Note: If you haven't seen last night's South Park, I strongly encourage you to watch it before reading this. You can watch it online and for free right here. Also, I say "shit" a few times in this article. Sorry for your virgin ears. Or eyes. Or whatever.
In light of South Park's midseason finale "You're Getting Old," I have a confession to make. I struggle with "Being a Cynical Asshole Syndrome" every day. In fact, I've struggled with it for some time now. It might have started around the same time that Radiohead's "Kid A" came out; I'm not sure. All I know is that at some point, my rosy glasses faded to gray and I began seeing the world a bit differently: as a downward spiral that lead straight into a giant steaming pile of mainstream garbage and pop-culture crap, all of it thrust upon sheep by huge corporations trying to make a buck at the expense of individuality and choices.
Yeah, kinda bleak. But it isn't the "everything is shit" thought process that's the most crippling. It's the effect that thought process can have on others, and the huge changes that can come about as a result. That's exactly what happened to Stan last night in what was one of South Park's most moving, poignant episodes to date. And like all of South Park's best episodes, it said a whole lot more beyond what what was happening on screen.
Show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone often speak through the mouths of their characters, most notably Stan and Kyle, and what they said last night was that things aren't okay. As Stan (voiced by Parker) saw his world literally dissolving into shit before his eyes, we got the sense that Matt and Trey's discontent with pop culture is at an all-time high. That's to be expected, as many of South Park's episodes tackle whatever mainstream sensation is currently trending.
But when Randy and Sharon admitted that they're unhappy in their marriage, it was Matt and Trey saying they're tired—tired of doing the same shit every week, then hitting the reset button and doing it all over again. And who can blame them? The guys are now halfway through their fifteenth season, and they aren't the type to pass on the heavy burden of creating a TV show to someone else. In short, it appears that South Park is wearing on them, and the end is in sight.
And what a way to get things off their chest. "You're Getting Old" was beautiful in its sadness, and the final montage was as moving as that emotionally destroying sequence in Pixar's Up. I thought things would end on a crass joke, but the final scene—with Stan lying awake in bed, staring at the ceiling—just cut to black. The message was clear: Trey and Matt aren't joking around. In the past, even the "heavier" episodes of South Park have maintained some semblance of "everything is going to be okay," and were usually rounded out with a juvenile fart joke, but this one just. faded. to. black. I get it—growing up is hard. Think about that childhood friend from elementary school who you were once so tight with, but drifted apart from in middle school. What happened? What changed? Do they ever still think of you? I'll admit it, I felt a tear well up (but it never escaped my eye, so it doesn't count as crying!). Hours after watching the ending, it's still resonating with me, and it's even more jarring as things sink in.
The episode still contained plenty of funny moments, most notably: 1. Randy pretending to like Tween Wave music, 2. all those fake movie trailers covered in shit, and 3. the old men saving britches, which served as the episode's requisite "ridiculous" storyline (and was acknowledged as such during Sharon and Randy's breakup). Also, the show nailed "L.A. Noire"—it really doesn't matter what choices you make. Sigh.
But what made this episode so great was Matt and Trey's honesty in their admission that they're going through the motions. It takes balls to come out and say that, and the way they did it made it easy to sympathize with them. We aren't supposed to feel sorry for them, we aren't supposed to feel sad for the show, and we aren't supposed to make any concerted effort to make things better. Things are what they are, people move on, people grow up and change. I haven't been the greatest fan of the show in recent seasons through no fault of theirs, and it's nice to hear they don't think they've been the best showrunners. If they want to end their show this season, they can. It's probably best for both of us. We've had a good run together.
Okay, now I'm crying.