I always had doubts about being a parent and wondered if anything good would come of it, how…ever, in early 2013 something finally did. Indeed, I must say a massive thanks to my near-teen son Rhys for reintroducing me to the comedy genius of SOUTH PARK. I used to think SOUTH PARK was an uncultured TV show, populated by foul mouthed, crudely animated and squeaky voiced characters spouting an incessant stream of poo, pee and dick jokes. The latter is of course true but SOUTH PARK is also one of the most subversive, intelligent and satirical shows that’s ever been on telly. In fact, it is the greatest TV comedy show of all time.
A bit of a lofty claim given the great many classic comedies that have been on the goggle box since that Scottish bloke Logie Baird stuck a tube into a thingy and said, “This invention will one day kill Rod Hull!” Indeed, for sheer consistency and quality of ideas, jokes, plots, characters, satire, sociological and political incorrectness, SOUTH PARK deserves so much praise. It doesn’t just push the boundaries but absorbs them anally before taking a massive hilarious boundary crap into your brain.
Being an obsessive I have, since early 2013, watched nearly every episode of SOUTH PARK at least twice. And with the seventeenth season almost upon us in the UK I give you my favourite – at time of writing – seventeen episodes. Please raise your glasses to Trey Parker and Matt Stone – the Gods of SOUTH PARK – because I, “Respect your authoritah!”
**Btw – this list was more difficult to make than Sophie’s choice in the film Sophie’s Choice (1981). So I am definitely wrong with some of these. Listed in Season order.**
MECHA-STREISAND – (Season 1)
DEATH is probably the best episode of the first season but I love this one because Robert Smith from The Cure is in it. This is one of those crazy episodes which combines a fantastical plot concerning the Triangle of Zinfar while plundering modern culture with references to Godzilla movies, a passionate hatred for Barbara Streisand and film critic Leonard Maltin all combined to create a hilarious monster mash-up. Streisand was picked upon because she criticized Denver and whether she was right or wrong the writers really go to town on her personality, tortuous singing and vain pursuit of agelessness and power; a truly great monster in a show which is full of great monsters.
CHICKEN LOVER – (Season 2)
This, I think, is the first episode where Cartman utters his classic catchphrase, “Respect my authoritah!” The plot revolves around imbecilic cop Officer Barbrady being discovered as “illegitimate” – i.e. he can’t read. Barbrady must learn to read and solve the mystery of the sicko going round raping the South Park chickens. The reason this episode rocks is because the boys are made deputies by Barbrady and what ensues is a baton-wielding Cartman dishing out violence to anybody who commits even the most minor of misdemeanours. The scene where Cartman smashes Kenny’s parents while Kenny laughs his parka off is particularly hilarious. Although, it’s more Stan and Kyle’s investigative skills which capture the Chicken-fucker even though Cartman’s police brutality assists his demise.
CAT ORGY – (Season 3)
South Park not only packs filth, gratuitous violence and satire into the show but also has ingenuity in the structure of its silly stories. A great example of this is the cross-structured ‘Meteor Shower Trilogy’ incorporating this episode, ‘Two Guys Naked in a Bathtub’ and ‘Jewbilee’. I love ‘Cat Orgy’ because it is packed with brilliant gags throughout notably Shelley the babysitter’s many turd puns – e.g. Turdman of Alcatraz – in reference to Cartman. Indeed, Cartman very much meets his match in borderline psycho Shelley and their battle of wills powers the mirth and plot. I also love the fact that Cartman is shown to have terrible taste in popular culture such as his love of ‘Wild Wild West’ and this becomes a running gag throughout future seasons. Mr Kitty on heat simply adds to the hilarity, especially Cartman’s rage at the pet when he utters with incandescent rage, “Shut up, Mr Kitty!!”
