In last season’s final episode of “South Park,” tellingly titled “You’re Getting Old,” the creators effectively showed viewers they know they’ve been on the air for a long 14 years. As Stan turns a year older, he begins to see everything in life as shitty — both metaphorically, and, for the sake of comedy, literally. His disease, being “a cynical asshole,” quickly became an apparent metaphor for the state of “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who must have become a little jaded and worn down creating absurd premises year after year. The season ended on a perplexingly serious note, as Stan’s parents get a divorce while the rest of the gang stops hanging out with Stan because he’s such a bummer. It was unclear where the show would go, with the series’s creators seemingly admitting to getting too old for this shit (so to speak).

South Park

Season 15 Midseason
Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
Comedy Central

Luckily, the new crop of episodes shows there’s still life in “South Park” as the writers experiment with both tone and viewer expectations. The premiere walks a tightrope between self-seriousness and absurdity that’s fascinating to watch unfold. Season 15 picks up with Stan still completely unhappy and living in his divorced mom’s new condo, pleading to his counselor that he just wants to go back the way it was.

The show once again seems to be eerily dark in tone, until the next scene in which Cartman can’t believe there’s actually a medical condition known as Asperger’s Syndrome — and we’re back. Cartman proceeds to sell burgers with a secret ingredient involving ass — it can’t get much more absurd than that. It’s nice to know after all these years South Park isn’t above wonderfully juvenile humor.

Then Stan has another serious scene where he goes into rehab — but oh, wait! His rehab group is secretly a Matrix-style organization that sees the world as shitty too! It’s easy to tell the writers are purposely creating overly exaggerated premises — with the leader of the Matrix group blaming extraterrestrials for humanity’s failure to see the crap — but this new self-awareness to South Park makes it interesting to watch even when it isn’t funny.

From there, the new episode continues to steer deftly between sincerity and idiocy. The rate at which scenes switch between serious moments and Matrix groups pulling machine guns is startling, and it gives South Park a sense of mystery it’s rarely had.

The end of the episode is by far the most interesting, as Stan gives a long speech about accepting change — it’s OK that he’s not with Kyle and the gang anymore, and perhaps he’ll find a new friend to have adventures with. The speech seems to tell the viewer that exciting and refreshing change is coming to South Park, but then Stan’s parents decide to get back together and say everything’s going back to normal. It’s a great twist that messes with audience expectations and also a self-aware critique of the show itself.

Still, despite the episode concluding that everything’s going back to the way it was, it hints at genuine change, and that’s what’s important. The season premiere gives hope for “South Park” by demonstrating the show is not afraid to experiment. It’s willing to go in new directions, or at the very least willing to mess with its audience more.

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