15 Signs South Park Is A Dying Show
15 Signs South Park Is A Dying Show
South Park has been one of the funniest cartoon comedy shows since its debut in 1997. It's become an almost instant staple of pop culture and one of the favorite shows among the edgier '90s youth. The series has mastered a combination of original jokes, social commentary, satire, and rebellious culture, all of which poke fun at subjects thought too-sensitive, by most. South Park has gained a dedicated audience through this very edgy style of humor.
South Park has produced 26 seasons and a number of movies and specials, with more on the way. However, as the years have dragged on, the series has lost touch with its roots. Several signs suggest the animated series may be running out of steam and losing its edge. While the series may continue to produce content, there's plenty to suggest its future is in doubt.
Updated March 22, 2023 by Daniel Kurland: It’s not easy for any television series to remain fresh and innovative after more than 25 years, let alone a staggering total of more than 300 episodes. South Park started as a crude experiment, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone have matured into masterful satirists, which has pushed their animated series down fascinating paths, some of which have helped it endure for as long as it has, while others telegraph a flailing program that’s run out of ideas. New episodes of South Park continue to generate a lot of excitement, but South Park’s impact has dwindled in recent years and there’s a strong case to be made for why its best days are in its past.
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15 Creators Struggle To Relate To The Core Kids
Trey Parker and Matt Stone were adults when they created South Park, but Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny used to function as their surrogates. Over time, Parker and Stone have gotten older and found themselves identifying more with Randy, which is why his presence has only become more substantial as South Park goes on.
There was still an ability for Parker and Stone to relate with their kid characters, but this has grown more disconnected in the later seasons. This shift has led to radical changes, like the prominence of Randy’s Tegridy Farms, which has been a deficit for the series.
14 The Division Between Specials & Shorter Seasons
One of the most significant changes to affect South Park during its latest years is its division into multi-episode seasons for Comedy Central. There are also more than a dozen extended “specials” on Paramount+ that function more like feature-film events.
Bigger and more disconnected stories have been told in these specials and they seem to be opportunities for South Park to take wilder genre swings. There’s no reason why these same stories couldn’t be explored on Comedy Central, with longer seasons. This only highlights how these decisions are driven by financial gain rather than creative fulfillment.
13 There’s An Over-Reliance On New Characters
There’s nothing wrong with introducing new characters late in a show’s run as a way to mix things up and change the status quo. However, there’s still an important balance to be found with the original cast of characters.
There are certain late-game South Park additions like PC Principal, as well as bit players who have suddenly been retconned into significance like Tolkien Black, Towelie, or Pi Pi. It sometimes feels like South Park episodes focus on these figures because they’ve run out of things to say with the main cast.
12 The Creators Seem To Be Over The Show
It’s devastating when the creators for a long-running series feel like they’ve lost passion for their material. South Park has run for such a lengthy period that it’s only natural that Trey Parker and Matt Stone would have a complicated and evolving relationship with their series. There have been cynical South Park episodes that fans have interpreted as a malaise for the show, but new episodes continue to come out.
However, South Park’s seasons are currently shorter than ever and feel more like a contractual obligation than a passion. Parker and Stone seem to be more interested in their upcoming projects, like their cutting edge deepfake studio, Deep Voodoo.
11 Creators Have Put More Focus In Spin-Off Video Games
Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a deep affinity for video games and this passion has carried through multiple storylines in the series. Several South Park licensed games were released during the show's infancy, but Parker and Stone actively got involved in 2014's The Stick of Truth and kept this tradition going in 2017's The Fractured But Whole.
These are both comprehensive adventures that make inspired use of the South Park universe. Many fans felt that the show's quality suffered during the production of these games and that greater emphasis was put on them than on the series itself.
10 There Isn't Enough Attention On Smaller South Park Characters
South Park used to be especially strong in its ability to keep its smaller characters relevant throughout its seasons. The series used to pay a lot of attention to Butters, the various parents of the young characters, teachers, and more, who all have their own rich misadventures. However, this approach has been less present in South Park's recent years.
It's important for South Park to maintain a focus on its ancillary characters in order to maintain the idea that there's a lived-in world in this community. The best way to do this is to make every South Park resident, even the fringe figures, feel as important as Stan, Kyle, and the rest of the core crew.
9 Fans Want More Timeless Episodes
South Park has had a lot of fixation on cultural and political satire from its debut and an apolticial version of South Park just wouldn't feel true to form. That being said, recent seasons have gone a little too far in this department, with an egregious fixation on sloppy storytelling in transparent attempts to cash in on current events.
