South Park has been the defining show of my life. I treated it like HBO softcore porn as a kid—the show worth a risky midnight break for the living room TV. It was my earliest experiences with truly transgressive comedy, and over 15 years now, the one-time cultural fad has become important, a necessary satiric look at an increasingly absurd country. It's the show of our generation. And, of course, it's fucking hilarious.
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.