2 out of 5
Directed by: Trey Parker
In general, I’ve liked South Park’s move into serialized seasons, as it seemed to be a way to mature the brand a bit. I’m not against long-running shows like SP and The Simpsons, accepting that they might be past their “golden years,” but appreciating how they shift and change to adapt as things go on, still – in my mind – maintaining their original flavor. And the concept of these Paramount+ “movies” – at just over an hour, they could just be considered extended episodes – are another extension of that, and I felt the first one out was solidly entertaining.
Unfortunately, this direct sequel has stretched the concept thin. It’s a big enough plot to merit a sequel, yes – jumping ahead to a still-Covid-affected future, with our now grown South Parkers reconvening to discuss and arguing over whether or not to use time travel to fix a new variant outbreak – but ‘The Return of Covid’ essentially just repeats many of the future gags from the former (Alexa; how woke the future is; etc.), and since part of the success of those jokes was how into they ground they were already driven, bringing them back for a similar tactic seems… lazy? And ‘Return’ is also Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s topic-of-the-month plotting at its worst, ragging on NFTs for the entire episode in a similarly lazy, we-all-agree-on-this-already manner. A couple new characters are shown as their grown up selves, which is worth a brief chuckle, and there are some scattered laughs about, especially as they eventually make good on blending the NFT stuff with the time travel debate and bring the story to a close, but prior to that, when they point out and explain a very obvious joke about an acronym, it’s clear that the movie is digging for material.
Tackling Covid was a tough bet because the South Park team couldn’t not address it, but by turning it into the focus of a big, multi-movie plot – since it sorta started with the episode preceding this movie – it’s clearly requiring some padding. I’m still in favor of this movie format, but I hope the team perhaps finds a way to balance the stream of jokes and ideas throughout.