2021 | unrated (R equivalent) | starring voices of Trey Parker, Matt Stone, April Stewart | directed by Trey Parker | 2 hrs 2 mins |
Ever since South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut in 1999 Comedy Central has been trying to bring about another South Park movie, cobbling together episodes like “Cartoon Wars” and the “Imaginationland” trilogy to deliver another epic adventure. It isn’t until now, with the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic as real world satirical inspiration and the launch of Paramount+, yet another streaming service desperate for new content from established franchises, that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been given both the freedom and opportunity to mount a feature-length adventure for Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny, Butters and the rest of the gang they have built into a universe over the last 30 years. A 2-part, 2 hour, TV-movie streamer, they manage to spin real world events and their own cannon into something creative and new that gives South Park an opportunity to be relevant – and offensive – again.
The Covid-19 pandemic has finally been cured… in the year 2052. All grown-up Stan Marsh (voiced by Trey Parker, without the speed-up audio usually required for Stan), lives with his nagging Alexa bot, working from home as an online wine taster, when news of the pandemic’s end is announced. However, this is coupled with the news that childhood friend and Nobel prize-winning scientist Kenny McCormick has died. Stan makes a reluctant return to South Park, reuniting with estranged friends Kyle Broflovski (Matt Stone), Eric Cartman (Parker) and Wendy Testaburger (April Stewart). When news gets out that Kenny actually died of Covid the town is quarantined by the government, forcing the guys to work together again, unravel the mystery of Kenny’s death and bring about an end of Covid for good.
South Park: Post Covid: The Return of Covid jumps the world of this show and it’s perennially 4th grade characters 30 years into the future opening up a lot of new ground that Parker and Stone have never been able to explore with them before. They have always had an interest in science fiction, and they have a field day here rebuilding a world of the future. It’s one where every store is a “Plus” or a “Max”, wives are replaced with Amazon Alexas, everyone eats bugs and wraps their heads in bubble wrap. While the future world is ripe with gags, the show is remarkably caring when crafting the future for all of our characters. One where our “voices of reason” for 30 years ended up alone and miserable, Cartman ends up with a loving family that Kyle is justifiably suspicious of, Kenny a hilariously drawn bearded hippie scientist, Scott Malkinson the town pastor, Jimmy the host of a late night talk show getting clapter with Woke Comedy (the funniest running joke in the movie) and Butters – well, that’s best left for Parker’s long reveal. And it wouldn’t be South Park without Randy Marsh in the mix, with his prior season antics being the South Park explanation for the origins of Covid, Randy is found crammed in the same multi-story nursing home housing all of the elderly characters to keep a single one from dying.
For their reputation for scatological humor and shock value, Parker and Stone have always had a strength for storytelling and Post-Covid has a dense one with multiple story arcs, running gags and concerns it tracks and wraps together well. In true fashion, the show takes its aim at everyone in 360 degrees with Parker and Stone dolling out blunt gross out gags, jewish jokes and F bombs, but also taking on Covid hysteria, from masks to vaccines, from Space Jam 2 to a dominant slam on NFTs (that should put to bed that if South Park was libertarian that streak is long dead). The Covid-19 pandemic created a whole new playground for this show that few others have taken hold of. With new threats came new sacred cows and a new opportunity to offend again. Even a more cautious South Park can’t help but poke at those.
Post-Covid isn’t pound-for-pound the funniest or most exciting thing the show has produced. There is no doubt South Park has lost a step since 2016 where it stopped being the rebel in the room that made fun of public hysteria to deliberately picking sides. I’ve never needed South Park to take my side, and it often doesn’t, but in the past it’s been reliable to produce a take that you wouldn’t otherwise hear in the rest of the mainstream media. The best case of this is the classic episode Mr. Jefferson where they take on the often-ridiculed subject of Michael Jackson but with a fresh angle. The missed opportunity here is that they have no fresh take on the Covid pandemic and resulting aftermath. Pre-2016 would have mocked this fertile ground of hysteria, 2022 South Park calls adult Craig selfish for not getting the vaccine. Instead of mocking multiple sides of an issue, they do in this movie what they’ve done in the show recently, state an opinion and when things start to get serious – push the entire topic away for a Tegrity Farms pot joke.
But South Park: Post-Covid is still often very funny. There is a lot of South Park here. Most satisfyingly the character jokes that give us a glimpse into the adult lives of characters we never thought we’d see grow up. It’s hard to understate the brilliance, for example, of making adult Cartman a sincere straight man. The show might be in it’s twilight years, but this movie proves Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s wit and storytelling is not out of gas yet. A fun satire on a subject few have nailed yet and a worthy successor to the South Park universe.