Is "South Park" getting old?
Maybe for creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. After 14 years of making the show, they recently widened their workload with "The Book of Mormon." The hit Broadway show continues the duo's lampooning of the religion, which began with their 1997 comedy "Orgazmo" and resumed in the hyper-critical 2003 "All About Mormons" episode of "South Park." The show's success - a Best Musical Tony, a Billboard sales record - could be tempting them to move on from their foul-mouthed Colorado cartoon creations after their contracts with Comedy Central expire in 2013.
Even if they weren't the toast of Broadway, it'd be no surprise if Parker and Stone were tired of making "South Park." They've created 216 episodes of what's become a TV staple, ripping into politics, organized religion, celebrities and hundreds of other topics that tend to stir passions. This current season, the 15th, has mostly felt like going through the satirical motions whenever some silly story dominates the news. The flat season premiere "HUMANCENTiPAD" was a string of disgusting gags built around a mildly clever portmanteau. "Royal Pudding" took the gross-out approach even further, this time as a critique of people's concern with the propriety of the royal wedding. And the title of "Crack Baby Athletic Association" speaks for itself.
Inspiration seemed all but absent in Parker and Stone's office. Then they decided to make an episode that conveyed their creative fatigue, but also the cultural fatigue we all feel at times. The mid-season finale that aired Wednesday, June 15 - "You're Getting Old" - was a hilarious, spirited portrait of changing opinions - and a reminder that when Parker and Stone do end "South Park," their wit will be missed.
The episode opens with Stan's 10th birthday party. Shortly after, he finds that the entertainment he once enjoyed with his friends is now crap - literally. When he puts on headphones, all he hears are farts instead of vocals. When he goes to the movies and watches trailers, all he sees is poop instead of people. It's a condition his doctor calls "being a cynical (jerk)."
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The phenomenon isn't unique to Stan, either. His parents hear the same thing in his once-beloved "tween wave" music, and Kyle and Cartman hear it in Bob Dylan and The Police, which their parents play when they want to introduce the children to "real" music.
On the surface it's poop humor, but the gag is also a hilariously dead-on literalization of the generational gap in taste. Sometimes our aversion to things preferred by younger or older people just feels so engrained, so perceptually wired, that it really might as well be feces we're seeing or hearing. It's the way a lot of children feel about "Casablanca" and The Beatles; it's the way a lot of adults feel about "Twilight" and Tyler, the Creator.
Toward the end of the episode, Parker and Stone lay the subtext on thick as Stan's parents argue about how redundant their lives have become and how unhappy they've been. Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" accompanies a montage that shows the Marsh family splitting and Stan moving out of South Park. The scene is played surprisingly straight. You may giggle nervously, expecting a drama-deflating punchline, but nothing comes.
Trey and Matt are serious: It's getting old.