Welcome to the second installment of our new feature here on Popular Opinions – ‘Really Quick.’ Here, instead of the usually extensive blog post, I’m going to just offer up a quick explanation as to why something is the way it is. Consider these the go-to posts when someone needs a quick answer to something they should already know.
A few nights ago, Comedy Central’s flagship franchise ‘South Park’ offered up “You’re Getting Old,” an episode that does what the series does best – get people talking. Only this time, instead of a quick turnaround of a major world event or the skewering of a pop culture phenomenon, the hubbub was in regard to an uncharacteristic downer ending where, not only did everything not work out, but Stan didn’t learn anything and the very basis of the show was torn, perhaps irrevocably.
The episode centered around Stan turning 10 and not finding any redeeming qualities among anything in his life, something his doctor diagnosed as “being a cynical asshole.” It strains his relationship with his friends, and mirrors the same turmoil between his parents as Sharon’s logical unrest with Randy pursuing another absurd interest hits a fever pitch and, in the show’s closing moments, a montage shows their divorce as they sell their house and Stan moves away.
It had all the makings of a series finale. While creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are signed on to do two more seasons of the show, it wouldn’t be particularly out of character for them to unceremoniously leave things early without any pomp and/or circumstance. While the episode was promoted as the ‘Mid-Season Finale,’ a distinction they’ve never called attention to before in previous episodes before their summer break, serving up a final episode without public knowledge it was the end isn’t unprecedented either as Adult Swim’s ‘Home Movies’ had a similar unannounced growing-up heartbreaking conclusion to end its run in 2003. That in mind, what the ravenous ‘South Park’ fandom online has largely speculated is that this episode was more than just the typical soapbox for its creators where Stan represents Trey and Kyle is Matt. Theories ranging from Randy and Sharon being Matt and Trey’s relationship to Comedy Central following last year’s Muhammad fallout to Stan representing unhappy ‘South Park’ fans have been the popular trains of thought, but as “Not Without My Anus” proved 13 years ago, Matt and Trey don’t really care enough about their fans’ opinions to deliberately give them what they do or don’t want. And that’s a good thing. That’s why ‘South Park’ has been as consistent as its been for so long; its core objective is two obscenely talented guys making each other laugh.
What everyone seems to be missing about “You’re Getting Old” is that, while most agree the show’s most inspired moments have sprung from the kids being kids, that’s precisely why the episode touched such a nerve. At age 10, or around there, who didn’t go through suddenly losing a friend/friends through either social interests or moving away? Perhaps we buried that feeling of “we want to do different things and don’t want to be around each other” with all the other emotional scar tissue of adolescence, but with how small your world is at that age, losing a friend really hurts. While the show did do a phenomenal job simultaneously mocking pretentious hipsters who don’t like anything as well as a mass-media that’s challenging to like, it’s this awakening of the “losing a friend” feeling that sits as the centerpiece of a phenomenal episode.
As for the doomsday criers thinking this is the definitive sign that the show’s ending soon, don’t forget this isn’t the first time we’ve been teased with the end. Originally ‘South Park’ was going to end after the first movie. Years later, following Team America, the internet was certain the show was coming to an end when series regulars like Ms. Crabtree were turning up dead. I think, if this change signifies anything, it’s a tonal shift for the show. 15 years ago Matt and Trey were youthful kids who were part of that young pop culture, so their throwing stones at their pop culture surroundings was just what they did. Now that they’re in their early-40s, mocking youth culture takes on a different perspective as it’s not for them to understand anyway. Do they then just call everything “shit?” Even if they, as Sharon said, “hit the reset button” when the show resumes this September (or, better yet, give us another full-length Terrance and Philip episode) the episode remains one of their most powerful crowning achievements. For those of us who have grown-up with the show over 15 years, presumably longer than the majority of our real-life relationships have lasted, losing Stan really felt like losing a friend. For a television show to tug those heartstrings a midst a hurricane of diarrea only shows the brillance that is “You’re Getting Old.”
So until next time…let’s agree to agree!