Season 20 of the hugely iconic TV series is premiering on Wednesday and it has me (like so many others) thinking of my favorite and best episodes out of the 267. I wanted to do 20 in celebration of the show making it to that many seasons, but when I made the list, it was more than double that number. After a lot of deliberation with myself, I was able to narrow the list down and I feel like I’m leaving so much on the chopping block. Some of these episodes are on the list because of the important message they had with it, some are there because they were the most entertaining to me, but all of the creations of Trey Parker and Matt Stone are pretty damn awesome.
I know there will be those who will really disagree with some of my choices, but this is my list and these are the episodes that have had a lasting impact over the years.
Season 3 Episode 11 – Chinpokomon:
This episode first aired in 1999 when Pokémon was hugely popular in the US with children, yet the cartoons made zero sense. The popularity waned a bit until recently with the release of Pokémon, Go! and the obsession has reignited making this episode just as significant as before when watched with season 18’s “Freemium Isn’t Free” (just narrowly missing this list) as the whole world becomes obsessed with the in-phone app game.
Season 5 Episode 1 – It Hits the Fan:
One of the best meta moments from the episode is when Ms. Choksondik explains to the children the acceptable context of “shit” which is the real-life FCC standards of indecency explanation. If the word is used as to express disappointment or referred to something as bad, the using “shit” is acceptable. Referring to actual feces is not.
This episode is mostly known for the use of the word “shit” uncensored 162 times (there was even a counter at the bottom of the screen just so you knew how many times it is said) in its initial broadcast making fun of when Chicago Hope used the word once in its 2001 broadcast and the controversy surrounding it. The season five premiere was hyped as going to be the first episode to use the word and of course I was going to watch just to see if they were going to do it. What I didn’t expect was the onslaught of “shit” and it was made even better. Now it is fairly standard for basic cable to allow for “shit” to be said uncensored, FX even goes so far as to use “fuck” and “mother fucker” uncensored, but at that time saying “shit” nearly 200 times was shocking.
Season 5 Episode 14 – Butters’ Very Own Episode:
Butters is that character we (and the boys) love to torture. After the death of Kenny, Parker and Stone were looking to make Butters the newest fourth member of the gang and used this episode to introduce him more to audiences. The recent obsession with the O.J. case and the new craze about to surround the JonBenét Ramsey murder makes this one of those episodes that is just as poignant as it was when it first aired. Mr. Stotch screaming at Gary Condit, O.J. Simpson, and the Ramseys to confess was just brilliant because when it is pretty obvious the suspects killed or knew something about the murder (not unlike this group), all you want to do is yell at them to tell the truth.
Season 6 Episode 14 – Death Camp of Tolerance:
Some of the most wonderfully outrageous parts are the extremes the adults go to in order to push tolerance on everyone else (but volatilely shaming a person for smoking). The children are sent to a camp (whose imagery invokes the German death camps from WWII) where they are starved and forced to create arts and crafts about diversity at gunpoint. Chef is sent to a “tolerance seminar” for calling Garrison a “sick queer” when the teacher inserted a small animal in another man’s ass in class.
Garrison eventually has to explain to the adults that tolerance doesn’t mean approval, it “means you’re just putting up with it” even though you may not agree or even like it. The parents finally realize their kids weren’t bigots. Still missing the point, Principle Victoria sends Garrison to the camp when he calls his own actions sick. When picking up their emaciated children from the camp, the parents complain about how much they suffered when the children didn’t tell them what Garrison was doing in class, proving the still are not as smart as they think they are.
Of course who can forget the tale of Lemmiwinks.
Season 8 Episode 1 – Good Times with Weapons:
This episode aired a little over a month after the incident with Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show and the senseless reactions of the public. What kills me is most people (myself included) didn’t even realize what they saw until it was made a big deal of the next day by the well-meaning (but very dumb) parents complaining about the indecency of it. Of course the added irony that the of South Park parents were not concerned a child was nearly blinded with a weapon the children got a hold of because violence is okay, but nudity isn’t.
Season 8 Episode 6 – The Jeffersons:
Taking on the absurd nature that is the departed King of Pop, along with the “conspiracy” that every police officer wants to put all wealthy black men in jail is what makes this episode so great.
Season 8 Episode 8 – Douche and a Turd:
Talk about relevance. This episode aired during the 2004 presidential election when many people were not really motivated to vote for either then President Bush or his opposition, John Kerry, resulting in an apathetic voter turnout for that year. Now it is between two people who are the worst of the worst making people wish for better candidates to choose from. A douche and a turd indeed.
