South Park: Member Berries review

Nostalgia is the name of the game


Has it really been twenty years since South Park first graced out television screens? See, even though we have been visiting the mountain town of South Park for the best part of two decades now, the show still manages to feel fresh and a little like the outsider compared to shows like The Simpsons, and I think that’s down to the writing and the constant poking fun at controversial topics; it’s not as shocking now as once it was, but each episode still manages to have one or two “oh my god, they didn’t just say that did they?” moments.

Season twenty kicks off with an episode that I found a little similar to last year’s season opener, not in content but in the range of topics that it covers. Over the year South Park has been off the air there have been a number of controversies that at the time would have been ripe for the picking on the show but now seem like old news; having that many things to cover also meant the episode was a little unfocused on which story to make its main plot or message. From Hollywood’s obsession with reboots, to NFL player Colin Kaepernick sitting out the American national anthem, to the Black Lives Matter movement, to online trolls and the Presidential Election. That’s a lot to cover in just twenty two minutes, even for South Park.

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Member Berries switches back and forth between its multiple storylines. At first I thought it was going to go with the national anthem controversy with the girls in the South Park volleyball team sitting out the national anthem, which quickly flows into online trolls so I thought “oh this is where it’s going”. The girls sat out the national anthem because Cartman, or who they assume is Cartman, is cyber bullying them. When this seems like the direction in which the episode is headed, the reboot story line kicks in and America decides to reboot the national anthem; who better to do so than the king of reboots, JJ Abrams. While these subplots are going on in the town of South Park there is also Mr. Garrison and his runaway presidential campaign. All of these seemed to be at odds with one another, vying for more screen time. There is easily three episodes worth of ideas here. This is not to say they don’t all fit together, what I must commend the episode on is how the different strands interweave so that they don’t feel like separate entities.

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Mr Garrison complete with Trump tan

It all sounds gloom and doom up till this point, so I’ll lighten up a little. I did find the episode funny; there were some excellent potshots at Trump’s..sorry I mean Mr. Garrison’s presidential campaign. The realisation that he might actually win and that he has no actionable policies made me chuckle. He then decides to sabotage his own campaign so he doesn’t win, only to come to the conclusion that he can do nothing to stop himself from winning sums up Trump’s campaign aptly. The national anthem reboot subplot is funny and they nail The Force Awakens perfectly, JJ Abrams will reboot the national anthem and make new and fresh but at the same time the same and tug at our nostalgia; but it’s a little too late, a year too late in fact.

There is another idea that crops up quite late into the episode, an idea that ties all these stories together. Randy is fed up with all the doom and gloom in the world and someone suggests he tries the new super food “Member Berries”. Member Berries are grapes with faces that recall all the things you loved. It might sound weird but this is actually the jumping off point for a very clever bit of criticism of the problems with nostalgia. It begins innocently enough; Randy is sat on the sofa eating member berries like everyone else in town. In their cute little voices they say things like “member Star Trek” and “member Chewbacca again” before eventually slipping into “member when there were less Mexicans?” and “member when marriage was between a man and a woman?”.

This can be misconstrued as just being edgy, but the message that Matt and Trey are conveying here is that nostalgia isn’t always a good thing; sure you get to remember all the good times and how things were supposedly better in days gone by, but the problems is that you start to become cynical about the way things are now. People seem to hate on things the way they are now with just the argument “member when they used to be better?”. It’s something that, sadly, we see all the time nowadays, not just in TV and Film but in the news as well.

I think the member berries are going to be what drives the plots for the season and while I thought this episode was a little jumbled, I think attacking nostalgia in general is actually a perfect fit for South Park’s twentieth season, a season in which people expect them to look back, and the only way South Park could look back at nostalgic would be to ridicule the notion itself.


– Dan P

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