“This shouldn’t have happened. People should have been kinder in the future,” says Randy Marsh near the end of the new special South Park: Post Covid. It’s the last punch of a joke that plays into an hour-long TV movie Which is set in the year 2061.
Post Covid, now streaming on Paramount Plus, reminds viewers at every opportunity that the film (which at 59 minutes, is hard to separate from the 47-minute special episode) is set in the future. Post Covid takes place in a world where children stare mindlessly at VR headsets, cryptocurrency is mandatory, and doorbells sing about the future. Whenever someone announces a social change, like replacing meat with insects on the menu, they make sure to announce that it’s because they’re in the future, to which Stan and Kyle comment, “I know.”
Post-Covid writer and director Trey Parker told The Hollywood Reporter in October, “We’re in a place where there’s a lot of people, which kind of sucks the future.” People should have been kinder, but post covid shows a world that is much the same. Technology may change, and some individual circumstances may change, but the world is caught in a pattern that just won’t go away.
Stan and Kyle (voiced by Parker and co-creator Matt Stone) are at the center of post COVID, leading boring, unhappy adult lives. Stan’s job as an “online whiskey sampler” gets exactly one line, and he’s married to a personal Amazon Alexa (Delilla Kuzala), who mainly yells at him to stop being so pathetic. For also telling him about great deals. Headphones.
Kyle’s life isn’t that sad, but it doesn’t seem like he’s achieved anything. Cartman and Kenny appear to be the only two men in the South Park gang who really grew out of their younger childhood feuds. Cartman, against all odds, has become an Orthodox rabbi. Kenny has become a famous scientist, traveling the world and improving humanity. Unless, of course, he’s going to be a spoiler for anyone who’s seen South Park before, he dies.
It is Kenny’s death that drives the post Covid plot, but in many ways the main showcase here is the jokes. If you don’t like one joke post Covid, another comes in five seconds. If a joke about the perceived popularity of wake comedy sounds like hacking, don’t worry: In a matter of seconds you’ll hear just how selfish unvaccinated people can be. And if that bothers you, there’ll be a joke about how masks look like diaper chins.
Parker and Stone are tremendous maximalists, blowing any situation to its logical endpoint. This post leads to a lot of strong Kovid jokes, like every store that has a “plus” or “max” at the end of their name, promising more and more while offering the exact same crap on the inside . Watching Zoom’s headquarters burn to the ground, in anticipation of the final defeat of the always-around-the-corner coronavirus, is quite frightening.
Sometimes, it can feel like throwing jokes against the wall and see what works. Did Cartman convert to Judaism to mess with Kyle, or did he actually find a good Jewish woman in Yentl (Mona Marshall)? Maybe some of the two? And even if so, what debt does Kyle owe to the other Jews? It’s a funny concept that hasn’t been explored enough beyond children named Moishe, Menorah, and for some reason, Hakim, and some poorly pronounced Hebrew.
Cartman’s best gags, like pretending to be a robot named A.W.E.S.O.M.-O 4000, have always been elaborate to the point of absurdity. Would he really devote 40 years of his life and a family to messing with Kyle? Instead of watching that play, viewers are taken to Randy Marsh’s old age home for Blade Runner gags and a hunt for a strain of marijuana that could end the COVID pandemic.
There are many blink-and-you-miss-them wits in post Covid, and it’s clever to see the future occupations of kids. But none of the special arcs really settle down, perhaps because unlike the first South Park film, big, long, and uncut, it’s a two-parter. (The second part of the special does not currently have a release date.) And post Covid is Parker and Stone’s first 14-film deal with Paramount Plus, the two are in no hurry to offer the same narrative structure that their The first film was offered.
Bigger Longer and Uncut wanted to be a film musical, from the Oklahoma-exue “Uncle Fuca” to the music man-like, Oscar-nominated “Blame Canada.” Post covid feels like one long, experimental episode. The opening sequence, where a narrator pokes fun at the uncertainty of labeling the project, speaks to the confusion of what post Covid should actually be.
It’s finally decided that the boys should be friends again, and that’s good enough for now. Regardless of format, parts of South Park will always work.