Season 9 Episode 10 – Follow that Egg!:
I love that Mrs. Garrison’s objections about gay marriage were not actually about beliefs in morality or religion. She wanted to make Mr. Slave come back to her when he wouldn’t be able to get married to Big Gay Al. South Park is implying most people object to same-sex marriages due to their own personal vendettas (or demons), not because of a religious belief. Though they do recognize those who protest due to religious beliefs often object of the use of the word “marriage” which is considered a holy sacrament, not the union of same-sex couples.
Season 9 Episode 12 – Trapped in the Closet:
Scientology was not an easy thing to make fun of ten years ago. They were very powerful (and still are, just not as much) and had an army of lawyers who happily sued anyone who offended them. Penn Jillette wanted to do an episode about the mega entity, but was told no by Showtime out of fear of litigation. So when Stone and Parker took on Scientology and made fun of Cruise’s suspect sexuality, it was a very big deal. Not a lot was known about the practices of Scientology or their beliefs and broadcasting what is normally held in such secrecy really rocked a lot of people. With the caption “This is what Scientologists actually believe” at the bottom of the screen, the leader of Scientology explains to Stan about Lord Xenu and the trapped souls of aliens with in us that causes all the bad feelings we have.
Isaac Hayes, who was a Scientologist, resigned over the episode (though he never came right out and said so, Parker and Stone has said as much) and there was a lot of controversy surrounding Cruise and Viacom, the parent company of both Paramount (the production house Cruise often works with) and Comedy Central. Lots of rumors spread about Cruise threatening to leave his promotional obligations from Mission Impossible III which was due out in May of the next year. Of course Cruise and his people deny that is true. This episode remained one of the most controversial until season 14’s “200” and “201” came back for another round at Cruise and added Islam to the mix.
Season 10 Episode 1 – The Return of Chef:
A none too subtle jab at Isaac Hayes and his less than amicable departure from the show used prior recordings from the actor to splice together dialogue for Chef. It is really brilliant because it is not that noticeable in the beginning when the character only talks in one or two-word sentences, but eventually it is obvious once he starts to sing about how he wants to make love to the children. The “Super Adventure Club” is also a very unmistakable stand in for Scientology and pokes further at the controversial entity by taking on the founder L. Ron Hubbard, who was long suspected of being a pedophile.
Season 10 Episode 2 – Smug Alert!:
Lately the smugness of those who drive hybrid cars are not as much of a problem. These cars are becoming more affordable and widely available than they were ten years ago. But that hasn’t stopped those who were self-righteous about it before from finding something else to be superior about now. Just replace “environmentalist” with “hipster” and you basically have the same episode (and it can take place in the same city).
Mocking George Clooney was a big deal. The actor was a major supporter of the show back when it first started. He even voiced the dog in Season 1’s “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride” and a doctor in Bigger, Longer and Uncut. I do get why they needed to make fun of him, his speech at the Oscars was obnoxiously smug.
Season 10 Episode 8 – Make Love, Not Warcraft:
Parker and Stone worked with Blizzard Entertainment to make the sequences inside the game look like World of Warcraft which was amazing the gaming conglomerate was willing to allow their biggest and most well-known product be used in a South Park episode. Especially when the bulk of the jokes are at the expense of those who play the game. But you can tell Parker and Stone are fans and the jokes were out of love.
This remains one of the biggest and funniest episode from the show’s run. When you ask a fan about which episodes are their favorite, chances are this is going to be one of them. The antagonist, known as Jenkins the Griefer in the production notes, has since become a popular meme and icon of hard core gamers and trolls. Jenkins is unwashed and obese while being described as having no life in the show, which is how all of us view trolls.
Season 11 Episode 1 – With Apologies to Jesse Jackson:
Probably one of the most significant episodes in the series run. You would think in an episode that drops the N-bomb 43 times, there would be enormous outrage, but the episode was met with little to no controversy. In fact, Parker and Stone were praised for depicting the visceral feeling of a hateful slur being directed at you and the hilariously sad truth that if a discriminatory word like the N-word existed for white persons, it would have been banned as the phase “N*%@r Guy” is expelled in the South Park world. Bonus points for stating “Jesse Jackson is not the emperor of black people.”
Season 11 Episodes 10-12 – Imaginationland Trilogy:
Yeah, I know this is a bit of a cheat because it is technically three episodes, but it depicts one story broken up into three parts so I’m counting it as one here.
