The 14 Greatest South Park Episodes
The second half of South Park's monumental 14th season begins tonight on Comedy Central. But before Cartman and crew return, I thought it might be just the time to take a look back on the animated series and make a list of its 14 best episodes. These episodes are the cream of the South Park crop; each featuring big laughs, view-askew social commentary and *gasp!* even a message or two. Oh, and fart jokes aplenty as well. It wouldn't be South Park without some of that, now would it?
Before we get started, it should be noted that basically the entire South Park series is available for free streaming on southparkstudios.com, so feel free to head over there and check out these episodes (as well as 184 others) at your leisure, you free-loading, tree-hugging hippies. And I mean that in the nicest way.
Well, that's it. Grab a big bag of cheesy poofs, zip up that parka (it gets mighty cold in Colorado) and sit back and relax with a nice, warm cup of Tweak's coffee. On with the list!
#14 - The Meteor Shower Trilogy (Season 3)
Original Air Date: July 14 (Cat Orgy), July 21 (Two Guys Naked in a Hot Tub), July 28, 1999 (Jewbilee)
Synopsis: In a three-part story arc, Cartman faces off with an overbearing babysitter (Stan's sister, Shelly Marsh); Stan tries to escape a night with everyone's favorite "Melvin," Butters; Gerald and Randy have an uncomfortable encounter in a jacuzzi and Kyle and Kenny try to prevent a hostile takeover at Jew Scouts. All this is set against a subplot where all of South Park's adults spend the evening getting sloppy drunk at Mr. Mackey's house during a meteor shower party. Uh, drinkin's bad, m'kay?
Why It's Awesome: Produced just after the feature film South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, the three episodes here are well-crafted and very, very funny with each giving one of the boys a chance to helm his own show. In Cat Orgy, we almost feel sorry for Cartman as he battles against his tyrannical babysitter while we laugh out loud at the fat kid's James West impression (a not-so-subtle jab at Will Smith's awful Wild, Wild West feature film). That's my personal fave of this trio of awesome shows.
The second part, Two Guys Naked in a Hot Tub, finds Randy Marsh questioning his sexuality after a spur-of-the-moment hot tub incident with Gerald Brofvloski. This funny subplot takes a backseat to Stan's attempted escape from Mr. Mackey's meteor shower party, however, as a night with the debuting Butters and other unpopular kids from South Park Elementary is a little too much for the boy with the red poof-ball hat to handle. Oh, and there's that little incident with a misinformed FBI showing up and gunning down a few innocent party-goers. Typical South Park stuff.
The final installment, Jewbilee, wraps up the trilogy quite nicely, with the best part being the reveal of Moses for the first time in the series. In case you were wondering, Moses and Tron's Master Control Program are one in the same. Popcorn necklaces and macaroni pictures for everyone!
#13 - The List (Season 11)
Original Air Date: November 14, 2007
Synopsis: The girls of South Park Elementary make a list of all the boys in class from cutest to ugliest. Scraping the bottom of that aesthetic barrel is none other than Kyle Brofvloski, who quickly sinks into an ugly depression because of it. It takes the ghost of Abraham Lincoln (in an inspired A Christmas Carol parody) to convince the young boy that looks aren't everything in life.
Why It's Awesome: South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker aren't known for their sweetness, but this episode bucks the show's satirical trend a little, ending up as a heartfelt lesson on not judging a book by its cover. The List is probably the sweetest, most good-natured episode in the series' canon and carries a positive message behind all the laughs. This episode also proves that South Park is often at it's best when it focuses on the kids and the many real trials of childhood in general and school life in particular.
#12 - Towelie (Season 5)
Original Air Date: August 8, 2001
Synopsis: After Sharon Marsh buys the boys a much-coveted videogame system, Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman begin neglecting all other activities. A chance encounter with a talking, pot-smoking towel quickly embroils the boys in an adventure they'd rather not take part in.
Why It's Awesome: The best part of this episode, obviously, is the introduction of the titular Towelie, whose drug-addicted adventures would make for some outstanding later episodes as well. Created specifically as a marketing gimmick (a deliberate rib at the saturation of collectible South Park merchandise and memorabilia), the stoner towel became one of South Park's most popular characters almost overnight, due mostly to his hilarious catch-phrases ("You're a towel!") and the all-out ridiculousness of the character as a whole. When Towelie shows up in South Park, you're gonna have a good time.
Another highlight of this episode is the boys' complete disregard for the show's plot. Ordinarily, South Park's intrepid lads are more than happy to go adventuring, but in this case, the lure of the Okama Gamesphere proves too much. This episode is all about laughs and ludicrous situations, and it scores highly on both counts.
