When Warner Bros. bought up the streaming rights to streaming rights for “South Park” in order to air the show on HBO Max, it would end up leaving Comedy Central’s parent company, Viacom, in a unique position. Sure WB paid $500 million for the exclusive streaming rights over a 5-year period, but what’s Viacom going to do now?
If they can’t stream “South Park” episodes on Paramount Plus, how are they going to draw the audience in? But then the answer came to them; movies. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone made a deal to make 14 original movies for Paramount Plus and on November 25th, the first of them premiered: “South Park: Post Covid.”
Clocking in at just under an hour, “Post Covid” doesn’t feel like a movie in any sense of the word, not even a TV movie. If you were expecting an uptick in animation quality or a musical-comedy like what we saw in “South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut” then you’re not going to find that here. Basically what we have here is a long-form episode of the show that doesn’t cut for commercial and tells a story with more plot threads. Yet even with its nearly triple the average runtime, it’s still not a self-contained tale.
This is not to say that any of this is bad, but it would’ve been nice to see the film take chances. After what Stone and Parker did with “The Book of Mormon” it would be amazing to see them return to another “South Park” musical. Maybe we’ll still get that in a future film, but at least this is a case where what we don’t have in this movie doesn’t negatively impact what we do have. And what do we have? Well, it’s more “South Park” basically. But it’s “South Park” in, THE FUTURE!
Yeah, that’s the big draw to “Post Covid,” it takes place 40 years in the future when the pandemic has finally been almost beaten and we’ve returned to normal; there’s your first satirical stab from Parker and Stone right there. Without going into spoilers, we follow the lives of Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny as they reunite back in South Park for the first time since the pandemic. Where are they now? What’s happened to them? In a way, it’s almost like the later years of Stephen King’s “It” when the Loser’s Club has to return to Derry. And while it doesn’t have anything to do with a extradimensional being in the form of a clown, there is a terrible inciting event that draws everyone back to South Park, despite some of them having left the town years ago.
The typical libertarian humor of Stone and Parker is there which will be sure to provoke a reaction from people. For example, the duo are pretty clear on the ridiculousness of anti-vaxxers and especially Aaron Rodgers. They also double down on their feelings about political correctness in the world of comedy and the idea that it robs jokes of their impact and punch. None of this should be too surprising though considering the likes of PC Principal and the last two specials that South Park aired regarding COVID and vaccines.
While not an uproariously funny movie, it is an interesting one in how we have so much character development. It’s fun and intriguing to see these characters that we’ve already spend decades with, actually age and change like real people would. Just as the characters themselves are checking in with each other for the first time in 40-years, so are we. This isn’t the case of seeing someone gradually change in personality over time; in a way we’ve already seen that through the writing and evolution of Parker and Stone’s takes on their characters. Now we’re seeing a very different change in them, some for better, some for the worse.
So if you don’t want to continue reading for the sake of spoilers, then I’ll leave you with this: don’t expect anything truly great from “Post Covid.” Instead, expect an interesting episode that takes some great shots at the current state of the world and the idea of what the future will be like. Don’t watch it for the laughs so much as to be drawn in by what the denizens of South Park would be like if they aged 40 years and what the state of their lives would be like given all of their personality flaws and quirks. Also, go in knowing that this is not a complete story, there are many plot threads intentionally left dangling. As frustrating as this is, I do have a feeling it’s going to lead up to a much stronger finale because of all the set-up being done here.
SPOILERS AHEAD: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Something Parker and Stone have been consistently strong on is knowing how to raise the stakes when it comes to special episodes. Things like “Imaginationland,” “200,” and even the “South Park” video games, “The Stick of Truth” and “The Fractured But Whole,” all feature satisfying narrative arcs with strong escalating action. Right now, it’s hard to tell if “Post Covid” will follow that trend, but given some of the teases and unresolved narrative threads, there’s a good chance this will follow suit.
The inciting incident that brings everyone back to South Park is the death of Kenny. Having become a massively famous and successful scientist, Kenny’s death was big news. However, because of the things that Kenny was working on, Token thinks that there’s something else behind all of this, and Kyle joins with him on that thought. Kyle calls up Stan for the first time in decades to tell him about Kenny dying. While he’s somewhat reluctant to go back to South Park, he still chooses to for the sake of the funeral and nothing else.
