TV Review | South Park (S26.E4 Deep Learning)
“One of strengths of South Park is that it has its finger on the pulse of current events and knows how to rip them to shreds,” says Max Nocerino
South Park S26:E4 tackles a very VERY big development in the world of A.I. and computers and I feel like kicking myself that I didn’t include it in my list of possible episodes. ChatGPT (for those who are unfamiliar) was launched late last year and within just a few months, gained the attention and awe of the world as they tried to understand this incredible A.I. tool.
Think of it as a search engine on steroids. Or a search engine that can talk to you. It can generate text based on a prompt and will occasionally act like you are speaking to a real person. Every nerd and his grandmother has spent the last months asking it questions. And many wonder if we are on the cusp of an A.I. revolution. Sure, ChatGPT is far from conscious, but in a few short decades, perhaps we will have something profound.
In the episode we see one of the South Park classics Bebe gush over how thoughtful and articulate her boyfriend Craig is over text. And she is amazed at how he is able to say things that she didn’t think he was capable of expressing. So right away, Trey Parker has come out swinging as many show regulars can easily guess that it’s not Craig writing to his girlfriend. He is copying and pasting ChatGPT’s responses to Bebe.
Stan soon discovers the secret and begins using ChatGPT to mend his relationship with his girlfriend Wendy; who is not happy that the only response she gets to her well-thought-out texts is a thumbs-up symbol. It is just hilarious how this series lampoons the Gen Z culture of not communicating well with people they are friends with. And how technology is ruining our social skills.
So it turns out that Cartman, Butters, and Craig all know about ChatGPT and are using it to write much better school essays for their subjects. ChatGPT has already been banned in schools in America and Cartman hilariously refers to it as his secret unfair advantage. Honestly, a lot of great rhetoric is thrown out around in this episode as South Park expertly nails how the world has and should react to this new tool. Is it cheating and insidious or is it (as Mr. Garrison says) just a writing buddy that can help you do the things you don’t need to do? It’s up to you to make that decision. I usually use ChatGPT to amuse myself and as I write this review, I can assure you that it’s all me.
Mr. Garrison also shines in this episode, shining being a total idiot as usual. His husband informs him about ChatGPT. And in classic Garrison fashion, he does not see the obvious fact that his students are writing essays with help. He just sees it as an opportunity to have ChatGPT write comments on these papers so he doesn’t have to read all of them. When the school catches wind of it, it becomes a race against each other. And both Garrison and the four boys must try and find a way to make sure they aren’t found out.
Mr. Mackey (the guidance counselor) hires an expert to determine which schoolwork is A.I. generated. And the man who comes in is the perfect epitome of absurdist South Park ridiculousness. He is like a shaman from a Skyrim or Game of Thrones-type world. And has an eagle on his shoulder to boot. He uses ridiculously primitive ways to see if the papers are written by A.I. And while it’s somewhat funny, I feel that there is just something missing.
I can’t deny that this episode was brilliant. I can’t deny that Trey Parker is a comedic genius. However, I have noticed a trend in modern South Park as opposed to classic episodes. It’s not like the writing has gotten worse or anything. It just isn’t as hysterically funny as it used to be. South Park was once known for really putting people into uncomfortable and highly offensive places. And this episode just didn’t cut it. Most of the episodes written in the last 5 years don’t quite cut it.
The Shaman didn’t quite do it for me in terms of the laugh department. And I felt the end was a bit forced and uncreative. I also saw almost no Kyle or Kenny in this episode. And I wonder why they are making the main cast so scarce this season. Everything feels just so vanilla but it’s maddening. If this were the premiere of a new 2023-developed comedy, I would give it an A for its creativity. Yet, this is not a new show. The series is almost 30 years old and I have super-high standards for how it will continue. I just don’t crack up anymore.
South Park has become a vessel for mocking the silly aspects of the world. And for saying the cold hard truths that many Americans need to hear. However, it just doesn’t split my sides anymore. Perhaps like all things, nothing lasts forever. Yet, I will continue to watch and give this episode props for understanding the double-edged sword that is ChatGPT. One of South Park’s strengths is that it has its finger on the pulse of current events. And knows how to rip them to shreds. I award this episode a B-. It was funny but I expect MORE.
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Max Nocerino is a regular Staff Writer for The Future of the Force. He is a passionate Star Wars fan and loves the literature of the galaxy far, far away. Follow him on Twitter where he shares his love of the Force frequently!