THE SUCCUBUS – (Season 3)
Chef (Isaac Hayes) was a great character who provided consistent laughs and funky inappropriate songs during his tenure in South Park. As such he became a surrogate father to the children and it is much to their dismay when he decides to marry. The episode also throws in Cartman’s battle with his Teutonic optometrist who refers to him as “Piggy”; Chef’s bewitching fiancé Veronica who has romanced him with the love theme from ‘The Poseidon Adventure’; and most hilariously Chef’s parents who regale the kids with bizarre, yet amusing, stories of the Loch Ness Monster’s attempts to cash hustle them for – “about tree fiddy”. Naturally, all these elements are woven together skilfully enough to return things to the status quo with the children ultimately defeating Chef’s demonic intended.
HELEN KELLER THE MUSICAL – (Season 4)
The show has never been shy of breaking taboos and to feature, not one but two, prominent disabled characters in Timmy Burch and Jimmy Valmer is challenging on the writers’ part. Challenging because it doesn’t patronize the disabled but makes them positive characters with desires and emotions. The plot of ‘Helen Keller – The Musical’ has Timmy playing Helen Keller (he’s the only one who knows the words) in a rather splendid children’s stage version of The Miracle Worker. Usually Timmy’s vocabulary is limited to just his name but here it’s extended when he forms a bond with ‘performing’ pet turkey Gobbles. Timmy’s relationship with the lame turkey is actually very touching as Timmy fights for Gobbles’ place in the play despite efforts to kill him off. Aside from being chockfull of gags the episode is ingenious in the way it both presents the disabled in a positive and humour inducing light while sending up precious theatrical types at the same time.
TRAPPER KEEPER – (Season 4)
I love this episode because it contains sci-fi film references to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and ‘The Terminator’ AND satirizes the drawn-out Bush-Gore American election farce of 2000. It is both silly and serious balancing two very distinct plot strands with some fantastic gags to glue it altogether. In one strand a cyborg called Bill Cosby is sent back to destroy Cartman’s Skynetesque school folder and in the other the kindergarteners find it impossible to decide on a Class President. By the end the monstrous hybridized Cartman is pitted against the equally monstrous celebrity Rosie O’Donnell. Celebrities often take a hit in South Park and quite right too especially the ones who think they are important just because they act and sing songs. I really hate those guys!
SCOTT TENORMAN MUST DIE – (Season 5)
Eric Cartman is venal, vile, selfish, corpulent, controversial, racist, homophobic, sexist, anti-Semitic, petty, childish, vain, arrogant, money-grabbing, spoilt, deranged, and devious – name a negative word and he is IT! He is, however, the greatest comedy character ever created. And probably a genius too. Because when Cartman sets out on some task or scheme be it: Hallway Monitor, News Anchor, Theatre Director, Dead Foetus Salesmen, Christian Rock Band artist etc. he is invariably brilliant and professional at it. Of course, his plans generally end up with him getting his comeuppance, but, in ‘Scott Tenorman Must Die’ he enacts a Shakespearean revenge so brutal on the eponymous older boy it literally takes the breath away. All throughout Tenorman gets the better of Eric but the ending is something else. This was the first episode which used a singular plot and while Cartman’s revenge is heinous and above reproach you cannot hide how ingenious it is.
MY FUTURE SELF AND ME – (Season 6)
I’m a sucker for these “futuristic” type plots and this episode is wonderful. Following a thunderstorm Stan is confronted by a future version of himself. The Future Stan is a train-wreck of a human being having succumbed to alcohol and drugs. This forces Stan to commit to a drug-free life. Eventually, Stan (and Butters) realise they have been victims of an ill-judged attempt by their parents to warn them about the dangers of substance abuse by using actors. What I love is that, as in many other episodes, the parents are shown to be cowardly and dishonest when it comes to actually speaking to their kids about social issues; even when Stan finds out the truth and pretends to cut his own hand off, idiot father Randy, cuts the actor playing Future Stan’s hand off rather than tell the truth. Cartman’s “Parental Revenge Centre” which involves smearing poo on walls merely adds to the hilarity and the final payoff involving Future Cartman is just dandy.
