The brilliance of South Park’s latest special, Joining The Panderverse, is in Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s ability to skewer all sides of a fraught cultural debate.
The 47-minute episode is able to call out Disney’s laziness and the general laziness of token diversity, overreliance on the multiverse and so forth, while also taking jabs at the other side of the aisle and all the lazy anti-woke YouTubers and fans who spend all their time complaining about diversity.
This has always been the genius of the show’s creators and writers, and is both a reason I like South Park so much and probably also helped shape my own personal philosophy over the years. I started watching this show when it came out in 1997 and I was still in high school. It was absolutely a formative part of my personal set of beliefs, helping me see how often both sides of any divisive issue can be wrong in some ways and right in others.
One of my favorite episodes of South Park is their parody of mormonism. It’s a hilarious satire of the religion but at the end, it’s the mormon kid who gets the last laugh, calling out Stan for being a jerk when all he tried to do was be his friend. It’s that kind of subtle knife-twisting that makes South Park work. They take shots at everybody, though not always equally.
The shots fired here are mostly at Disney. When a portal is opened via the Panderstone, strange things start happening. Cartman is having dreams that he’s a diverse woman in a different universe where all his friends have also been replaced with diverse women who complain constantly about the patriarchy. Eventually he’s swapped with Cartman from that universe. He goes there, much to his dismay, and she shows up in South Park where Social Justice Principal says he sees no problem with Eric Cartman being a black woman and if Stan, Kyle and Kenny have an issue with it they’re racist, sexist bigots and the problem is with them. The kids are baffled.
Diverse Cartman is actually pretty hilarious, with one Baldur’s Gate 3 gag that had me laugh out loud. That’s the other thing Parker and Stone do very well. They have their finger on the pulse of contemporary society and pop culture in a way that no other show really does. They bring in not just Baldur’s Gate 3 but Miles Morales. When the Social Justice Principal says they probably have a problem with Morales Kyle says that’s not true. He’s a great character who was created with his own story, personality and motivations—not just a black Peter Parker. It’s a great point, and one that I’ve made many times pointing out that diversity is good, but simply race or gender-swapping is tokenistic and lazy.
In any case, Cartman is tracked down by Kathleen Kennedy in the alternative universe and they discover that Cartman’s constant hate mail led directly to Kennedy turning to the Panderstone to make increasingly pandering (and failing) movies and other projects. She was trying to make the world a better place, but in a reactionary way fueled by Cartman’s reactionary approach. The two of them essentially created a hybrid version of Cartman and Kennedy that has taken over Disney and is the reason behind the movies getting even worse. “Put a chick in it! Maker her gay and lame!” this Carmtan/Kennedy monstrosity shouts about everything, including their pasta.
The lesson here, of course, is that radicalization on both sides can lead to bad outcomes. Diversity is good, but simply swapping races instead of writing new characters and actually diverse stories creates resentment and doesn’t result in interesting or unique stories. But complaining endlessly about things being woke all the time is pretty lame, too, as Cartman admits when he apologizes to Kennedy. “I don’t think I’ve ever said this before in my life . . . but I’m sorry,” he tells her.
This is not, in other words, some slam dunk on Disney or a massive attack against Kennedy, who is treated as a sympathetic character in the end. Again, this is what makes South Park effective. They get the jokes in, they do the satire, but they show how it’s also pretty complicated and there are people complicit on both sides. That’s how culture wars work. We all get blood on our hands in these stupid fights.
The B-plot follows Randy as he realizes that he doesn’t actually know how to fix anything. And it’s too expensive and takes too long to get a handyman because nobody knows how to fix anything. The contractors can take or leave jobs and eventually start becoming super rich, while all the professionals are being replaced by AI. At one point a Mexican guy in a truck tells all the hapless professional dudes sitting outside of Home Depot to get lost, they’re making it look bad.
Two hillbilly handymen function as stand-ins for Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, bickering over who is richer, who can get into space sooner, threatening one another with an MMA fight.
Randy goes to elaborate lengths to try to right this imbalance (firing a catapult at college, which they now believe was a waste of time, before eventually going into the Panderverse and crossing into multiple realities) rather than just figure out how to fix his oven door. It’s pretty funny but might have occupied more time than it needed to in the episode, though I do love the “I’m working on it, Sharron!” running gag throughout.
All told, not the funniest South Park has ever been, but a very on-point parody of the stupid culture war stuff going on right now. And I’m happy to watch anything that takes shots at the ridiculous overuse of the multiverse. I’m so sick of it! I couldn’t even fully enjoy Everything, Everywhere All At Once as much as I’d have liked to simply because once again, the multiverse (and because it was way too long, but that’s another story for another time).
The special is live now on Paramount+. Check out the rest of the new shows and movies out this weekend in my weekend streaming guide.