South Park Getting Old?

Amusingly, the most recent episode of South Park, "You're Getting Old," perfectly encapsulates my view of recent episodes of South Park.

Amusingly, the most recent episode of South Park, “You’re Getting Old,” perfectly encapsulates my view of recent episodes of South Park.

The basic thrust of the story is that, as one reaches milestones in life, things that were once awesome become lame. Shows that we liked as a kid are now stupid, things that we thought tasted great are now sugary goo, and so forth. Relatedly, most of us form our tastes in music by a certain age and will reject the music of the next generation.

In classic South Park fashion, this is expressed via scatological humor. But, for some time now, it seems like every episode is nothing more than a series of lame scat jokes and attempts at being gross–to be sure, tried and true elements of the show since its inception–with little of the insightful satire that made the show a cultural touchstone. I keep watching hoping that they’ll be funny again but, alas, I’m constantly disappointed.

It used to be that I found two of every three episodes hilariously funny and the third a steaming pile of crap. Now, the watchable episodes are few and far between. The last truly great one was the Season 14 opener “Sexual Healing,” a parody of all the celebrities going into sexual addiction counseling.  “Medicinal Fried Chicken,” the third episode that year, and “Creme Fraiche,” the fourteenth and final episode that season, were mildly amusing but  just okay. All seven episodes this year have been dreadful. (Well, actually, I haven’t seen “City Sushi” yet; it’s still waiting on my DVR in case there’s nothing else on.)

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creative geniuses behind the show, are only slightly younger than me, so I don’t think it’s an age thing per se. But perhaps I’m missing the pop culture references now and no longer have the context for the satire? For example, I haven’t watched a cooking show since Graham Kerr’s heyday, so “Creme Fraiche” had to stand on its own merits. Ditto the Jersey Shore parody; I’d consider being forced to watch the show a violation of several articles of the Geneva Conventions.

Parker and Stone have a huge hit on their hands with the “Book of Mormon” Broadway play, which is not only selling tickets but cleaned up at the Tonys, so I don’t think they’ve run out of ideas. Although it’s not inconceivable that they’re spread thin.

EW’s Aly Semigran has an alternative explanation that seems plausible:

Did Trey Parker and Matt Stone just put making South Park on their Murtaugh List? If last night’s mid-season finale of the animated series was any indication of things to come, then it could very well be that Parker and Stone are getting too old for this, well, you know.

[…]

In the aftermath of Stan’s parents fight about ‘tween wave (Sharon thinks it sounds like crap, officially making her an old person, while Randy, desperate to hold on to his youth, lies and says he likes it), they realize it’s not the music that’s tearing them apart. It’s each other. After their many years together, they tell each other they’re now unhappy and that every week it’s the “same s— over and over” and that it’s only getting more ridiculous as time passes. (See clip below.)

Not to be cynical here, but did this sounds like a not-so-thinly-veiled way of Stone and Parker telling us they had a similar discussion about their very show?

That line stuck out at me, too. So, maybe the irony was entirely intentional.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CB says:

    matt and trey are notoriously self aware- rarely is their irony unintended

    but as a huge fan of the show, ive found myself thinking the same thing the last few years. i think, they need to recapture some of the charm of the early seasons, and focus less on topical material.

  2. John Peabody says:

    “Mad” magazine, “Saturday Night Live”, and “The Simpsons” have had years (or decades) to lose their audience, yet new people arrive every year and say ‘this is great!’. There is a cliche that the new, hip thing you’ve discovered starts to go downhill six months after you’ve discovered it.

  3. KipEsquire says:

    You go to South Park with the cultural topics you have, not with the cultural topics you wish you had.

    See also: The Simpsons hasn’t been canceled yet, and South Park is still orders of magnitude funnier.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Kip: I gave up on The Simpsons four or five years ago, at least. But there’s been tons of good stuff in the news this season. OBL. The 2012 campaign. Weiner.

  5. Chad S says:

    The Simpsons were really strong this past season imo.

    Matt and Trey clearly are bored with their show. This season has been really lazy, full of one joke episodes. They’re only really under contract for 7 more episodes, and the expectation is that this is it for them–which explains the most recent episode.

  6. Neil Hudelson says:

    Re: The Simpsons. It’s funny again, at least for the shows I’ve seen this season, despite being pretty horrible for the past decade or so.

    I wonder how much of the writing of each episode–to say nothing of each episodes concept–comes from Matt and Trey. If its all Matt and Trey, all the time, then there’s no wonder why its getting lame. Maybe its time for them to relinquish some control to a larger base of writers.