While the pandemic may not be over, everyone’s had just about enough of it—including South Parkwhich in the wake of its recent two-part post COVID event (the maiden installments in a $900 million deal to produce expanded spinoff movies for Paramount+) has shifted its attention to different twin crises facing the nation: climate change and the ubiquity of streaming platforms. Okay, perhaps the second of those isn’t really an emergency, but it’s nonetheless the jokey subject of South Park: The Streaming Warsa super-sized chapter of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s long-running animation franchise that turns out to be funniest when it’s dumbest, and weakest when it leans into its lunatic satire.
With no N95 masks in sight, Parker and Stone’s latest (available now) opens on a South Park wracked by a shortage of water brought about by ManBearPig, the mutant hybrid-species demon from Hell who was first introduced back in season 22 courtesy of Al Gore. With ManBearPig wreaking havoc on nearby mountain streams, South Park faces a severe drought. Not helping that situation is the wanton use of H20 by the area’s newly empowered weed farmers, led by Randy Marsh, who’s now mockingly called “Karen” by everyone he meets in a jab at his incessantly entitled and demanding behavior. Randy is wasting tones of water on his Tegridy Farms, and he’s also engaged in a war with his across-the-street neighbors Credigree Weed, a Black-owned rival outfit started by Steve, Randy’s former partner and the father of Stan Marsh’s friend Tolkien .
Steve and Randy’s conflict is exacerbated by South Park’s scarcity of water, since a Water Commissioner from Colorado’s Division of Water Services—looking like a shady gray-suited government official beamed in from Chinatown—soon arrives to investigate the regions’ problem, and proposes a scheme to the weed growers: sell the excess water from their supplies to customers, thereby creating brilliant “streaming services.” The catch is that they have to prove that their water supplies actually reach the Denver reservoir on a daily basis, thereby compelling Steve to hire Stan and Tolkien to hire toy boats that can float down the river to the reservoir. In doing so, Stan and Tolkien become de facto content providers for streaming services, keeping them alive with their original handiwork. Before long, the kids are making a mint working for all the streaming services that crop up in the vicinity—including those owned by Randy and, more crucially, by Mr. Cussler, a wealthy land baron whose goal is to build a streaming service as big as “the Amazon…River.”
This is not the least bit subtle, which is often the case with South Park, whose modus operandi is unexpected metaphors embellished with lots of absurdity. It’s only a matter of time before Butters, tasked with eating boxes of popsicles so that Stan, Tolkien and their crew have enough sticks to construct their boats, goes on an extended sugar-fueled rant about how streaming services don’t care about the quality of their products because their main objective is to get swallowed up by larger industry players, and the employees who make those ill-fated deals don’t care about losing their jobs because they’ll just take similar gigs at competing services. That blast of exposition is about all that South Park: The Streaming Wars really has to say about our current entertainment-arena paradigm—a disappointing turn of events that’s typical of the show’s habit of taking aim at a relevant cultural target, only to fire a few weak and predictable shots in its general direction.
South Park: The Streaming Wars thinks there are too many streaming services filled with material of questionable value, and yet it can’t even take the extra step to poke fun at itself as a streaming-exclusive movie debuting on a conglomerate’s prestige service. Without such self-referentiality, the proceedings wind up feeling half-baked, and consequently only amusing when it indulges in out-of-left-field craziness. That comes courtesy of Pi Pi, a crude Italian-American entrepreneur who speaks like the more stereotypical cousin of Super Mario (he ends every-a word like-a cartoon!) and who desperately needs supplies for his Splashdown water park, given that it’s comprised of 50% water. The other 50%, as he explains, is urine, and the glee with which he announces this fact is as stupidly amusing as is that bodily fluid’s role in the story’s concluding revelations about the conspiracy afoot in the town.
“The other 50%, as he explains, is urine, and the glee with which he announces this fact is as stupidly amusing as is that bodily fluid’s role in the story’s concluding revelations about the conspiracy afoot in the town.”
speaking of stupid, South Park: The Streaming Wars has an additional plot thread involving, of course, Cartman, who’s still fuming at his mother for quitting her job (at his request) and forcing them to move into an abandoned hot dog stand. Cartman expresses his dismay via an early song that’s most notable for the way in which he pronounces “cool” in exaggerated fashion (ie “kewl”) in order to make it rhyme with other words. When he sees Cussler building a mansion across the street—replete with a full-sized movie theater—Cartman hatches his own plan to escape his dingy circumstances: get his mom breast implants so she’ll be able to woo the tycoon. Unsurprisingly, Mrs. Cartman is not exactly game for this idiocy, but that does not deter her son, who convinces his friends to let him join in their streaming-content operation to raise the funds necessary for his mom’s surgery.
There’s a late twist that opens the door for South Park: The Streaming Wars to tackle the issue of medical procedures for young trans kids. However, as with their primary streaming-service focus, Parker and Stone pull their punches, content to merely dispense a bunch of tossed-off riffs that are devoid of a real point of view, much less a stinging critique that might stick. By their very nature, Paramount+’s South Park movies are supposed to be more developed offshoots of the weekly series. Yet on the basis of this newest effort, it appears that they’re really just glorified two-part episodes of the show, neither as sharp nor as daring as their half-hour counterparts—a state of affairs that may prove South Park: The Streaming Wars‘ point, but doesn’t make for much in the way of memorable humor.