Saturday, 11 June 2011

what if South Park has just ended?

this is a blog post related to the mid-season finale of season 15 of South Park. it's not our usual sort of post I know but I had a few thoughts and wasn't sure where else to put them. this comes with a SEVERE SPOILER WARNING. do not read on, do not even be tempted to read on, if you enjoy the show and have yet to see Season 15, Episode 7, entitled You're Getting Old.


This past week there has been a flurry of internet rumour and speculation surrounding the mid-season finale of the most recent season of South Park, fuelled not least by reports of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's very public dismay at the continuation of the show, expressions of exhaustion and outspoken questioning of how both audience and network expect the show to continue. It has been mooted that, far from a mid-season break, this finale is the surprise ending to the series as a whole and that Parker and Stone will not complete their network commitments and choose instead to end South Park as of this episode. Whatever validity or lack of may exist in these rumours, on which we won't speculate, it raises an interesting question of where the show would stand if this was to be the ultimate end.

The episode centred around Stan's 10th birthday. From the point of his turning 10, the music that he used to listen to, the opinions he used to hold, the things he used to do with his friends all began to seem like purposeless, meaningless shit. He was diagnosed with 'being a cynical asshole' syndrome. He became weary of his friends, his surroundings and his life as it stood. The episode ended with a completely unexpected emotional montage in which Randy and his mother - usually one of the more comic, puerile relationships in the show - had a serious heart to heart and decided to divorce, related in a closing montage of Stan being ripped from his home and moving to a new place with a single parent, with a suitably sombre emotional soundtrack, equatable to the 'Goodbye To You' sequence in Buffy The Vampire Slayer perhaps.

That this would be an ending point for the series as a whole does make a certain amount of sense - we're not in "KING OF LIMBS 2 IS COMING IF ONLY YOU FIGURE OUT THE NUMBER SEQUENCE' territory here. It would represent the ultimate South Park controversy, a huge peak, to pack up and go out on an emotional high and deny an audience anything else at a time when its creators are resentful of the show and feel that most such peaks are behind them. It'd cost them money for breaking contract, but that's money that they could afford to pull off a move that would cement the show's infamy in TV history (a place already assured, yes, but all the more so in these circumstances). When the show started, and to some extent throughout its run, shock value has been prized above all else, and what better shock than to unexpectedly pull the plug, and on such a note?

It would fit South Park's internal logic to end on this note, a stunt not a million miles away from dropping a huge cliffhanger and then returning after 8 months with a 20 minute Terrence and Phillip adventure and no answers. It fits thematically too - this has always been a show with a heart, and that heart is rooted in childhood. The fact that it's everyman character (or one of two, the other being Kyle, but note that Matt Stone has had few writing credits this season) began to slip and then was wrenched out of childhood by catastrophic events in his life means the show cannot go back to that 'innocent' childhood state. Permanent story arcs that have arisen before for various reasons, such as the death of Kenny, and the boys auditioning replacements (a move that led to the fleshing out of much of the supporting cast - Butters, Token etc. - that reinvigorated the show in a lot of ways) that were ultimately reversed do not apply here. The fact that this is happening to Stan's family, a keystone of the show, has a certain weight that hasn't applied before. It could well be that this is a reinvigoration and that new storylines will stem from this point but that's not the track I'm going down here.

When you consider where those storylines could go, how they could develop the show beyond the point it's already reached, there isn't much room for development where there has been in earlier arcs. Recent disappointing episodes, such as the episode with the comedy robot who boils down all modern humour to a terrible event followed by 'awkward' suddenly make much more sense in light of the disillusionment of the show's creators. Going out on a sour note would not be to everyone's tastes, but might just be the right ending to go for.

South Park has always aspired to prove itself as something greater than a vulgar children's cartoon. It is well beyond the point of needing to prove that, it succeeded long ago, but there has always been an inherent urge to take things further. Parker and Stone wanted their huge moment when unveiling their representation of the prophet Mohammed. They were denied that moment, one with far greater reaching implications than anything they'd have done before, by the machinations of the network to which they are contracted. Presuming then that that desire to go through with something so huge has not dissipated, then why not do something that is within their grasp, curtailing a hugely popular show on a massively pessimistic (but somewhat realistic) note, with no prior notice or expectation. Parker & Stone have always been showmen, and this would be a very showmanly move to make.

Of course, anyone taking the whole thing as seriously as this may simply provide motivation to continue. As a fan I do hope this to be the case, and of course don't pretend to have any huge insight into the creative process of Parker or Stone. It felt though like the scenario above, should it not pan out in reality, was a potential path worth pausing to think on.

No comments:

Post a Comment