The most painful of these experiments is when South Park spends an entire season indulging in one big Donald Trump parody as Mr. Garrison runs for President and ostensibly becomes an analogue for the historical figure. Many of these episodes hit their mark and find creative comedy, but they're also so steeped in current events that they limit their replay value down the road. What's currently entertaining has the potential to feel awkward and dated in a year or two.
8 There Aren't As Many Iconic South Park Episodes Being Made
A lot of past South Park episodes were funny enough that they've become instant memes in pop culture. Gags like the "Chewbacca Defense" or Kanye's embarrassing "fish sticks" debacle have become hilarious viral content. However, the meme-able nature of South Park's newest episodes has dwindled, and it doesn't feel as viral in nature.
High quality helps a show thrive, but so does rampant word-of-mouth and a strong standing in pop culture. South Park's increasing decline of "water cooler" moments is noticeable and evidence that it's not the fixture of comedy that it was during its peak seasons.
7 Fewer People Are Tuning In To Watch South Park
South Park is still a top program, but the cable series' viewership has been declining as of late. This is an unfortunate, but inevitable outcome for any show that lasts over 25 years. A study of TV ratings has found that South Park's most recent seasons average out at just 0.65 million viewers per episode.
This decline in ratings can be explained by a few prevailing factors. South Park now has many competitors, a hard-to-follow release schedule, and the mature nature of the episodes. In a world of streaming, ratings might not matter as much as they once did, but the fact that fewer people are watching South Park doesn't bode well for its future.
6 It Has More Competitors Than Ever
As impressive as South Park's 25-year history may be, several series are just as old, if not older. Additionally, some recent series manage to capture the audience that would otherwise gravitate towards South Park and its acerbic comedy.
The likes of Rick and Morty, Big Mouth, Family Guy, American Dad, and Solar Opposites have entered what was once a niche market for adult animated series. South Park is no longer the only game in town for edgy comedy with social commentary and it often feels like they're fighting an uphill battle for survival on this front.
5 There Are Fewer & Less-Interesting Subplots
There's a recurring problem with older series that as the focus increasingly shifts to a handful of characters, there's less room for subplots. South Park previously thrived in this area and there are many episodes where the B-stories are even better than the installment's primary focus. However, South Park's longer and serialized format leaves fewer opportunities for these entertaining digressions.
Subplots are key for a series because they allow writers to juggle multiple characters at once without any one story feeling cluttered. South Park has many interesting characters and a long history where solid, balanced episodes have helped the series establish its unique voice. It's a philosophy that they should turn to once again.
4 It's Just Not As Funny As It Used To Be
It's understandable when a show lasts 26 seasons under the same writers that some jokes will get a bit stale. Occasional South Park episodes go from edgy and risky humor to pessimistic and even dour gags that seek to tear down characters in a way that previously didn't occur.
Comedy is always subjective, but there's a morose energy that's overpowered the comedy in South Park's most recent seasons. South Park still has plenty of topical social commentary and satire, but it often feels like the show's writing depends on making headlines to attract attention rather than being organically humorous.
3 There Hasn't Been Enough Focus On Cartman
As detestable as many may find the character, Cartman is undeniably the main attraction when it comes to South Park. The evil middle school kid and his exploits are notorious in pop culture, especially the lengths to which he'll go to exact revenge or make money.
More recent South Park episodes have diminished Cartman's role, with a heavier focus on the Marsh family. Seasons 25 and 26 have modestly attempted to course-correct this, but still fall short. Cartman has even lost his edge to some extent and becomes a sad punching bag for the universe.
2 Serialized Story Arcs Have Become Too Drawn-Out
South Park often tells stories that last more than one episode, like the infamous Cthulhu story arc. However, recent seasons have increasingly shifted towards extended serialization. This wouldn't be an issue if not for the fact that the ongoing stories are often predictable.
Building up a story over a season isn't new for South Park. That being said, the devotion of an entire season to a singular story is something that's better left for movies. Fans like the use of standalone episodes, many of which represent the show's strongest entries.
1 South Park Fans Have Been Left Confused By Its Release Schedule
Since the push to movies and specials on Paramount+, South Park has been on something of a sporadic release schedule. It's true that the COVID-19 pandemic didn't help matters, but it's also left fans confused over whether the show's intermittent specials tell their own standalone stories or are supposed to link together Comedy Central's seasons.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone announced in 2021 that there would be 14 specials and short movies developed for Paramount+. This lucrative deal will keep South Park alive for an extended period, but the change in format and structure, in addition to an unpredictable release schedule, dilutes the property's fandom.
NEXT: 10 Signs Family Guy Is A Dying Show