While The Simpsons has been running for nearly 30 seasons, what makes South Park stand out as unique in terms of a long-running TV series is that it’s maintained the same creative team the entire time. The show was and still is the brainchild of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and fans rest assured that each season, the stories are coming straight from the same guys who gave Cartman an anal probe way back when. But as the show has gone on, Parker and Stone have looked for different, more ambitious ways of tackling the material, and a few years ago they hit upon the idea of finally making South Park serialized.
It started small, with some characters returning for longer arcs throughout the season, but last year—Season 20—was the first in the show’s history for which Parker and Stone purposefully set out to tell one, season-long story arc. It received a mixed response and as it turns out, Parker wasn’t too crazy about the finished product either.
Parker recently appeared on the Nerdist podcast to talk about a bunch of things, but during the course of his conversation with Chris Hardwick, Parker explained the origins of the show’s first serialized season and how he feels it turned out:
“It was totally accident, it started like three seasons ago. We kind of just started crossing some things over and carrying some things over, and then we did the big PC Principal season. At first we were like, ‘Oh man all these shows have to do with PC stuff we’ve gotta get off of it,’ then we were like, ‘Why? If there’s that much material let’s just fucking do it.’ So we kept at it and we kept things hanging over and people kind of liked it, so we finally said, ‘Alright let’s just go all out, let’s actually do a serialized season where we kind of map it out and we know where we’re headed,’ and it was like the biggest disaster for us.”
As many know, South Park’s production schedule is usually a whirlwind in which each episode is concocted, written, animated, and edited in the span of six grueling days. The serialization of the series threw a wrench into that long-running formula:
“Just production-wise, we’re not that kind of show, and I’m not that kind of person. I need to walk into South Park on Thursday morning and go, ‘What are we doing?’, and for me to walk in on Thursday and go, ‘Okay let’s see, this is left hanging here, this is here, this is here,’ it really became a nightmare, I really didn’t like it. Whereas doing it a little bit, where it’s like, ‘Okay let’s do something totally new, oh we could bring in that thing from last week,’ that’s fine. I think we’re gonna go back more to that.”
Indeed, one of the reasons the serialized season was so tough is that, leading up to the presidential election, things were constantly changing. Parker admits if they had a longer production schedule, he feels they could’ve tackled it better:
“Trying to make that parallel between trolls and Trump and us and just comedy in general was all interesting stuff, it’s just that it probably would’ve been better to do something like that over a year, having more than 8 weeks to do it in because shit changed so fast.”
As for what fans can expect from Season 21, not only is Parker leaning towards downplaying the serialization, but it sounds like they don’t have plans to lay into Donald Trump that heavily either:
“I miss Cartman dressing up like a robot and farting on Butters, you know what I mean? I wanna get back to that shit. Especially because now, everything you turn on in any kind of comedy it’s like, ‘Okay how are they making fun of Trump? What are they doing to rip on Trump?’ In the same way that I’m sick of it being the headline every day, there’s other shit in the world going on. And yeah I get it, everyone’s freaked out, but it’s just like other shit’s happening, life is happening still. We’ll see, I really wanna just get back to those things with the boys and hopefully have it be a nice break for everybody.”
This is great news. Parker and Stone admit they (like many) didn’t think Trump would win the presidency, so they had to get themselves out of a corner with the Garrison of it all. But at heart, South Park has never been about politics or even social issues—it’s about this group of kids, and how they relate to the world around them.
Parker says the plan for Season 21 is to go into the room on the first day and create the first show from scratch, but while they’re not planning out the entire season again, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a bit of serialization here and there:
“There’s things we’ve left hanging that we’re gonna—we’ve left Cartman’s relationship hanging, and obviously Garrison’s president (laughs), but once every two seasons we would check in with the President of the United States on South Park, it’s not that show. So I definitely am not gonna just keep tracking Garrison because I don’t care, I’m over it. Maybe he’ll pop up once in a while when we need him, but I’m just kind of excited to get back to kids issues and what kids are dealing with right now, because it’s fucking crazy.”