‘South Park’ has been one of the longest-running and most popular shows on Comedy Central since its premiere in 1997. Since then, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have released over 300 episodes (several garnering a Primetime Emmy Award) that have continuously pushed boundaries with vitriolic humor to keep audiences laughing for decades.
From having Chef (Isaac Hayes) as South Park elementary school cafeteria staff to Eric Cartman dressing up as a robot from Mars, South Park is sure to leave viewers in stitches while commenting on some of today’s hottest social issues. You can count on this animated sitcom to cross lines and test boundaries; prepare to be offended and amused in the same episode.
With so many episodes in the South Park archives, only time will tell if the ongoing 26th season can stand among its best. The most iconic episodes are a unique blend of crude and clever, merging satire with silly humor. Plus all those original songs always hit just the right comedic mark. And don’t forget how delightfully flawed each character is – irreverence being their trademark expectation. So join us on an unforgettable tour of the top-rated and best South Park episodes ever.
10 ‘Grounded Vindaloop’
Season 18, Episode 7 (2014)
Cartman seeks to pull a prank on Butters by making him believe he’s in virtual reality, but his plan backfires and the other boys are pulled into multiple realities. With no way of telling what is real or not, they must rely on Steve (a customer service rep) if they want any chance at finding an exit from the simulated world.
The interwoven realities in this episode are so perplexing that even the show’s creators got muddled up on which virtual reality was which. They were able to successfully discombobulate their audience with a clever satire of both ‘The Matrix’ and ‘Total Recall’, as well as virtual reality gaming. When our protagonists finally return back to normality, it is shown through live-action children.
9 ‘The Death of Eric Cartman’
Season 9, Episode 6 (2005)
Cartman’s outrageous appetite for KFC finally pushed his friends over the edge, and they unanimously agreed to ignore him. This caused an oblivious Cartman to think he was dead. He attempted to make amends with a few ill-fated attempts at repentance that predictably did little more than offer up some lighthearted entertainment.
By addressing medical trauma with intense exaggeration, this episode of South Park sends a message that resonates. Despite the classic South Park style — which often approaches meaningful topics in an unsubtle manner — there is still something to be taken away from each comedic blast.
8 ‘Trapped in the Closet’
Season 9, Episode 12 (2005)
Believed to be the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard by local Scientologists, Stan quickly finds himself surrounded in his home by followers. When the leader of Scientology refuses to speak with Tom Cruise, he barricades himself inside Stan’s closet – much like an irate toddler throwing a temper tantrum. Denying all accusations that he is in fact “in the closet,” this hilarious episode features references to R. Kelly’s urban opera “Trapped in the Closet.” The absurdity of it all creates such grounded storytelling and impeccable comedic timing that it seamlessly blends together into one fantastic experience.
After its release, the church of Scientology launched an investigation into Parker and Stone for their controversial South Park episode. Tom Cruise, a Scientologist, ultimately tried to back out of his agreements with Comedy Central’s parent company, Paramount. Isaac Hayes who played the beloved “chocolate salty balls” Chef left South Park for good after the episode aired.
7 ‘Woodland Critter Christmas’
Season 8, Episode 14 (2004)
This magnificently-crafted Christmas episode draws inspiration from other great tales like ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas.’ Astonishingly, the story takes an unexpected turn, spoiling its traditional holiday flavor. Featuring the familiar Christmas carols, ‘Woodland Critter Christmas’ mirrors the Christian nativity but with a peculiar twist. It narrates about the birth of a Satanic messiah – none other than an Anti-Christ child.
When Cartman is utilized to voice the show’s most atrocious moments, it alleviates any burden to adhere to a widely accepted moral code. An inventive framing exposes that this episode is based on Cartman’s response to a school project, which explains the grotesque themes of this particular installment.
6 ‘Good Times with Weapons’
Season 8, Episode 1 (2004)
With the addition of realistic weaponry, the boys’ ninja-playing game transforms into a high-octane battle reminiscent of a martial arts anime cartoon. To bring some much-needed comic relief to their playtime, Butters steps in as his silly supervillain identity Professor Chaos – and everyone laughs.
