm, and even his business partner Towelie, the recovering drug addict and literal sentient towel. While this may have come as a bit of a surprise, turning South Park into the Randy Marsh show has actually been a long time coming.

Since his introduction in the first season, Randy Marsh slowly became a fan favorite, and his episodes became some of the best in the show’s run. By the time the show turned 20, Parker and Stone admitted that their interests had changed. The pair spoke to Vanity Fair saying that they started focusing more on the adults. “Slowly Randy – Stan’s dad – became just as big a character, if not bigger, than Stan. Now, Randy’s shit is what’s funny to us.”

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

When South Park premiered back in 1997, it was unlike anything on TV. The crude animation style, the vulgar kids, and the show’s ability to do stories ripped from the week’s headlines due to the short production time made this an instant success. No matter how over-the-top the show got, the main characters were relatable because they were experience everything from a child’s point of view. They curse, they insult each other yet still deeply care about one another, and they don’t understand their parents or the world around them. To that end, the parents were painted as completed clueless about anything of consequence—again, from these crude kids’ POV, their parents were kind of idiots.

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Image via Comedy Central

With time, the formula started changing a bit. Different kids got the spotlight, and more episodes started focusing on adults, which is where a star was born. In the second season episode, “Spontaneous Combustion,” Stan’s dad, Randy, is hired by the mayor to find out why residents start spontaneously combusting all over town. This being South Park, Randy discovers it’s all caused by people refusing to fart in front of their partners.

As the seasons progressed, we would start to get as many episodes centered on Randy’s buffoonery and his misadventures as we’d get revolving around Kenny or Butters. Even if the kids were still involved in every episode, and still proved central to the more explicitly political episodes, the joke was that the kids had no idea what they were getting themselves into. But soon Parker and Stone started realizing that the adults did sort of understand the topics that were explored (or at least should understand them), so they had Randy act as the de facto adult character in the show. Therefore, Randy became a religious leader in “Margaritaville,” or the subject of a weed craze in “Medicinal Fried Chicken.”

The rise of Randy Marsh is as significant for South Park as the change in protagonist from Bart to Homer was for The Simpsons. Both shows, albeit at very different times, realized that the adults are actually the funniest characters in the show, because they can act as childish as the kids while still having to deal with adult issues. Stan’s pathetic dad Randy and his attempts at breaking the world record for the biggest crap were funnier than whatever Stan and his friends were doing that week, just like Homer suddenly becoming a member of a secret society or the leader of the worker’s union was funnier than seeing Bart get detention again. The kids, by the almighty laws of comedy shows, would never be allowed to mature or change, so they’re forced to reman one-dimensional. Meanwhile, Randy could be childish and very, very dumb, while remaining a loving father.

Come Down To Tegridy Farms

Which takes us to Tegridy Farms. After so many years of basically the same setting over and over again, the show took a sharp turn towards serialized storytelling over the last couple of seasons. South Park Season 23 isn’t as heavily serialized in nature as the past few, but it does feature a protagonist switch: Randy Marsh is now the main character.

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Image via Comedy Central

The kids are still there, of course, but Season 23 has made it clear that Randy’s weed business is what’s driving the story forward. At the same time, the guy formerly known as Lorde has turned into an anti-hero not unlike Walter White or Tony Soprano. After all, so far we’ve seen Randy destroy homegrowers’ marijuana crops, kill Winnie The Pooh just to appease the Chinese government, murder dozens of cows with Towelie because they were eating his crops, and turn everyone in his family against him.

The focus on a singular character instead of a group of kids has made this season of South Park the best in years. Unlike Cartman or Kyle, Randy actually knows what he’s doing – or at least he thinks he does. Even when the kids got into problems with the government or with imaginary beings, their actions had barely any consequences because they’d just go back to school. Indeed, the only one of them to constantly get in trouble was Butters, who couldn’t catch a break from getting grounded in every episode. With Randy, the show has been able to explore consequences in the form of his family and the authorities. Like Walter White and his relationship to Skyler, Randy’s relationship with his daughter Shelly has been severely damaged by his obsession with his Tegridy Farms business.

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Image via Comedy Central

Those who were tired of the serialized structure of the past few seasons should be pleased to know that Season 23 has found a good compromise. The story of Randy and Tegridy Farms still carries on from week to week, but the episodes are mostly standalone. Randy goes to China and ends up teaming with Disney to enter a new market, and in another episode, he gets involved in the plant-based food wars to compete against Burger King. You could watch them out of order while still getting a bit extra story if you follow along each week.

Even in its 23rd season South Park still manages feels fresh again. By replacing its Cartman-centric stories with Randy ones, the show is proving that it’s still willing to experiment with continuity and insert some stakes and consequence to its characters. This is no longer a show that’s just about four 8-year-old kids, but it’s still as funny as ever. Just like The Simpsons avoided becoming The Bart Show and managed to continue running after 30 years (for better and worse), South Park could very well continue to experiment for another two decades. All they need is some Tegridy.

For more on South Park, check out our rundown of the show’s most controversial episodes and ranking of the top 10 episodes of all time.

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