Having an adult Stan be the kind of central figure for the episode makes a lot of sense considering how much of the limelight Randy has taken in the recent years of the show. Older Stan shows a lot of similarities to his father in terms of his drunken, lazy, attitude but replaces his father’s insane shenanigans with cynicism and bitterness. The fact that Stan’s only meaningful relationship at this point is with his Amazon Alexa, which has taken on a human holographic form, makes perfect sense. Stan is not a pleasant person to be around and the traits that made him frustrated with the world as a kid have only magnified in intensity.
Case in point, we find out that the thing that drove him away from his father was the death of his sister and mother. Stan blames his dad for it, while Randy blames Stan. The bombshell drop of what happened is rather hilarious in how nonchalantly they discuss it. Stan was tired of his mom and dad fighting about the weed farm, so Stan just decides to burn it all to the ground; something indicative of just how exaggerated Stan’s “pragmatism” was becoming. The resulting fire burned his sister alive in the barn, a barn she couldn’t escape because Randy had locked her in there for not doing her weed farm chores. The trauma of this caused Stan’s mom to kill herself and neither of them forgiven each other for being responsible for it.
It’s one of many interesting things that have happened to the characters since their childhood. The least interesting of them is Kyle, but it’s still worth watching him because of just how embittered he’s grown as well. He holds an incredible grudge against Stan for something that happened during the pandemic and seems to lead an incredibly lonely and empty life, having never left South Park.
It’s only fitting in that regard to have Cartman be the only of them to seemingly come out of childhood being normal and well-adjusted, emphasis on seemingly. Cartman is married, has three kids, and has become a rabbi. Kyle thinks this is all an act just to mess with him 40-years later. Because Cartman is Cartman, it’s hard not to side with Kyle on this, but his vitriolic anger only serves to make him look like an increasingly horrible person. Perhaps this is part of Cartman’s plan? Maybe so. He does do some things to rub his success and family in Kyle’s face, but at the same time, the ending of the episode reveals that Cartman does legitimately seem to be living an honest life. When it’s revealed that time-travel may be the answer to the problems of the future, Cartman doesn’t want the plan to succeed given that altering time could take away his current life and his kids.
Speaking of time-travel, that’s where Kenny comes in. Kenny becoming a bearded, eccentric, scientist is a good twist for his character. During the superhero story arc, we come to discover that there’s a strong sense of nobility and desire to do right by others within Kenny’s heart. Here, that’s what he’s trying to do again. Kenny wasn’t just trying to stop COVID, he wanted to stop it from happening and stop the future from turning into some craptastic world. For all the conspiratorial stuff being passed around regarding his death, it was a refreshing thing to see that his death actually was completely natural from COVID.
However, the idea that the thing that caused the future to be so awful was Stan, Kyle, and Cartman themselves is a bit less satisfying. Maybe the sequel will expose more of that regarding what they did to make things fall apart, but it still feels a bit too easy of an answer; the fault was with ourselves. I guess it’s self-reflective in a way, these kids have always had some negative and toxic elements to them, having them called out for being so detrimental could result in some introspective character development.
Of all the threads left dangling though, they saved the best for the last in the form of Butters. Notably absent from the entire film, the hint is dropped earlier on when several of the characters are trying to track down a research scientist who worked with Kenny. The scientist’s name is Victor “Chowse” which is of course, a bastardized pronunciation of “Chaos.” This is confirmed to us in the very last scene as we revisit the mental hospital Victor is locked up in and we see the nameplate next to his cell door, “Chaos, Victor.” We don’t see anything of Butters/Victor at all, not a silhouette, not a hand, not a voice clip, nothing. Since his expanded role in the show, Butters has become the kind of ace-in-the-hole for elevating South Park episodes from “good” to “great.” Teasing his future self like this can only lead to something fantastic, or at the very least, chaotic.
There’s a lot going on in this movie which is why it’s so enjoyable despite its lack of laughs for me. Overtime, I feel as if “South Park” has become less funny for the most part, but far more clever and cutting in its humor and satire. This follows with that trend. It’s a very clever film that holds things together through the strength of its character writing and world building as opposed to its comedy. I am eager to spend some more time in this future version of South Park and sincerely hope that whatever comes next for them all, builds off of this solid foundation to create something epic that sets these movies apart from the series as a whole.