The boys’ pursuit of constructing an imaginary landscape in their play is truly sweet. However, when something goes astray and the risks of playing with weapons come to light, it can be a concerning situation for all involved. Thankfully there are no negative impacts as the episode concludes.
Season 8, Episode 5 (2004)
Dressed as a robot, Cartman attempts to uncover Butters’ secrets. While he’s in disguise, Cartman discovers that Butters likely has something incriminating on him – for once it is Butters, not Cartman, who holds the power and doesn’t even realize it.
“AWESOM-O” cleverly captures the classic Shakespearean theme of mistaken identity, yet adds an unexpected twist to it with Cartman’s self-inflicted injuries. Watching Cartman’s comeuppance always brings about immense satisfaction for viewers – especially after enduring his countless misdeeds in previous South Park episodes.
4 ‘Casa Bonita’
Season 7, Episode 11 (2003)
When Kyle’s birthday party is arranged at the Mexican eatery Casa Bonita, Cartman will not let anything stop him from joining the celebration – sadly Butters yet again falls victim to one of his schemes.
Once they arrive at Casa Bonita, Cartman discovers that it’s not as great as he thought it would be. He’s disappointed by the food, and he finds the entertainment to be boring. Meanwhile, Kyle is having a great time with his family, which only adds to Cartman’s frustration.
The show manages to be both funny and satirical, poking fun at everything from Mexican culture to theme park attractions. And Cartman’s ongoing dedication to his fabricated stories is undeniably wicked. In a nod to their adoration for the restaurant, Parker and Stone bought Casa Bonita in reality, sparing it from failure.
3 ‘The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers’
Season 6, Episode 13 (2002)
Randy Marsh messes up and brings home an X-rated movie instead of a Lord of the Rings DVD, causing his parents to frantically rush in order to return it before their sons notice. Meanwhile, word starts spreading quickly among eighth graders that there’s an adult film circulating around town that awakens their thieving interests. Poor Token is unfortunately subjected to watching this dubious content, leaving him shaken and distressed.
The climax of ‘Two Towers’ features a heart-wrenching scene in which the boys’ parents try and explain complex, adult concepts to their sons who still have yet to watch the DVD. This difficult task forces them into an awkward position where they must divulge mature information to their wide-eyed, apprehensive youngsters.
2 ‘Make Love, Not Warcraft’
Season 10, Episode 8 (2006)
When a player in World of Warcraft starts wreaking havoc, the boys come together to construct their own characters and vanquish the perpetrator. Combining South Park’s iconic animation style with that of World of Warcraft created an episode so remarkable it earned a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program.
Celebrated as one of South Park’s most hilarious episodes, the legacy of “Make Love, Not Warcraft” was far from tarnished but rather honored with a PvP achievement patch in Wrath of the Lich King to commemorate its delightful ending.
1 ‘Scott Tenorman Must Die’
Season 5, Episode 4 (2001)
In this episode, Cartman is swindled out of his money by school bully Scott Tenorman, a ninth-grader who convinces Cartman to buy his pubic hair under the pretense that it will help him reach maturity. Upon being informed by his friends that pubic hair doesn’t count unless it’s grown naturally, Cartman realizes he has been tricked by Tenorman and devises a retaliatory scheme.
What makes this episode so memorable is the extreme lengths that Cartman goes to in order to get revenge on Tenorman. It starts out with Cartman plotting to simply embarrass Tenorman, but things quickly escalate from there. Cartman learns that Tenorman’s parents recently died and decides to use this information to his advantage by tricking Tenorman into eating chili of his own parents.
In addition to its shock value, the episode is also notable for its clever writing and one-liners. It’s full of memorable quotes, like Cartman’s infamous line “I made you eat your parents!” and Tenorman’s response “Oh my god, I think I’m going to be sick.”
This episode stands out from the rest, as it stars members of Radiohead instead of sound-alikes. It follows a storyline similar to Titus Andronicus and ends with an iconic Porky Pig finish that pays homage to classic animation. Unsurprisingly, this remarkable episode was included in many prestigious best-animated sitcom episode lists and polls.
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