CASA BONITA – (Season 7)
It all starts when Kyle denies “fat-ass” the chance to attend his birthday party at the legendarily themed restaurant Casa Bonita. Cartman tries to get back in Kyle’s good books by being less Cartmanesque but when that fails he is told the only way he can attend is if someone else drops out. And so hapless Butters is convinced by Cartman that a meteor is about to hit Denver and he helps Butters to hide out. The Cartman/Butters character axis has all the hallmarks of a Master/Servant dynamic. Butters is generally the target of some heinous Cartman schemes and in ‘Casa Bonita’ the poor boy suffers more than ever. Moreover, what makes Cartman’s plan so evil is that Butters actually thinks Eric is helping him. This devious plan actually works because Cartman gets to visit the restaurant even though he ends in juvenile jail for it.
AWESOME-O – (Season 8)
In many episodes the cute, naive Butters ends up being the victim of some horrific experiences. However, in ‘Awesome-O’ the writers of South Park finally give the boy a break and allow him to get his own back on Cartman. It all starts when Cartman wears a poorly designed robot costume as a prank on Butters. The prank backfires when Butters admits to having an incriminating video showing Cartman dressed as Britney Spears. What makes this episode hilarious is Cartman is really made to suffer when he must remain in the costume while in pursuit of the said videotape. There are also some brilliant digs at the Hollywood scriptwriting system and the generic nature of their output especially the moronic, yet unbelievably successful films of Adam Sandler. Incredibly, this episode was produced in THREE days – the shortest ever production in the series history!
GOOBACKS – (Season 8)
‘South Park’ like many fine comedy shows has recurring catchphrases. “Goddamit!”; “Oh my god, they killed Kenny!”; “Screw you guys, I’m going home!”; “Respect my authoritah” and “I learned something today. . .” are just a few. One of my favourites – featured prominently in ‘Goobacks’ – is “They took our job!” which eventually becomes just a high-pitched cock noise, “Dey turk err jurbs!” Amidst this pronunciation tomfoolery is a spot on satire of the nature of immigrants and the impact they have on the town. The immigrants in this case are people from the future who come back using “Terminator rules” and work for peanuts knowing if they save money now they will be worth a fortune in the future. The episode satirizes both sides of the argument and the men’ solution to the Gooback problem is to have a massive male-on-male orgy to ensure there will be no more children or future people. It is a memorably sick and stupid ending and once again it is left to the children to come up with a more sensible answer.
DOUCHE & TURD – (Season 8)
‘Douche and Turd’ is another triumph of the writers using the children of South Park to highlight their views on America’s political system and voting in general. They also take the time to satirize Animal activists PETA and arrogant uber-star
P. Diddy. When PETA object to the South Park Elementary School’s use of a costumed cow as their mascot the kids must then decide between a Douche and a Turd Sandwich for the replacement. Stan thinks this is ridiculous and refuses to vote. He is then banished from the town. He is, ironically, taken in by PETA and begins living with them as they cohabit and breed with animals. Stan does much soul searching and is advised by a PETA colleague that “an election ‘is always between a douche and a turd’, because they are the only people who suck up enough to make it that far in politics.” I love this episode because Stan’s dilemma is one I feel every time an election comes along. I mean who do you vote for when they are all either giant douches or massive turds.
ERECTION DAY – (Season 9)
Like many stand-up comedians Jimmy Valmer is an attention-hungry, vain and ambitious performer but overall remains a very positive character. In Erection Day he gains our sympathy when he battles unwanted erections while in public. Stupidly, Jimmy seeks the advice of Butters who tells him that he needs to have sex in order to vanquish the unwanted boners. With Cartman acting as a young, fat Cyrano De Bergerac, Jimmy eventually seeks the help of a STD ridden prostitute but ends up in a ‘turf’ war with a local pimp. What I love most about this is the basic comedy misunderstanding of naive Jimmy taking a hooker to an Italian restaurant to “woo” her and then the determination he shows to try and win her back from the pimp; even involving himself in a car chase and shoot-out. Jimmy’s “romance” results in a brilliant finale capped off by the oft-used but never-more-fitting parody of THAT ‘Officer and Gentlemen’ final scene.
