Buoyed by a clever bait-and-switch premise along with the return of several memorable characters, South Park: The Streaming Wars — the third special exclusive to Paramount+ — manages to be a winner despite the fact that it continues to employ two of the most tired devices in the series’ recent history.
Of course I’m talking about Randy Marsh (or “Karen,” as he’s called throughout this one) and his beloved Tegridy Farms. It’s a credit to the wit and writing of Trey Parker and Matt Stone that The Streaming Wars still feels fresh despite the fact that it’s yet another installment revolving largely around the inextricably linked parties. Because the writing remains strong and the premise is chockful of amusing asides, you wind up forgiving the larger sin that is Parker and Stone’s inability to realize the horse has been beaten to the point it’s now subterranean.
The Streaming Wars gets serious right from the jump. South Park and the larger state of Colorado is facing an enormous drought. This neither impacts Randy nor Steve Black, who have water for their respective marijuana farms due to their higher elevation. Enter the mysterious water commissioner, who informs the men that they can make money by streaming water down to residents at lower altitudes. Hence, a streaming service. The plan works wonders for both, especially when consumers only have two options. Then the market gets crowded, particularly by corporate entities who scatter the availability of water across too many different platforms. Sound familiar?
Stan and Tolkien are tasked with making miniature popsicle boats in order to assure the water can flow all the way to Denver’s reservoir.
Meanwhile, Cartman and his mother now reside in a giant hot dog stand on the outskirts of town. Desperate for something more “cool,” Cartman sees his opportunity when a wealthy mogul buys the property across the street. He implores his mom to get breast implants in hopes the rich man will find her attractive and let them live at his palatial estate.
That’s a heaping helping of plot for a 48-minute special, but The Streaming Wars mostly pulls it off. It’s a tickling allegory for the deluge of streaming services, like HBO Max and Paramount+, and perhaps will be seen as slightly ahead of its time as the water infrastructure in this country continues to worsen. As Kayla Cobb of Decider noted, one has to wonder if the unsubtle shade thrown in Paramount’s direction is a result of the company’s recent reshuffling, which maybe negatively affected the duo. Sure, Seth MacFarlane has used Family Guy to take shots at FOX in the past. But MacFarlane, to my knowledge, has never made one of the underlying themes of his episodes a direct shot at his employer’s strategy being flawed, harmful for creators, and ultimately doomed to fail/be monopolized.
There are two other elements I noticed here. For one, the animation is excellent. South Park has always looked incrementally better with each new season. The Streaming Wars goes an extra mile, once again showing what happens when the crew has more than six days to crank an episode out. The settings here are more detailed and there are a couple brief establishing shots that use entirely different animation (when we go from Denver to South Park in the opening minutes, the transition is marked by a sort of 3D modeling not seen on the show prior). Furthermore, the music choices are quite clever. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s vulgar sex-jam “WAP” not only fits one particular montage, but it plays into a hilarious visual joke towards the end. Closing with a recontextualization of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” is a total revelation as well.
Parker and Stone’s singular plotting flaw here is the (re)introduction of ManBearPig. The connection between streaming services and climate change, even in this context, comes off as random. Here’s hoping they find their way at least slightly past the hour-mark for the next special for a follow-up as good as Post COVID.
NOTE: South Park: The Streaming Wars is now playing exclusively on Paramount+.
Voiced by: Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Directed by: Trey Parker.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!