Tonight, South Park premieres its 17th season. So what better time to rank the 17 best episodes in the show's history?
As with any list, there's bound to be a few disagreements here. There are a disproportionate number of episodes from the time I consider the show's heyday (roughly, seasons 6-9), and the more recent classics may rank lower than you'd like. (It's difficult to figure out how they'll hold up against the classics.) It was a stunning process to go back through and make these choices—Trey Parker and Matt Stone have produced a truly amazing number of memorable moments. Tonight marks South Park's 238th episode. Well over half those could warrant consideration on this list.
Before we go any further, the runners-up:
- “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson”
- “Krazy Kripples”
- “The Losing Edge”
- “The Cartoon Wars series”
And for good measure, my picks for the three worst episodes ever:
- “The Coon series”
Alright, let's do it.
17. “Imaginationland (Trilogy)”
Aired: October 17-31, 2007
Best Quote: Mel Gibson: “Ah, my nipples, they hurt! They hurt when I twist them!”
Best Cartman Moment: Standing in a courtroom, stone-faced, telling a judge that justice will not be served until Kyle sucks his balls.
Audacious in its scope, the “Imaginationland” trilogy is probably the closest we'll ever get to South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. Its plot was off-the-wall and quick-moving (the last installment worked almost like the most testicle-focused action movie ever); the hundreds of pop culture references were like a master's course in South Park parody.
16. “Starvin' Marvin”
Aired: November 19, 1997
Best Quote: Mr. Garrison: “Who knows what a can food drive is?”
Cartman: “Isn't that where they cut open a chick's stomach to get the baby out?”
Mr. Garrison: “No, that's a caesarian section, Eric, but remember there are no stupid questions, just stupid people.”
Best Cartman Moment: Showing Starvin' Marvin the town's All You Can Eat buffett. “This is where everyone comes here on Tuesday nights, except for Kenny's family because for them, $6.99 is two year's income.”
The best episode of the first three seasons, which surprisingly don't hold up that well. This one royally pissed off Sally Struthers, who is portrayed as a grossly obese woman, who hoards Africa's donated food supply. Struthers publicly complained about her treatment, so in a later season Parker and Stone drew her as Jabba the Hutt.
15. “Broadway Bro Down”
Aired: October 26, 2011
Best Quote: Randy: “What makes you the authority, bro?”
Stephen Sondheim: “West Side Story, bro! Sweeney Todd, bro!”
A quintessential episode for one of the show's best characters, Randy. He discovers that Broadway writers are in reality “just total bros, Sharon,” men who write musicals just for the groupie blowjobs. Randy wants to join the fun. He writes his own number. His acting troupe's effort, “Put that Heart to Work,” is one of the funniest in South Park history.
Aired: April 14, 2004
Best Quote: Movie exec: “Within one day, that robot has come up with 1,000 new movie ideas. 800 of which feature Adam Sandler.”
Best Cartman Moment: Getting off a plane without eating for days and immediately grabbing the toothpaste.
The Butters-Cartman relationship is one of South Park's great dynamics. Cartman's evil plans are typically broken by his own hubris—all the better, when it's at the hands of the town's most naiive kid. That happens to hilarious detail when he pretends to be the robot, Awesome-O.
13. “Timmy 2000″
Aired: April 19, 2000
Best Quote: “TIMMY.”
Best Cartman Moment: A Kenny murder after hallucinating pink Christina Aguilera monsters (you kind of have to see the episode).
The Timmy episodes have always worked because South Park has never poked fun at the mentally handicapped kid. It's the “sane” adults around him who are portrayed as the real idiots. This classic, about doctors over-diagnosing ADD, fits that bill.
12. Fat Butt and Pancake Head
Aired: April 16, 2003
Best Quote: Cartman: “Mom – Ben Affleck is naked in my bed!”
Liane Cartman: “Oooh – the tooth fairy must have been very happy with you!”
Best Cartman Moment: Jerking Ben Affleck with the “J-LO” hand. “AWWWW, Ben Affleck's spooge!”
An absolutely ridiculous premise—Cartman creates a hand puppet of Jennifer Lopez which becomes more popular than the real J. Lo—taken to great comic heights by a clueless Ben Affleck. In the early days of South Park, many, many celebrities angled for guest spots, eager to appear on the hot, edgy new thing. After a series of increasingly brutal celeb takedowns, those guest spots kind of stopped. Parker and Stone don't really care.
11. “All About the Mormons”
Aired: November 19, 2003
Best Quote: Stan: “AND STOP BEING SO HAPPY! IT'S NOT NORMAL!”
Best Cartman Moment: Telling Stan to kick Gary's ass: “You were supposed to kick his ass, not lick his butthole!”
Mormons have always been an obssession of Parker and Stone (see: Their multi-Tony-winning musical), and in “All About the Mormons” they showed the ability to poke fun at the religion, while acknowledging its upsides, too. This episode's final scene, when the new kid Gary tells Stan to “suck his balls,” is pitch-perfect.
10. “The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers”
Aired: November 13, 2002
Best Quote: Jimmy: Jimmy: “They went to the video st-, the video sta-, the video st-…
Adult: “You mean the video sandwich? Just spit it out, Jimmy.”
