Last night’s mid-season finale of Comedy Central’s South Park is a potential game changer. The episode begins as Stan (Trey Parker) turns ten. Soon after, he starts to see the things he likes as crappy. Literally. But a strange thing happens when, instead of his tastes maturing, Stan finds everything crappy. This drives away his friends, who get tired to his diagnosed cynicism. Stan’s father, Randy (also Parker), resisting getting old, pretends he likes the things the young kids do, even though they sound crappy to him. His wife, Sharon (April Stewart), says she isn’t happy with Randy, and hasn’t been in some time. He agrees. They divorce and sell their house. As of the end of the episode, Stan moves into an apartment with his mother, and Kyle (Matt Stone), Stan’s life-long closest pal, is now best friends with Cartman (Parker).
Will South Park continue on from the events of “You’re Getting Older,” or go back to its standard formula when season fifteen resumes in the fall? Tongue in cheek references to Randy and Sharon being tired of reverting every week after big fights may point to a dramatic switch up. It is not new for South Park to experiment with change. Examples include promoting the main cast from third grade to fourth grade in season four, leaving Kenny (Stone) dead for awhile, letting Mr. Garrison (Parker) have a sex change, only to eventually switch back years later, and permanently killing off major characters. But this may be the biggest shift yet, with Stan’s personality taking a dark turn, and a married couple dissolving their union.
The fact that Randy and Sharon are done is not all that surprising. Randy gets more plot than any other adult on the series, and he frequently acts ridiculous, often to seem cool to the kids. They are rarely a satisfied couple, and it is about time they split up. While this is very sad for Stan, and likely a major cause of his cynicism, as he feels things falling apart between his parents, divorce is a part of life, and not one given attention on South Park before.
What may be more confounding is Kyle and Cartman growing closer. Except, it’s not all that unrealistic. They share the same social circle. Two episodes prior to “You’re Getting Old,” in “Crack Baby Athletic Association,” Kyle allows Cartman to involve him one of his immoral schemes. Stan does little to talk Kyle out of it, though Kyle feels judged and guilty. Yet, this plants the seeds for a shift in the main group dynamic. Cartman does not like Kyle for many years, often making him the butt of Jewish slurs. But near the end of the finale episode, as the two smile at each other and play video games, there’s a clear connection there. Cartman needs a friend, and is likely jealous of Stan and Kyle’s bond. Now it’s his turn. How this may change Cartman is anyone’s guess. Or Kyle, for that matter.
It is worth applauding South Park for the bold move, fifteen years into the series. Should they stick with it, and chances are good they will, it will reinvigorate once more an aging show.
South Park will return in the fall to Comedy Central.