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Longtime Fans Keep Saying The Same Thing About Modern South Park

"South Park" is up there with "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" in terms of animated sitcoms. All three have been on for so long that it is difficult to imagine media or pop culture without them. Many of us grew up with them. Indeed, given that "South Park" premiered way back in that mysterious decade of the 1990s –- pre-streaming, pre-social media, and when Comedy Central's main claim to fame was losing "Politically Incorrect" to ABC –- many younger viewers do not remember a television landscape without the show.

It doesn't look like the four iconic, foul-mouthed boys or their charming mountain town are going anywhere either. 2022 was the 25th anniversary of the premiere of "South Park." By the beginning of the year, co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker celebrated by signing a jaw-dropping $900 million deal with ViacomCBS for 14 full-length movies, per The Hollywood Reporter. The duo also renewed the series through its 30th season in 2027.

When a show has been on the air this long, questions about its quality become inevitable. Twenty seasons in, many longtime and former fans of "Family Guy" can no longer stand it. Likewise, the more recent seasons of "The Simpsons" tend to be on the lower end in terms of quality. How, in this context, does "South Park" fare?

Most fans seem to think South Park is still a strong show

"Would you say South Park is still good?" asked u/SoulOfaLiar at the r/southpark subreddit. It seems to be an honest question, given that in the same post, the author confessed to having never watched the show and was more curious about what fans of the longtime series had to say. In response, most commenters wrote that, while it has ups and downs like any long-running television program that's been on the air for over two decades, "South Park" is still a strong show that is consistently funny. "Things have changed over the years but its still incredible," wrote u/Calbreezy9

There were some users such as u/nm499x who were slightly critical, writing that "South Park" is still good even if it "definitely [isn't] as popular and funny as it used to be." The consensus seems to be that the show has seen a minor substantive decline since its heyday, but remains one of the funnier satirical cartoons available. Even subpar "South Park" is still better than a whole host of other shows, after all. 

That said, there also appears to be a vocal minority of viewers who actually prefer the recent seasons. This contrarian point of view puts them at odds with the critical consensus.

Critics are growing weary of South Park

The premiere of Season 25 earned a somewhat lukewarm review from The Guardian's Charles Bramesco, who seems to think that the subversive edginess is wearing thin. "With Parker and Stone now entering their 50s, the greatest challenge facing them is their own success," wrote Bramesco. 

It's a tale as old as time. Hungry, young creators come out the gates guns a-blazing, brandishing satire as sharp as a Spanish rapier. Then, as the same creators find their success, they tend to get complacent and may even age out of their peak creative fecundity. Chuck Palahniuk's "Adjustment Day" just doesn't hit the same as "Fight Club," even if it remains a valiant attempt to generate a spiritual sequel. Similarly, the Matt and Trey at the helm of 2022's "Streaming Wars" just aren't the same guys who showed up to the Oscars on acid wearing elegant gowns

They're still at it, though, and when they hit their stride, there's nobody better.

Even if South Park is showing its age, it still stands above the competition

No matter what the critics say, some fans of "South Park" continue to see virtue in the show because, for all its faults, at least its writers are still trying to comment satirically on the world around them. Other comments from the same Reddit thread contrasted Stone and Parker's willingness to keep pushing the envelope with the apparent complacency of its animated contemporaries. "IMO I think the show is more focused on making quality content, unlike the Simpsons, family guy and American dad," wrote u/Galil_Alexandro.

It's an important point. "South Park" has always stood apart from its closest competition. "The Simpsons" and the Seth MacFarlane projects mentioned by the redditor have always traded in a kind of absurdist, random comedy, and never really attempt to have much of a social impact beyond the cheap laughs provided by a deluge of dadaist asides and non-sequitur cutaway gags. "South Park" is doing more than that, and it always has been. Though the show has been weighed down occasionally by the idiosyncratic strain of libertarianism trumpeted by its creators, at least it's maintained a clear point of view. With few notable exceptions, most "South Park" episodes take aim at interesting aspects of the cultural moments into which they are born.

Since our society doesn't seem any less ridiculous than it did 25 years ago, it seems likely Matt and Trey will continue to find plenty of cultural gold to mine. This factor alone should keep "South Park" relevant for years to come, even if its best days are somewhat behind it. The fans, at least, are still here for it.