South Park has been on our screens since 1997, combining deliberately shoddy animation with hugely offensive jokes and always a liberal amount of very insightful and intelligent satire.
It caused outrage in its early years for some of the close to the bone subject matter but that was part of the reason we loved it.
It’s that blend that has made it so popular and enduring, and these are some of the best episodes from its 20 year run to date.
- 1 10 – Kenny Dies (Season 5 Episode 13)
- 2 9 – Two Days Before The Day After Tomorrow (Season 9 Episode 12)
- 3 8 – Trapped In The Closet (Season 9 Episode 12)
- 4 7 – Mr Hankey The Christmas Poo (Season 1 Episode 9)
- 5 6 – Cartoon Wars (Season 10 Episodes 3 & 4)
- 6 5 – Chickenlover (Season 2 Episode 4)
- 7 4 – Imaginationland (Season 11 Episodes 10, 11 & 12)
- 8 3 – Go God Go/Go God Go XII (Season 11 Episodes 12 & 13)
- 9 2 – Make Love, Not Warcraft (Season 10 Episode 8)
- 10 1 – Scott Tenorman Must Die (Season 5 Episode 4)
10 – Kenny Dies (Season 5 Episode 13)
Kicking off with a very unusual one. For the first five seasons, Kenny’s death was virtually ever-present in South Park episodes, accompanied by the ‘Oh my god, you killed Kenny!’ ‘You bastard!’ catchphrase, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone decided to do it differently here.
This time, they said, he would die for real, and they wanted to make a point about stem cell research, a hugely controversial topic at the time. They did that in an episode that was funny but also actually emotional. Obviously, Kenny came back to life eventually anyway.
9 – Two Days Before The Day After Tomorrow (Season 9 Episode 12)
There’s not many popular films or TV shows that South Park hasn’t parodied over the years but one of the funniest was this version of The Day After Tomorrow, where the clear highlight is Randy Marsh leading the dads on a rescue mission in full arctic survival gear (like in the film) but in considerably less arctic weather, causing them to collapse in the street.
Meanwhile, the episode takes on global warming sceptics and the Bush administration’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina.
8 – Trapped In The Closet (Season 9 Episode 12)
South Park’s ability to annoy people went into overdrive with this episode, which sought to ridicule the Church Of Scientology and its chief cheerleader Tom Cruise, while also mining the incredible potential for comedy of R.Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet epic of insanity.
There’s so many great moments as well as plenty of informative stuff about what Scientologists believe, but it all proved too much for Isaac Hayes, who quit his role as Chef because of this mockery of his religion.
7 – Mr Hankey The Christmas Poo (Season 1 Episode 9)
Before this, Christmas specials almost never featured a talking piece of poo, but then again this was the first Christmas special from South Park.
The concept behind Mr Hankey could only come from this show and it was a clever way to riff on the plight of Jewish kids at Christmas as well as taking on political correctness with the hilarious Philip Glass-soundtracked non-offensive nativity play put on by the beleaguered Mr Garrison.
And despite everything, it really did establish Mr Hankey The Christmas Poo as an essential part of Christmases to come.
6 – Cartoon Wars (Season 10 Episodes 3 & 4)
Offending Scientologists might have cost South Park one of its most popular characters, but Cartoon Wars took on an even bigger target (and risk).
The plot revolves around a Family Guy episode that will provoke outrage by featuring the Prophet Muhammad, both to play around with the issues of religion and the South Park creators’ dislike of Family Guy and its style of humour.
As usual, it’s South Park blending the ridiculous with the offensive and doing it incredibly well.
5 – Chickenlover (Season 2 Episode 4)
Many of the early episodes of South Park feel a bit dated when you watch them back now, neither as edgy nor as funny as they seemed back then, but Chickenlover has the iconic scenes where Cartman establishes himself as a hard-nosed patrol cop dishing out brutal justice while commanding that everyone respects his authoritaah.
Meanwhile, a deranged librarian has sex with chickens to raise awareness of reading, because… just because.
4 – Imaginationland (Season 11 Episodes 10, 11 & 12)
A real epic (we’re cheating slightly here as there’s three episodes in Imaginationland, making it pretty much a motion picture split up into a TV show.
It features every single character ever made up in a story, all living in Imaginationland and is a hugely ambitious undertaking that really pays off, particularly in the third episode’s climactic super-battle. Oh, and the sub-plot of Cartman trying to get Kyle to suck his balls.
Again, just because.
3 – Go God Go/Go God Go XII (Season 11 Episodes 12 & 13)
Sometimes the most ludicrous set-ups are the best ones in South Park, and this one has a cracker, with Cartman putting himself into deep freeze because he can’t wait three weeks for a Nintendo Wii, only to actually wake up in 2546, when not only are his friends and family long dead, but also (and worst of all) there aren’t any Wiis available.
But there is an army of sea otters ready to start a war amongst the various atheist sects, and it’s all Richard Dawkins’ fault.
A great two-parter, even if Dawkins wasn’t too flattered by his portrayal.
2 – Make Love, Not Warcraft (Season 10 Episode 8)
Not everyone is annoyed when South Park wants to feature them, and when they approached the makers of Warcraft for this episode, they were given the chance to work with them to provide realistic game graphics for those segments of it.
Trey Parker apparently felt that it was a terrible episode that would destroy South Park, but he was badly wrong and it’s generally agreed to be one of the funniest and best. What would he know?
1 – Scott Tenorman Must Die (Season 5 Episode 4)
The undisputed king of South Park episodes, and it’s no surprise that it’s a Cartman one. He gets humiliated by Scott Tenorman (who had sold Cartman his pubic hair) and goes into evil overdrive to get revenge, marking an even darker turn for a character who had already seemed capable of pretty much anything.
And his plan for revenge is simply genius, as it the way the show plays it out, with extra bonus points for having Radiohead appear as themselves as part of Cartman’s grand finale. A truly great episode of TV comedy.