For over two decades, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been providing the most incisive social commentary on television with their animated series South Park. By producing each episode in the week that it airs, Parker and Stone are able to keep the show’s humor topical and its stories relevant. Sometimes, the show’s idiosyncratic take on current events feels prophetic.
While the average South Park episode is the unique product of the show’s thinktank, there are some episodes that stand out as pure South Park that couldn’t have been done with any other show on the air.
10 Dead Kids
In the season 22 premiere “Dead Kids,” South Park bluntly tackled the alarming rate of school shootings. Shootings at South Park Elementary became a running gag throughout the rest of the season. No other comedy on the air could get away with brazenly making light of such sensitive subject matter. But audiences are in safe hands with Parker and Stone.
Their style is outrageous, but there’s always a razor-sharp satirical bite that captures something poignant. In “Dead Kids,” that’s encapsulated by Sharon’s anxiety in the face of the town’s blasé attitude toward school shootings.
9 Trapped In The Closet
A number of sitcoms have taken satirical aim at the rise of Scientology, but they’ve usually renamed the organization. In The Simpsons, Homer is brainwashed by the Movementarians. In Peep Show, Jez joins the New Wellness Center. The parody was thinly veiled, but it still avoided naming Scientology out of fear of being sued.
Parker and Stone have no such fear, as they’ve demonstrated many times in the past. In “Trapped in the Closet,” Stan is given a personality test and declared to be the second coming of L. Ron Hubbard. “Trapped in the Closet” episode bluntly posits that the church is a scam – and includes that infamous “This is what Scientologists actually believe” montage – and in the episode’s final moments, Parker and Stone’s animated proxies dare the leaders of the Church of Scientology to sue them.
8 Good Times With Weapons
In the season 8 premiere “Good Times with Weapons,” the boys get a hold of some ninja weapons and the episode transitions into an anime style that perfectly recreates the look of real anime while satirizing its tropes. The animation crashes back to “reality” (as South Park depicts it) when Kenny throws a ninja star in Butters’ eye.
As the boys try to get away with it, Butters wanders the streets with a ninja star in his eye until he’s mistaken for a dog. The episode also has a satirical undercurrent as the townspeople are more outraged by Cartman’s “wardrobe malfunction” than the brutal violence faced by Butters.
7 Cartoon Wars
After getting an image of the Muslim prophet Muhammad past Comedy Central censors in season 5’s “Super Best Friends,” Parker and Stone were met with a massive roadblock when they tried to air an image of the same prophet in the season 10 two-parter “Cartoon Wars.”
In a twist of meta genius, the episode revolves around Family Guy promising to air an image of the prophet and the residents of South Park up in arms about it. Muhammad was ultimately censored by Comedy Central, but the staff of The Simpsons and King of the Hill reportedly sent flowers to South Park’s offices after they lambasted Family Guy’s lazy writing.
6 Make Love, Not Warcraft
Usually, when a sitcom character is supposed to be a gamer, like the leads in The Big Bang Theory, their dialogue is funnier to actual gamers for the rampant inaccuracies and not for the actual joke content. But South Park’s “Make Love, Not Warcraft” is something else.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone are lifelong gamers in real life, and teamed up with Blizzard to create the episode. To both diehard Warcraft players and fans of the show who have never played Warcraft in their lives, “Make Love, Not Warcraft” is South Park at its finest.
5 Mr. Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina
In the ninth-season premiere “Mr. Garrison’s Fancy New Vagina,” the boys’ teacher has gender confirmation surgery intercut with real footage of the operation.
As the episode goes on, Kyle decides he wants to be surgically turned into a tall Black man and Gerald decides he wants to be turned into a dolphin – and South Park, yet again, manages to fall just on the right line of satire with a sensitive subject.
No other show could take a silly joke about fishsticks and turn it into a satire of Kanye West’s self-proclaimed genius intellect. When Jimmy and Cartman write a joke about “gay fish,” West is the only person on Earth who doesn’t get it.
The episode culminates in a spot-on spoof of West’s music as he goes to live in the ocean and sings about accepting that he’s a gay fish.
3 The Passion Of The Jew
In response to the immense box office success of the blood-drenched Biblical epic The Passion of the Christ, Parker and Stone made “The Passion of the Jew,” in which Kyle sees the movie’s depiction of Jewish people and turns on his own religion.
Meanwhile, Cartman starts a neo-Nazi movement in Mel Gibson’s honor. He dresses up as Hitler to run his Passion of the Christ fan club.
Parker and Stone’s brand of satire can often provide catharsis in tough times. “Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants” hit the airwaves less than a month after the 9/11 attacks. Earlier this year, “The Pandemic Special” was a brief antidote to the existential dread of 2020.
Season 13’s “Margaritaville” arrived right after the recession hit and put the economy into perspective by comparing it to a religion.
1 Scott Tenorman Must Die
It’s possible that fellow boundary-pushing animated series Family Guy might do a storyline in which Peter Griffin feeds a kid’s parents to him in a bowl of chili, but there’s no way that such an episode would be hailed as the show’s best.
Only South Park – or, more specifically, Eric Cartman – could do something so diabolical without losing the funny. “Scott Tenorman Must Die” marked a turning point for the series as Cartman’s evil took focus.
NEXT: South Park: 5 Reasons Why Scott Tenorman Must Die Is The Best Episode (And Its 5 Closest Competitors)
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