Best Cartman Moment: Yelling at the kids playing Harry Potter. “Go ahead and play Harry Butthole Pussy Potter!”
South Park can do great satire, but it's arguably at its best when it shows its kids being kids. In the brilliantly crafted episode above, they do that.
9. “Canada on Strike”
Aired: April 2, 2008
Best Quote: Stephen Abootman: “The Internet makes lots of money. Give us some of that money!”
Best Cartman Moment: Yelling at Abootman: “When you think of Canada, what's the one thing that comes to mind?” “Gayness!”
A brilliant satire of both the ruinous 2007 writers' strike and meme culture. Canadians' voices remain the show's funniest.
Aired: August 8, 2001
Best Quote: Cartman: “You're the worst character ever, Towelie.”
Towelie: “I know.”
Best Cartman Moment: Discovering one of Stan's mom's used tampons and believing it to be an aborted fetus. “You shouldn't have done that. He just a boy!”
In the DVD mini-commentaries, Parker and Stone have said that Towelie is a top-two characters in the show's history. This is trolling—however, there's no denying Towelie is responsible for, minute-for-minute, one of funniest episodes ever. What's particularly good about “Towelie” is how little the boys care about the mayham and destruction that follow them. They just want to play their new video game system. Who hasn't been there, especially with GTA's recent release?
7. “You're Getting Old”
Aired: June 8, 2011
Best Quote: Redneck guy: “No, that’s Stevie Nicks. Steamy Nicks just shits her britches.”
The most serious show in the series' history and one of the best, too. South Park is capable of poignancy and genuine emotion. Who the fuck knew, eh?
6. “Best Friends Forever”
Aired: March 30, 2005
Best Quote: Archangel Michael: “Basically, he's our Keanu Reeves.”
Best Cartman Moment: Arguing he's actually Kenny's BFF—by revealing a locket they supposedly wore together.
This one, about the Teri Shiavo controversy, won South Park a long-deserved Emmy, while delivering a swift critique of the political and news elites during a sad, ridiculous saga. From “Best Friends Forever” on, you could count on the show to provide a unique perspective on current events, never following the norm.
5. “Make Love, Not Warcraft”
Aired: October 4, 2006
Best Quote: President of Blizzard Entertainment: “Whoever this player is, he has played World of Warcraft nearly every hour of every day for the past year and a half. Gentlemen, we are dealing with someone here who… has absolutely no life.”
Thomas the Board Member: “How do you kill that which has no life?”
Best Cartman Moment: While in the middle of the final battle, yelling “Bathroom!, and immediately being brought a bedpan.
If you've seen the episode, think back on the scene when Randy is killed in the game and yells, “Staaaaaaan…” Laughing yet?
4. “Trapped in the Closet”
Aired: November 16, 2005
Best Quote: Stan: “Dad! Tom Cruise won't come out of the closet!”
The one that caused Tom Cruise to allegedly consider suing the show, that caused Isaac Hayes to quit, and that caused the church of Scientology to actually look through Matt and Trey's trash while trying to dig up dirt on the two. Think this struck a nerve?
3. “Casa Bonita”
Aired: November 12, 2003
Best Quote: Cartman: “Dude, I totally didn't mean that, Kyle. I really want to go to Casa Bonita. I'm sorry we had that fight just now, you know, I mean I said some things, you said some things but, I think we've moved past it.”
Kyle: “I'm not inviting you to Casa Bonita.”
Cartman: “Well FUCK YOU, Kyle! I hope you die! I hope you fucking die!”
Best Cartman Moment: Trying to fit in everything he possibly can in one minute at Casa Bonita, succeeding, and telling the cops it was all “totally worth it.”
The lengths that Cartman will go to for his own happiness are extreme, to say the least. Convincing Butters that he is one of the only survivors of a nuclear holocaust in order to take his spot at Kyle's birthday party? Well, you can argue with the methods, not the results.
2. “Good Times with Weapons”
Aired: March 17, 2004
Best Quote: Male Vet: “Here you go pup I got a sweet dose of murder for you. What the… blast it he's escaped! Oh well, lets murder one of these other dogs.”
Best Cartman Moment: A tie between dressing a severely injured Butters up like a dog and taking him to the vet, or falling victim to a “wardrobe malfunction.”
The animation is pretty amazing in this show, as is the “Protect My Balls” song, which perfectly parodies Japanese anime. Plus, ninja stars.
1. Scott Tenorman Must Die
Aired: June 11, 2001
Best Quote: Colin Greenwood: “Are you gonna cry all day, crybaby?”
Thom Yorke: “You know, everyone has problems; it doesn't mean you have to be a little crybaby about it.”
Ed O'Brien: “Come on, guys, let's go. This kid is totally not cool.”
Best Cartman Moment: See below.
The episode that turned Cartman from just your run-of-the-mill little kid shithead into a full-blown, psychopathic demon child. After this episode, he was never the same, and you never knew what the show would be capable of. I mean, they had a 3rd-grade boy have two parents killed, chopped up, and made into chili. Insane. And still: Incredibly funny.