#11 - Cartman Joins NAMBLA (Season 4)
Original Air Date: June 21, 2000
Synopsis: In his quest for more mature friends, young Eric Cartman heads to the internet chat rooms, seeking older men for a good time. You can probably fill in the rest. Let's just say that Chris Hansen would be all over this one.
Why It's Awesome: The entire premise of this episode is a goldmine for laughs, but when Cartman inadvertently becomes the posterchild for the North American Man-Boy Love Association (a real-life group, believe it or not), Parker and Stone hit comedic paydirt. The subplot is just as entertaining, finding Kenny hell-bent on preventing the birth of yet another sibling in the nearly destitute McCormick household. It's offensive and decidely non-P.C., but that's South Park: you either "get it" or you don't. This episode makes me very glad I do.
#10 - Butters' Very Own Episode (Season 5)
Original Air Date: December 12, 2001
Synopsis: The happy home life of young Leopold Stotch is shattered forever when "Inspector Butters" unknowingly catches his father in a homosexual tryst. The naïve Butters reveals this incident to his mother, causing an insane Linda Stotch to attempt to drown her only son. It's much funnier than it sounds, especially when the Stotches try to cover up the "murder," leading to cameos from the likes of O.J. Simpson and Gary Condit. Needless to say, Butters survives and learns more about his parents than he might have liked.
Why It's Awesome: If you've ever wondered how poor Butters got to be such a troubled young man, this episode is a good place to start finding the answers. Much of the humor of this episode comes from seeing the show's events through Butters' innocent eyes, as the viewer can clearly see where things are going from the disturbing get-go. Add in the first of a series of inexplicable recurring cameos by Fred Gwynne's version of Jud Crandall (from Stephen King's Pet Semetary) and you've got yourself another South Park masterpiece.
#9 - All About Mormons (Season 7)
Original Air Date: November 19, 2003
Synopsis: The new kid in South Park isn't your run-of-the-mill elementary school student. Gary Harrison seems to be genuinely kind, honest and happy to a fault, leaving Stan to ponder the root of Gary's genial disposition. As it turns out, Gary is a member of the only Mormon family in South Park and before long, the Marshes become Latter Day Saints themselves. But how long can that last?
Why It's Awesome: Stone and Parker are widely known for lambasting the conventions of all religions. Here, the Book of Mormon is put under their satirical microscope, revealing the genesis of Joseph Smith's religious enlightenment in pseudo-musical flashback form. Most of the episode is spent deriding Mormonism's origin story until an unexpected twist at the end gives an unsuspecting audience one huge slap-in-the-face of a comeuppance. The point of the entire episode is that following the beliefs of a religion and being a good person are far more important than the improbable tales behind it. Amen to that.
#8 - The Jeffersons (Season 8)
Original Air Date: April 21, 2004
Synopsis: Out on a big wheel ride, the boys of South Park meet up with Blanket, a masked child whose father owns a veritable amusement park of a house. In short order, we meet up with "Mr. Jefferson," Blanket's father, who bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain "King of Pop." Cartman befriends Mr. Jefferson, while the rest of the boys question Blanket's father's parenting skills.
Why It's Awesome: These days, it's more than a little unfashionable to poke fun at the late Michael Jackson, but back in 2004, "Whacko Jacko" and his never-ending stream of odd behavior were prime targets for jokes of every kind. And this is the right kind. The episode calls into question Michael's lackluster parenting abilities in the shadow of the infamous "baby dangling" incident, ignoring most of the easy comic material wrought from the Living With Michael Jackson special.
There's an air of cautious understanding for Jackson's oddball behavior in the script, extolling the King to be a better parent first and an eccentric weirdo second. That said, there's nothing here that's too kind to Michael Jackson in light of the scrutiny he was facing at the time. What causes the episode to rate so highly on my list, then, is the first-rate impression of Jackson by Trey Parker, coupled with rapid-fire jokes that all hit their marks. Kind? Nope. Understanding? Just a little. Hilarious? Absolutely.
#7 - Go God Go & Go God Go Part XII (Season 10)
Original Air Dates: November 1 and November 8, 2006
Synopsis: Cartman's impatience for the release of the Nintendo Wii reaches an unbearable state, causing the portly protagonist to attempt to cryogenically freeze himself until the gaming console finally hits store shelves. In the meantime, the South Park school board implores Mrs. Garrison to begin teaching the Theory of Evolution in "her" classroom. She resists, leading Principal Victoria to task noted real-world atheist Richard Dawkins with educating Garrison's class on the controversial subject. After a dinner date, Dawkins and Garrison develop a romance that will have far-reaching consequences in the future.
