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Review: ‘South Park: The Not-So-Cereal Special’

Review: ‘South Park: The Not-So-Cereal Special’

This latest South Park special, part of its lucrative streaming deal with Paramount+, is about climate change. I think.

It’s certainly about the return of ManBearPig, the series’ allegory for climate change, and how this return relates to the series of droughts the Western United States has been experiencing. 

It’s also about how people are cashing in on this tragedy, with farmers like Randy Marsh and father of Token — er, “Tolkien” — Steve Black selling water, or, “streaming rights,” to the folks in Denver. The rush to have a monopoly on “streaming” content results in a war, one which the boys are more than happy to profit from. 

Philosopher Jaques Derrida famously said that writing is exorbitant; that what one intends to put on the page might end up there, but also what one might not. This Freudian-slip-level analysis largely isn’t necessary for this latest South Park installment, but it does help. Clearly, Matt Parker and Trey Stone are poking fun at hurt feelings some services might have about them taking South Park episodes to the highest bidder. They, like Stan, Tolkien, and the rest of the boys, sell products to streaming services. In the boys’ case, it’s small popsicle-stick boats that help a streaming service ends up in Denver. In Parker and Stone’s case, it’s content that, in a cute, meta moment, Butters argues doesn’t even have to be all that good as long as it’s put out there.

Though Parker and Stone seem to be poking fun at critics’ expectations, that does seem to be the case here.

Don’t get me wrong. This episode, is funny. But for as long of a wait as it’s been since the last one, you would think it’d be funnier, and perhaps a bit more topical.

It’s funny watching Cartman try to manipulate his mom out of a situation he has manipulated both of them into — namely, living in a hot dog stand, since he convinced her to quit her real estate job last special. It’s funny, as always, to watch the lengths he’ll go through to prove a point or get what he wants. In this case, if his mom won’t get breast implants to attract a rich, older man, Cartman threatens to do so. In fact, in a somewhat tasteless bit, Cartman argues that “they do that to kids now.” 

It’s funny seeing the return of Pi-Pi, the Venetian owner of Pi Pi’s Splashtown — a water park whose “water” is mainly… well… 

And it’s funny to see Randy Marsh become known as a “Karen,” though this reference feels shockingly old for a South Park episode in mid-2022.

And therein may lie the problem: this hour-long special feels pretty damn bland. It’s another two-parter, judging from the cliffhanger ending, but unlike the previous Paramount South Park films Post COVID and The Return of COVID, this special feels more like an elongated episode. This would be fine if we had another coming next week, something to make up for what felt lacking this time around, but the second planned special doesn’t even have an announced release date yet besides sometime this year.

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Beyond the jokes, the message can feel muddled, perhaps even incoherent at times.

“Streaming” is streaming. But ManBearPig (climate change) is killing streamers. Which means that streaming (not “streaming”) is a cause of global warming. Which, because streaming services require server farms, is, in part, true, but streaming tends not to have the same devastating carbon footprint as DVDs and CDs have when done in moderation. So, why, then, would South Park characters claim that ManBearPig was attacking people for “upset[ting] the balance of nature” when that’s not exactly the case? 

I have no answer other than “Who knows?”

Matt and Trey are hilarious. Even at their most controversial, they still plead their case in way that tends to make you laugh despite yourself.

But that doesn’t make their motives any less scrutable. And, therefore, enter Derrida.

I’m not sure South Park: The Streaming Wars has any content that’s necessarily exorbitant to what Matt and Trey intended. Unless, of course, you argue that the message about streaming devices having a negative environmental impact was wholly unintentional, which I am inclined to believe.

No, the comedy here is more like a parable than an allegory: there are few simple 1:1 ratios of “this equals that.” And maybe it’s better that way. 

Mick LaSalle, in his review of Stone/Parker project Team America: World Police accused the South Park creators of an apathy bordering on nihilism. I think, in the intervening eighteen years, they may have grown up from this “you’re stupid if you care” mentality. But that doesn’t make finding meaning in their work any less difficult. And to say there’s no there there would be foolish. That would be to assume class clowns have no substance; that the king’s fool never made a subversive point in his presence. I can’t insult anyone’s intelligence like that, not when I’ve seen evidence of it before.

I hope Part 2 of this middling special will clear things up for me. I hope it, like Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2, when put together, will provide a clearer picture of what its creators intended when placed in tandem with its counterpart. 

Until then, all I can say is this: watch South Park: The Streaming Wars with lowered expectations. It’s fine. Really. But that’s about it. 

And when 2022 wraps up and we have the sequel, we can look back on this apparent misfire and see that Matt and Trey were in no way being super cereal about making us think this is the best they can do given all their streaming cash and resources.

South Park: The Streaming Wars is available to watch on Paramount+

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