South Park: Post COVID: The Return of COVID Review
This Thanksgiving, South Park gave us a very grim look at what the future may hold for its cast with “Post COVID.” The boy’s broship never reformed after the Vaccination Special. Kenny died from COVID while trying to use time travel to fix everything, so the town’s back under lockdown. Save for Cartman and a few others, and everyone hates each other and the future. It’s a dark reflection of what our Post-COVID world could be, jaded by what we went through in the Pandemic.
Here lies the message that South Park wants to give with The Return of COVID, though. We can’t change what happened in the Pandemic, but we can change how we react to it from that point on. And South Park does it in the only way they can: tackle serious issues by doing stupid stuff.
Starting with a flashback to the last time the kids lived a normal life before COVID, the special picks up where it left off: the town is cut off from the rest of the world because one person (Clyde) won’t get his vaccine. The show maintains its stance on mocking anti-vaxxers: they admit it’s important to think for yourself, but there comes the point where not doing something that will benefit everyone, yourself included, is flat-out selfish. Thankfully, the special doesn’t focus too much on Clyde as the main villain, and instead, it’s Cartman, as usual.
Yes, Cartman leads a small group of people in opposing the plans to travel back in time. He’s happy with his life and doesn’t want to lose that. It may make him see better, but in truth, it’s just re-framing his usual motives in a more positive life. Cartman usually manipulates things to benefit himself, even when everyone else suffers for it. However, what sets things apart this time is that he’s doing these selfish things for a very selfless reason. He genuinely loves his family, despite what Kyle and fans might think, and knows he could end up losing them.
Cartman’s wife calls him out for what he’s doing in one of the special’s best moments, and he actually feels remorse for it. As a result, he makes the ultimate sacrifice, leading the boys into the past to fix things, even though it will likely ruin him. As a result, South Park actually makes us feel sorry for Eric Cartman and want to forgive him.
Forgiveness is a big part of what The Return of COVID’s trying to say. A lot of the show’s cast did a lot of awful things during the Pandemic, or it made them into bad people. Randy started the Pandemic with the pangolin, and his selfish behavior led to his wife and daughter’s death and his son ending up just like him. Before they end up going back in time, Stan and Randy both admit that they share blame for how things turned out, letting them reconcile. It’s easy to blame Randy for everything, but part of it may be because it’s easier to blame a person rather than a mindless virus. COVID-19 made everyone suffer in some form, like Butters.
At the end of the last special, it was revealed that Kenny’s partner, Victor Chouce, was really Victor Chaos, AKA Butters. In the special’s second funniest joke, Stone and Parker forgo turning Butters into a Dr. Doom copy. Instead, he’s a crazy, fast-talking salesman selling NFTs. Not as evil, but no less destructive.
However, Butters isn’t fully to blame for how he turned out. After COVID ended, his parents grounded him and then bailed, leaving him grounded for sixteen years. That’s messed up, even by his hilariously abusive parents’ standards. Still, it’s COVID and his parent’s fault for how he turned out, even if it leads to a pretty funny jab at what’s essentially cryptocurrency in GIF form. Considering how Butters is one of the genuinely decent characters in South Park, it’s easy to feel sorry for how far he’s fallen, even if he almost costs everyone everything.
Sadly, traveling back in time to stop COVID from happening is a fantasy, even in a fictional show like South Park. So even though the boys make it back to the past, they can’t stop Randy from having sex with a pangolin and starting the whole thing. This is when they have the epiphany that serves as the special’s moral: we should change how we react to the Pandemic and a Post-COVID world.
I Forgive You
The events of 2020 and COVID-19 felt like Hell had come to Earth. It got to the point that even South Park flat-out begged viewers to vote Trump out of office. When things get that dark, it’s easy to become jaded and bitter towards each other. But, as the show points out, we all went through a collectively traumatic experience. So, maybe we should cut each other some slack for how we behaved in response to this? We were all trying to do our best in a dark time.
In-universe, Stan, Kyle, and Cartman solve everything in one fell swoop: their past selves get to go to the basketball game they wanted to go to before COVID hit. Stan leaves his Dad Tegridy Weed that everyone gets high on and forgives each other. Just like that, the future changes for the better. Shelley, Sharon, and Kenny are alive, and everyone’s living happier lives. Except for Cartman, who ends up a homeless drunkard.
While Cartman would no doubt deserve this fate, it’s still sad, considering how his alternate self sacrificed everything. Then again, Stone and Parker may not count this future as canon, so Cartman could still be a ruthless CEO.
Overall, The Return of COVID was a major improvement in its first part. It tied everything together well, it left us with an optimistic look at the future, and it wrapped up the story that’s been going on since the South Park specials started. And this is only the start! South Park has more than a dozen specials coming up on Paramount+, and this format suits it so well. Thanks, South Park, for kicking ass during the Pandemic.
I Give “The Return of COVID” a 4.5/5
- Clyde got what he deserved when he got shot by future Cartman. Beliefs or not, not getting vaccinated after all that time is downright selfish.
- Maybe Bad Future Cartman might show up again.