What kind of half-ass heathen trickery is this? May's mid-season finale, "You're Getting Old," was a tectonic upheaval in the South Park world. With Stan's parents divorcing, everything we knew about the four little misfits from the tiny Colorado town began to unravel. The core foursome disbanded, and Stan was afflicted with a serious case of everything-is-sh*tty-ness. He no longer bought into the pop culture hullabaloo or the self-interested blatherings of everyone he knew. It seemed as if Stan was growing up, and the concept of his little world was suddenly an ill-fitting reality.
And then, nothing. Months passed, and with it a wildfire of speculation. Nobody knew what to expect on the show's return, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone's tendency to buck status quo meant that predictions were futile. Indeed, as the second half of Season 15 kicked off, everything seemed as if it was sh*tty to stay for Stan, and a new approach to the show was going to be necessary. About time, after 15 seasons, right?
Well, actually, wrong.
Let's change things up a bit and take this in reverse from the end of the episode, because despite all efforts this isn't some long-winded April Fool's joke. After deciding to get new friends and move on, thus validating and concluding the entire season-finale cliffhanger, Stan discovers that his parents are getting back together. They're all staying in the same house, he's remaining in the same school, and everything goes back to how it was. Easy peasy, 22 minute solution, sitcom style.
Even the diarrhetic sounds have stopped. Stan goes back to hearing everything as normal. The world of South Park continues on as normal. Sure, Cartman pulled hamburgers out of his ass because he wanted to have Asperger syndrome, and became a fast food tycoon as a result. Sure, the current events tie-in, on the mandatory HPV prevention vaccine all the girls of South Park Elementary have to get, is a hilarious jab at Rick Perry and the lunacy of the current Republican candidate pool. It's to be expected, a right-over-the-plate shot that's good for what it is.
But we were teased with so much more.
The midseason finale's sociopolitical backhand to the face that sent fans reeling in wonder of what was to become of the show's direction was dismissed as yet another joke, a plot-serving aside nearly as torturous as the "Who is Cartman's father?" season cliffhanger a decade ago. Bad form, guys.
Nevertheless, we're pulled in when Stan freaks out at the jabbering nonsense of his classmates and subsequently finds himself in a counseling session with Mr. Mackey. He explains the problems of his newfound perspective. Mackey checks his vaccination history and decides that Stan has developed Asperger's as a result of his flu shot, and the fuse is lit for the show's leaping abstract hilarity: the President, who is now a duck that sounds like the AFLAC duck, passes "Stan's Bill," which outlaws mandatory vaccination in schools.
Stan is tken to a center for other Asperger's patients, where nothing is as it seems. What appears at first to be a lunatic ward of mentally devastated and horribly afflicted patients is soon discovered to be a safehouse for a Matrix-xerox resistance unit, fighting to uncover the truth: that things are truly as sh*tty as Stan has been perceiving them to be.
A long and hilariously convoluted story short, the only way back to perceiving the world as everyone else does is by drinking a special serum… called Jameson. As in, the Irish whiskey. The resistance fighters get Stan good and drunk, then send him out to convince people that the world is a lie. At some point, between a fast-food tycoon gunfight and an existential argument with Kyle, Stan realizes that the only way to move forward in life is to accept the change and roll with the punches, and find new joys in life. He recognizes things won't be the same in South Park anymore, but that's a good thing because everything will be new, and that's nothing to be sad about.
That's the pivotal moment, as he scans strangers' faces and wonders what kind of friendship the future will bring. The slate is clean, the path is fresh, and it seems like a truly new beginning for a show reaching its 15th anniversary soon… but of course, the moment is derailed by the discovery that his parents are getting back together, he's not moving out of his house, and everything is going back exactly to the way it used to be.
We even hear "Landslide" again, with everything from "You're Getting Old" coming undone: Obama replaces the duck, Stan's room goes back to normal, and life continues on as it always was – except when Stan wakes up the next morning, he immediately takes a swig from the Jameson bottle in his drawer. Nothing's sh*tty with Jameson on your side, apparently.
The great promise of a rejuvenating renewal has been scrapped, and with it our hope for some fresh blood in a show that's become pretty threadbare on originality. I'm sure we'll have our fair share of laughs and celebrity lampooning, but there was just promise in the new horizons blown open…
CraveOnline Rating: 7 out of 10