South Park turned its critical gaze on itself last night, briefly admitting that “being a cynical asshole” alienates you from the people around you and makes you miserable in the long run. It’s a weird message coming from the biggest voice in contemporary cynicism — but fifteen seasons in, South Park’s fans, and maybe its creators, are sympathizing with Stan’s plight.
“You’re Getting Old” starts on Stan’s 10th birthday, when he discovers that the “teencore” band he used to like now sounds like literal farts. Everything looks like turds, and he finds his friends’ enthusiasm for things to be off-putting and ridiculous. He goes to the doctor, where he’s diagnosed with a serious case of cynicism. By the end of the episode, not only are his parents getting divorced, but Stan’s also completely separated from his pals. He ends the episode alone, gazing up from his bed. It’s actually pretty sad and surprisingly evocative, given that the episode has been liberally sprinkled with fart noises and scat jokes. Aw.
The kind of emotional malignancy that comes with devout cynicism has been weighing on Matt Stone and Trey Parker for a little while. “You just get older, you start caring about things,” Parker told New York back in March. The Book of Mormon represents a shift in the ideology of their storytelling, too; it’s not strictly about proving a point or providing commentary. “We wouldn’t have been working on [Mormon] for six years if we weren’t trying to get the emotional payoff there,” according to Stone. “It’s not an episode of South Park.”
South Park means no emotional payoff, and what Stan — and we? — learned last night is that that provides very limited gratification. The show will air seven more episodes later this year, but Parker and Stone’s contracts are up after that. Is this the beginning of the swan song? [Zap2It, HitFix]