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The pandemic is almost over in South Park: Post COVID. Unfortunately, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s first Paramount+ made-for-TV movie (“It’s not a movie—it’s made for TV”) is set forty years in the future, in a disease-ravaged America still grappling with the catastrophe. That’s the set-up for what turns out to be the first chapter of a two-part event (the second half drops sometime later this year) that finds the now-adult kids of South Park searching for the origins of our modern plague—and discovering, along the way, that their friendship just might be the most important thing in the world.
An hour-long adventure that finishes with a cliffhanger which will likely be resolved in December, South Park: Post COVID (currently available) begins with a cheery news story about the imminent end of our long global nightmare. The subsequent revelation that this is taking place decades from now is the first of many jabs that Parker and Stone make about our collective inability to get this virus under control, which is also demonstrated by the fact that a few Americans continue to refuse to get vaccinated. In this case, that would be Clyde, a pudgy doofus who tells his former classmates that he hasn’t gotten the jab because he has a shellfish allergy, and that there’s a chance that scientists could contaminate the vaccine in a laboratory if they’ve simultaneously been in close contact with shellfish, thereby begetting… shellfishness.
The more things change, the more they stay the same in South Park: Post COVID, which dispenses the very type of juvenile and topical lunacy that has long been the show’s trademark. That should make it a significant draw for Paramount+, especially given that its incomplete finale demands that fans who want to see the conclusion to its tale maintain their subscriptions for another month—possibly after any free trial has expired. Die-hards will no doubt view that as an easy request to fulfill. Even those who haven’t stayed up to date with the series, however, should get considerable amusement out of Parker and Stone’s latest dose of insanity, which takes pointed aim at the unpleasant reality we’ve all been dealing with since early 2020.
Much has changed in the future depicted by South Park: Post COVID. Stan is a lonely middle-aged loser who spends his days running an online whiskey consultant business and yelling at Alexa, his Amazon assistant, who now takes the form of a holographic wife who alternates between suggesting great new retail deals and swearing back at her human owner/partner when he callously attempts to shut her up. Stan is drawn back to South Park by his estranged BFF Kyle after news breaks that their pal Kenny—a sunglasses-wearing famous scientist with long blonde hair and a collection of Hawaiian shirts—has died under mysterious circumstances. Questions abound about the shadowy circumstances under which Kenny has perished, and it’s soon clear that they’re related to the root causes of the pandemic.
Stan quickly comes to suspect that Kenny’s demise—and his covert research—may have to do with his dad Randy’s Tegridy weed farm, which South Park: Post COVID reveals was burned to the ground by Stan in an accident that directly led to the death of his abusive teen sister Shelly, and indirectly brought about the suicide of his mom Sharon. Thus, Stan is compelled to mend fences with his father, who lives in a 60,000-person retirement community tower where residents are sheltered from the COVID-infested outside world in an effort to keep them perpetually alive. Meanwhile, when a new variant emerges, panic once again sweeps society, with folks rushing to stores to hoard toilet paper and “chin diapers” (i.e. face masks), as well as frantically sticking their kids in front of online Zoom classes.
Such jokes go hand-in-hand with Parker and Stone’s more absurdist visions of the future, which is overrun by consumerism (everything is labeled “Max”) and has—via sights of geisha video advertisements and flying cop cars—taken on the bleak dystopian character of Blade Runner. Scarier than those developments, however, is the transformation of Cartman, who’s become a devout rabbi with a wife named Yentl and a trio of orthodox Jewish children (Menorah, Moisha, and infant Hackelm). This strikes Kyle as not only offensive but as a transparent prank aimed at making him furious. If it’s a ruse, though, it’s one that Cartman maintains with aplomb, replete with having sex with his wife (while staying at Kyle’s house) during which he exclaims about Abraham sacrificing his only child.
Adult versions of other favorite characters also pop up during South Park: Post COVID, including Wendy (who’s married) and Token (who’s a cop). Most cutting of all are the scenes featuring Jimmy, who’s risen to the highest ranks of the late-night talk-show universe as “the king of woke comedy.” Jimmy’s humor is doggedly inoffensive (“What do you call a trans woman who walks into an abortion clinic? Her name is Rebecca, and she’s a fantastic person”), and it’s intended as a sharp commentary on the policing of speech that’s currently denounced by so many stand-ups (and others). Not that Parker and Stone elaborate on any such issues; as always, their tack is to blend social satire and bonkers ridiculousness in rat-a-tat-tat fashion, and they prove in solid form here, segueing between various points of interest with their usual fleetness.
Perhaps the dumbest, and therefore funniest, recurring bit in South Park: Post COVID involves everyone, and everything, constantly reminding Stan and Kyle that they’re in the future (which they already know), be it a waiter who explains that people now eat insects instead of meat for protein, or a motel employee stating that they only take crypto because “we’ve all decided that centralized banking is rigged, so we trust more fly-by-night Ponzi schemes.” Such loony self-consciousness is both the least predictable and most hilarious aspect of the special, especially when it’s totally random, as is the case with a singing doorbell that routinely drives Kyle up the wall. Where South Park: Post COVID is ultimately heading with this two-part saga is anyone’s guess. Yet on the basis of this solid installment, its own future looks amusingly bright.