A really hilarious set of episodes dealing with the importance of one’s imagination, how characters from books, TV shows, and movies can be very influential over us, and what it means for something to be considered real. One of the side plots to the Imaginationland trilogy is the government wants to stop the terrorist by nuking them allowing for many jokes about “imaginary WMDs” and “imaginary threats” being made in reference to the fear mongering tactics politicians use. So many great homages to prior South Park episodes, Stargate, and Saving Private Ryan along with a borage of characters from many of our favorite TV shows and movies as kids. Unfortunately, several of those characters are brutally murdered and raped throughout the trilogy, but the idea of Imaginationland sounds wonderful.
Season 12 Episode 12 – About Last Night…:
Poking fun at the extreme reactions they knew people were going to have no matter the outcome of the election (though both figured Barrack Obama would be elected), Parker and Stone took down liberals and conservatives alike. The two men decided they didn’t want to have an episode that airs the day after the election to be about politics and made it about the extremes of the supporters. Portraying the presidential candidates as jewel thieves working together (ala Entrapment and Ocean’s Eleven) furthers the absurdity of those who were celebrating the massive change they thought was coming or hiding in terror from the next apocalypse. All of the hype and fear mongering was for nothing. Politicians say and promise a lot of things to get elected. Remember that for this election.
Season 13 Episode 5 – Fishsticks:
Anything making fun of that narcissistic, low talent, idiot, Kanye West is fine by me and Parker and Stone did it the best. They perfectly captured the celebrity’s lack of humor and self-awareness while skewering his overly inflated ego. Surprisingly enough, West did acknowledge the day after the episode aired he had an issue with his ego and was working on it, but time has shown a publicist probably wrote that because his ego has become so much worse.
The day after West rushed the stage at the 2009 VMA’s to proclaim Beyoncé as the greatest artist, interrupting Taylor Swift’s speech for winning best music video (an act he again repeated at the 2015 Grammys after Beck won for best album), Comedy Central aired this episode on a loop for the entire primetime programing.
Season 14 Episode 3 – Medicinal Fried Chicken:
Yes, I chose this episode instead of “200” and “201” because the two parter was great, but got a bit too much for me. I also think Parker and Stone did a better job criticizing Colorado for their ban on fast food and loose laws of who can get a permit to buy medical marijuana. One of the characters even calls for legalization of weed after proclaiming “people are just abusing this medicinal system anyway.” The state has since rectified the problem by legalizing pot. While the Scarface like subplot about Cartman selling KFC on the side was a little weak in its humor, it was just as significant. Making fast food illegal created a violent criminal organization to distribute the in demand product, not unlike the issues the U.S. is facing with the war on drugs.
Season 17 Episode 10 – The Hobbit:
Again, Parker and Stone go back to the Kanye well, but this time they are not really making fun of him (well they are, but they aren’t). He actually comes off as sympathetic when he constantly tries to explain how his wife is not a hobbit even though she smokes a pipe and goes on quests to destroy a ring with her friends.
I really enjoyed how Parker and Stone approached this episode. Those who try to call out constant abusers of photoshop are called “haters” and mocked for being jealous of these women everyone adores and finds beautiful. It creates this unattainable beauty that has everyday women (myself included) hating ourselves for never being able to achieve that, because that doesn’t exist. What really got me was the way the episode ended. Wendy, conceding under the pressure of being hated, apologizes and alters a photo of herself to fit in. The world can’t return back to normal for this one. This is the new normal. No matter how much we attempt to educate our young women, and ourselves, about the real meaning of beauty, the gorgeous will always win out.
Season 18 Episode 8 – Cock Magic:
Taking a break on political and social commentary, Parker and Stone made a hilarious episode skewering underground cock fights and how absurdly dumb Randy is. Sometimes it is nice to just have a ridiculous episode not steeped in controversy.
Season 19 Episode 5 – Safe Space:
In an effort to protect ourselves from bullies, we as a society have gone the other way down the spectrum and can no longer take any form of criticism without labeling it as victimization. Yes, people saying negative things about you is not fun, it hurts, but that is a part of putting yourself out there. Shielding yourself from the more hateful things is one thing, but out right denying there is any negativity is unrealistic and bravo for Parker and Stone for showcasing the ridiculousness of attempting that. There is always a big dollop of bad with the good. The episode ends with everyone literally killing Reality in favor of their own self-satisfaction. Like “The Hobbit”, things cannot return back to normal. For me this episode perfectly sums up a stellar season 19.
What episodes of South Park do you think are the best? Which ones had you laughing the most? Which ones stuck with you long after you watched them? Let me know in the comments section below.