And speaking of the future, that's exactly where Cartman wakes up... 500 years from now, to be exact. Eric awakens to find a world split into three warring atheist factions with not a Nintendo Wii in sight. Noooooo!
Why It's Awesome: Boasting some downright impressive animation (especially for a show that's intended to look like construction paper cut-outs), loads of sardonic wit, and what is perhaps the show's pinnacle mockery of some of religion and science's most blatant hypocrisies, both episodes of Go God Go are required viewing for anyone who calls themselves a South Park fan. The underlying message (there's more to this world than science or religion can ever explain) is cleverly hidden under a Buck Rogers- esque dystopian future where mankind battles sentient otters over what to call our Godless atheist associations.
Cartman is also at his selfish worst here (read: best), as his unrelenting quest to nab a popular gaming system is secondary to any of the world's worries. This two-part episode makes the viewer think just as much as he or she will laugh; something that South Park does so often, they make it look easy. Go God Go is a gem not to be missed.
#6 - The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers (Season 6)
Original Air Date: November 13, 2002
Synopsis: Randy Marsh's trip to the video store nets two tapes: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for the boys and an adult movie for he and Sharon. Wanting some "alone time" with the Mrs., Randy sends the boys (all dressed in LotR garb) off to return the epic movie to the video store, only to realize far too late he mixed up the tapes. With the boys unknowingly in possession of the world's most disgusting porno, the parents of South Park attempt to track down the boys and secure the tape before its horrible contents are revealed.
Why It's Awesome: A ridiculously good send-up of Peter Jackson's masterpiece, Return stands as one of the definitive classics in the South Park universe. It's easy to spot the spot-on parodies from Jackson's Fellowship , leading to some outstanding comedic moments, but the best part is how the desired videotape becomes as sought-after as Tolkien's "One Ring."
Most of the characters take on the traits of their movie counterparts as well. Chief among these is poor Butters, who innocently views the adult movie, thinking it is, in fact,The Lord of the Rings . When Cartman and company show up at Butters' house to claim the tape, Butters becomes Gollum personified in his quest to get it back. It's parody on a hilarious level few other writers could hope to achieve.
#5 - Casa Bonita (Season 7)
Original Air Date: November 12, 2003
Synopsis: Cartman and Kyle have never gotten along. At every turn, the racist fat kid insults Kyle's Jewish beliefs and belittles him constantly. Knowing this, it's little wonder why Cartman is not invited to Kyle's upcoming birthday party, with Kyle having chosen Butters over Eric. Kyle's party just so happens to be set for Casa Bonita, the Mexican restaurant to end all Mexican restaurants, and also Cartman's fave place to dine. Enraged at the slight, Cartman sets out to do everything in his power to prevent Butters from making it to the party, all the while "buttering up" an unsuspecting Kyle.
Why It's Awesome: If you've ever pondered what self-serving lengths Eric Cartman will go to get his way, this episode will answer all your queries. Cartman's plan to dispose of Butters just long enough for Eric to take his place at Kyle's birthday party involves convincing the gullible Stotch that an asteroid impact is imminent and that being locked away in a bomb shelter is the only hope for survival. Much to the chagrin of Cartman, Butters' disappearance is noticed by the townspeople almost immediately, sending police and South Park residents on a mission to find the missing boy ASAP. It all culminates in one of the best scenes of the series (the episode's climax) that I just can't spoil here. You have to see it for yourself.
"Cliff divers! Awesome!"
#4 - Trapped in the Closet (Season 9)
Original Air Date: November 16, 2005
Synopsis: Feeling a little depressed, Stan happens upon a group of Scientologists. After taking a test to gain admittance to the group, Stan's thetan levels are found to be so high that the religious group believes Stan to be the second coming of L. Ron Hubbard. Soon enough, world-famous Scientologists Tom Cruise and John Travolta show up at the Marsh house to meet their reincarnated leader. An off-hand comment from Stan sends Cruise into Stan's bedroom closet, setting off a firestorm of media attention and brutal double-entendres.
Why It's Awesome: There's a reason Tom Cruise allegedly asked Paramount Pictures and Comedy Central to pull this episode from the TV schedule: It's unrelentingly vicious, taking Scientology to task at every turn and casting off the religion (and its very famous followers) as little more than a zany cult. All the religious tolerance exhibited in episodes such as All About Mormons and Red Hot Catholic Love is thrown headlong out the window here in an intensely spiteful episode that had news media all over the country talking about it.
