Film reviews and more since 2009

South Park: Joining the Panderverse (2023) review

Dir. Trey Parker

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★½

After a quiet year on the South Park special front, Trey Parker and Matt Stone decided to completely pivot from the COVID storylines and the attacks on streaming platforms to gift us something boldly and hilariously new with South Park: Joining the Panderverse. Debatably the best of the Paramount+ specials thus far — which are mostly extended episodes — the latest takes aim at wokeness, a force so ubiquitous in the culture wars of today that it’s a touch surprising that Trey and Matt have yet to make it a Tegridy Farms-sized focal point of the series.

It’s for the better that they haven’t, however. The career satirists are far sharper when they incorporate the lunacy of the world into the show’s narrative as opposed to directly attacking entities. That’s exactly what they do with Joining the Panderverse, which opens by showing Eric Cartman panic-stricken over recurring nightmares where him and his friends are replaced by women of color who lament the patriarchy. In one of the special’s funniest scenes, Cartman begs his mom to look under his bed to see if any Disney executives, specifically Kathleen Kennedy (the woman behind Lucasfilm), are lurking.

Later at school, Cartman tries to tell Kyle, Stan, and Kenny that Kathleen Kennedy is out to get him, but of course they dismiss his nonsense. Just as they leave Cartman behind, he gets transported via portal to the alternate universe from his nightmares where all his peers are women of color. In the “normal” universe, Cartman is replaced with a sassy African-American woman, much to the confusion of Kyle, Stan, and Kenny but no less the blind acceptance of everyone else.

Meanwhile, a subplot involves Randy Marsh and the other white collar dads in South Park trying to track down handymen to do physical labor. Early into the special, Randy complains to his children, Stan and Shelly, that kids don’t know how to do anything, and teaches them how to call a handyman to fix a broken oven door. When the handyman blows Randy off in favor of more lucrative jobs, it creates a larger societal problem where handymen become billionaires with the financial capital to buy social media companies.

Par for the course with South Park, Joining the Panderverse attacks from all angles. Critiques are levied at those who spend their finite number of days making YouTube videos lambasting studios like Disney for inserting “lame and gay” female characters into their movies. More criticism is thrown towards the same studios for using the multiverse as a narrative crutch (whilst the special also uses the multiverse as a narrative crutch). The chaos reaches critical mass when Cartman meets Kathleen Kennedy over coffee to air grievances for how she has effectively ruined many beloved properties from his childhood.

Both plotlines are whip-smart and provide a steady stream of laughs, but the handymen subplot is one of the most uniquely funny (and yes, relatable) ones South Park has pursued in some time. The idea of blue collar workers becoming the upperclassmen of society — to the point where those seeking their expertise are the ones loitering outside a Home Depot and offering their expertise in legal counseling, geology, etc. as extra incentive to work — is uproariously funny. These two dichotomous plot-threads are effectively woven together thanks to more sharp writing from Trey Parker.

One other sharp observation from Joining the Panderverse: when Kyle, Stan, and Kenny are called into PC Principal’s office to voice their confusion about a Black woman suddenly claiming to be Cartman, he doesn’t see an issue with it. He blames the boys for not accepting her as Cartman. Stan brings up Miles Morales as a counterpoint because he’s a completely different character with his own backstory and narrative arc as opposed to being inserted in an existing timeline with an installed character. Trey and Matt have long proposed strong counterarguments to the zeitgeist in their writing, and through all the multiverse craziness, they proceed to do it again with perhaps their best special to date.

NOTE: South Park: Joining the Panderverse is now streaming exclusively on Paramount+.

My review of South Park: The Pandemic Special
My review of South ParQ: Vaccination Special
My review of South Park: Post COVID
My review of South Park: Post COVID: The Return of COVID
My review of South Park: The Streaming Wars
My review of South Park: The Streaming Wars Part 2
My review of South Park: (Not Suitable for Children)

Voiced by: Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Directed by: Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

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About Steve Pulaski

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!

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