GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING:
It's fitting the creators of South Park are finding so much traction in the pandemic.
Now into their third COVID-inspired "special", Trey Parker and Matt Stone were responsible for one of the internet's first viral sensations, 1997 short The Spirit of Christmas, which led to their long-running animated series about four potty-mouthed, nine-year-old boys sharing adventures in an alpine community heaving with American misfits.
As a creative force, Parker and Stone share some of the same properties of a virus. On the surface, they seem simple enough, yet a little investigation reveals them to be complex and formidable. They are impossible to eradicate and fiendishly adaptable; able to respond to external influences with such speed, they leave their competitors groping in their wake. By the time some other protein-sheathed satirical entity has caught up to the university pals, the slippery pair of 50-plus-year-olds has already moved on to infect something else.
And, like any winter lurgy, Parker and Stone can be easily underestimated - or forgotten - until, that is, conditions swing around their way and they flare up to catch an unsuspecting population with its pants down all over again.
The environment of a pandemic is optimal for Stone and Parker, who, if maybe not exactly enjoying themselves, are certainly thriving.
For them (and us) it's a gift of comic timing we find South Park: Post COVID available to stream just when a new variant is fanning out across the globe, generating fear, uncertainty and, insidiously, fatigue.
Zeroing-in on the Groundhog Day sentiment surrounding our 21st century plague (Omicron, they killed Kenny!), this first of 14 movies being made under a deal with Paramount+ is set 40 years in the future when the pandemic appears vanquished, "things are finally getting back to normal" and those four potty-mouthed nine-year-olds are now two potty-mouthed middle-aged men, one corpse in a morgue and one pious rabbi married to a woman named Yentl.
No prizes for guessing who the corpse is but the fact Cartman has converted to Judaism is the basis for some of the best laughs in this "made for TV movie" and, let's hope, a giant punchline in the sequel (our 58 minutes end very much unresolved).
The rapidly melting, pandemic-weary South Park of 2061 is akin to the present Marty McFly alters by letting that sports almanac fall into the hands of Biff Tannen in Back to the Future or, even closer, the lamentable reality awaiting mankind in Mike Judge's Idiocracy.
Things are a bit off.
Every shop and utility carries a PLUS or MAX addendum, dogs wear glasses and big pharma has naming rights to cultural centres.
Most worrying, though, is the general malaise four decades held hostage to the virus have inflicted on the community, embodied most poignantly by former friends Stan and Kyle, two single men whose WFH isolation and pessimism have taken a heavy toll.
We're swimming in a Petri dish of potential for Parker and Stone here and they don't disappoint, taking aim at each branch of the horseshoe but they do so with restraint when required, perhaps even the melancholy felt by storytellers burdened with objectivity.
And this is another remarkable achievement of South Park and its creators; the fact they're still around at all given they refuse to take sides.
As Yeats and Didion put it: the centre cannot hold, but hold the centre this pair does, admirably, and, amid the self-cancelling culture wars of the coronavirus, they strafe those who would quarantine us at the drop of a hat as brutally as those who just won't vaccinate.
But as much as Stone and Parker want to pass comment, they also want to make us laugh because, fundamentally, they're funny people and like funny people everywhere these days, they're seriously worried about what funny will look like in the future.
In South Park: Post COVID, the irrepressible Jimmy Valmer has reached the pinnacle of the entertainment world by becoming the host of a TV tonight show in New York. Trouble is, thanks to a society perpetually primed for outrage, jokes aren't what they used to be.
"I had to take an Asian airline to get here today," Jimmy says.
"You know what they say about Asian airlines ... they're dependable and just as efficient as any other competent airline."
As the "king of woke comedy", Jimmy and his insipid act will no doubt inspire a new generation of unfunny comedians but until this happens in the real world, those who have come after South Park can be thankful Parker and Stone blazed that unapologetic trail through the perilous Rocky Mountains terrain.
GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING:
One show which owes an awful lot to South Park is Big Mouth - a bildungsroman that would make a sailor blush.
Now in its fifth season on Netflix, this animated series follows a group of American junior high schoolers grappling with any number of teen dramas but mostly it's about how they cope with rampant hormones, no mean feat when your rampant hormones literally manifest themselves as the kind of monsters you might expect to see had Where The Wild Things Are been set in a Weimar Republic brothel.
Constantly facing heat for its graphic depictions of masturbation, sex and nudity (all somehow worse when in cartoon form), Big Mouth still manages to adroitly tread the line between gross-out comedy and coming-of-age tear-jerker (no pun intended).
Like Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Big Mouth creators Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg have made an animated show about kids that's completely inappropriate for kids, yet in doing so have managed to make something to which adults can relate.
Unlike Parker and Stone, however, Kroll and Goldberg love celebrities, their appearances rising alarmingly over the past few seasons.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Should Hugh Jackman desire a cameo spot as the voice of disembodied genitalia, good on him.
To be fair, though, some of the celebrities are fantastic.
As the "Shame Wizard", David Thewlis is sheer gaslighting malevolence, the British thesp bringing the same menace to the role which made his V.M. Varga from season three of Fargo so unforgettable.
Truly, a manmade virus if ever there was one.