Sadly, this episode also led to the departure of Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef, one of South Park's most beloved characters (the late, great soul man was a practicing Scientologist). That aside, this is what happens when Stone and Parker set their sights on something they perceive to be ridiculous. The end result is not only one of the very best South Park episodes, but also one of the greatest religious satires to ever grace a television screen.
#3 - Professor Chaos and The Simpsons Already Did It (Season 6)
Original Air Dates: April 10 and June 26, 2002
Synopsis: Another two-part episode, the story arc begins in Professor Chaos with the boys ostracizing Butters from the group in favor of someone less annoying. Most of the secondary South Park cast of characters gets in on the fun, auditioning to be the boys' new fourth member after the seemingly permanent death of Kenny. Well, all except our poor Butters. After putting up with the torment of Stan, Kyle and Cartman for far too long, Butters adopts a new supervillain persona and intends to wreak havoc on the world that shunned him.
The second part, The Simpsons Already Did It, features Butters' new alter-ego trying to come up with new ways to get back at the world and his former friends, only to find out that each of his nefarious ideas have already been used as plots for episodes of The Simpsons. Soon enough, Butters begins hallucinating and envisions South Park and its many residents as though it were Springfield.
All the while, Cartman begins raising an aquarium full of "sea people," created when a certain reproductive fluid comes into contact with the brine shrimp. Also, Ms. Choksondik dies, paving the way for Mr. Garrison's eventual return as the boys' teacher.
Why It's Awesome: Seeing the gentle Butters set out for revenge is worth the price of admission alone, but the subplots in both episodes make them must-see entries in the series. Professor Chaos has fun at the expense of reality shows (that's what the boys' search for a new friend is presented as), while Simpsons draws big laughs out of Cartman and his "sea people" experiment.
But the topper to both shows is Matt and Trey's knowing nod to The Simpsons, brought about by many real-life experiences of crafting a script, only to find Matt Groening's crew had already done an episode around the same idea.Though Stone and Parker give credit where credit is due for this episode, this particular story shows that South Park at its best is every bit as good as that show with the yellow people.
#2 - Awesom-O (Season 8)
Original Air Date: April 14, 2004
Synopsis: In his latest scheme to torment poor little Butters, Eric Cartman dons a robot disguise and presents himself as a gift (from Japan) to the gullible kid. Believing it for all it's worth, Butters is overjoyed at having his own personal robot friend. Cartman's goal in all this is to dig up more embarrassing dirt on Butters, obviously only for Eric's personal enjoyment. This plan comes to a screeching halt, however, when Cartman discovers Butters has blackmail to finally get a little revenge on his obese frenemy: a videotape of Cartman dressed like Britney Spears and dancing with a cardboard cut-out of Justin Timberlake.
Cartman decides he has to find this tape at all costs, even if it means continuing with the robot ruse for days. And it does.
Why It's Awesome: It's always great when Cartman's scheming finally catches up to him, and in this case, the tubby jerk gets far more than he bargained for. This episode has no message behind it, no great narrative lined with subtexts or any sort of social metaphors. It's all jokes and every last one is positively killer. The majority of the hilarity comes from the fact that Cartman absolutely WILL NOT STOP with the robot gag, wearing his costume everywhere until he can track down Butters' videotaped blackmail. He fools nearly everyone, including movie executives and even the U.S. military.This is probably the South Park episode to show non-South Park enthusiasts. Anyone who watches this one will be a fan forever.
#1 - Scott Tenorman Must Die (Season 5)
Original Air Date: July 11, 2001
Synopsis: After being the butt of ninth-grader Scott Tenorman's cruel jokes for far too long, Cartman swears vengeance. One bowl of chili and one visit from Radiohead later, and you've got the greatest South Park episode of all-time, without question.
Why It's Awesome: If there's ever been a perfect South Park episode, this is it. Like many of the best shows in the series, this episode is entirely devoid of subplots and messages. It's about Cartman's revenge on the older boy who wronged him and nothing more. The episode ends in a brilliantly creepy Hitchcockian twist that few first-time viewers will see coming. It's blindingly funny from the opening scene to the shocking end and is full of far too many great moments to list here. Suffice it to say, Scott Tenorman Must Die is something you must see. If nothing else, you'll surely never look at chili the same way again.
Well, I hope you've enjoyed reading my little tribute to South Park. I'd love to hear what your favorite episodes are, so feel free to fill up the comment box below. As for me, my work here is done.
Screw you guys, I'm goin' home. :)
Posted October 6, 2010