MAKE LOVE, NOT WARCRAFT – (Season 10)
This is an Emmy award winning show and probably the funniest ever! I love it because it features all the children actually joining together to defeat a common foe; namely the guy with “no life” who is going round and killing all their characters in World of Warcraft. The show was made in conjunction with the team who make World of Warcraft and there is both gentle affection for and ribbing of the game and its’ players. The comedy flows thick and fast notably from hearing the kids voices emanate from Dwarves, Knights, Mages etc.; especially the stuttering Jimmy. There is a lovely reverse parody of sports movie montages where instead of getting fitter the kids get fatter and more ill through their continual playing of World of Warcraft. Indeed, they are so chained to their computers Liane – Cartman’s mum – even holds a bucket for him while he takes a crap. The episode has the whole cake and eats it with a mild warning of the dangers of videogames to children, but it does it in the most fun way possible. Brilliant title as well!
HELL ON EARTH (2006) – (Season 10)
The show has, over the years, had some really near-the-knuckle plots including: Cartman infecting Kyle with H.I.V; Christopher Reeve using stem cells to become a super-villain; Cartman using Crack Baby’s as athletes and many more. But in this episode to use murderers Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy as latter day Three Stooges killing and screwing corpses is really sick but bloody funny as well. Ironically, that wasn’t even the most controversial part as there were more complaints at the time about the incredibly bad taste Steve Irwin gag which really took the cake. Talking of cake, in this episode, it’s Satan’s birthday and he’s having a “Sweet 16” birthday bash with loads of dead celebrities invited and Satan is determined the party is going to be “the bomb”. I wasn’t aware of these horrific MTV “Sweet 16” shows until I saw this and the fact that the show deems these spoilt American teenage brats WORSE than Satan is fantastic satire. Throw in a brilliant ‘Candyman’ spoof involving dead rapper Biggie Smalls and a coven of Catholic Priests upset at not being invited to Satan’s party and this glorious episode has something to delight and offend everyone.
CANADA ON STRIKE – (Season 12)
South Park has pretty much offended every major country and some minor ones over the years with its’ crude stereotyping and the Canadians have been lampooned mercilessly in many shows as well as the musical movie. In this episode the poor Canucks get all upset about not receiving their share of the World’s wealth and thus call a bemusing strike to stake their claim to something or other. The kids get involved because Stan’s adopted brother Ike also goes on strike. The Canadians demand some of that “internet money” and the boys set out to earn it by doing a stupid skit of THAT “What-wat in my butt” using “that gay kid” Butters. Butters becomes an internet star and the children become theoretically rich. When they go to claim their money they come across all the internet “hits” from the last decade including: Tron Guy, Chris ‘Leave Britney alone ’Crocker, Sinister Beaver-thing, Afro Ninja, Chocolate Rain and other dumb things millions of idiots watch on the internet. Chaos and a massive bloody fight ensues and it turns out that it’s very difficult to monetize profit on the internet. Both funny and satirical this episode went up in my estimation when I found out the writers were also sending up the Writers’ strike in Hollywood.
MARGARITAVILLE – (Season 13)
This episode should be shown to children as it’s as educational as it is funny. I think here the writers are at the top of their game as they take on the economy and the global recession and distillate concepts surrounding these mysterious entities to great effect. It’s not always laugh out loud funny but really connects with the cerebral funny bone as the economy itself is compared to another enigmatic thing namely religion and: GOD! As Stan follows his way up the economic ladder trying to take back a Margaritaville machine, Kyle tackles the economy in his own way and eventually becomes its’ saviour as a latter day Jesus figure. Obviously, Cartman becomes a Jew-hunter and tries to get Kyle killed in the story for GTA: Chinatown. I like many people am very simple and do not understand the economy as well and what this episode does is show you the layers and layers of stupidity present in a system which is patently out of control. The stand-out scene is representatives from the US Treasury “checking the charts” using a colourful board and a chicken to determine the value of things. To be honest, this is probably the most sensible explanation of how the economy works I’ve seen.
FAITH HILLING – (Season 16)
South Park delights in spoofing stupid stuff on the Internet. This one is brilliant for that as it mercilessly sends up the craze for ‘memes’ and delights in highlighting how ridiculous humans are. It opens with the boys actually working in harmony together to pull off a “Faith Hilling” prank at a Republican conference. It’s quite a light episode but it mines the laughs continuously as the boys move from one ridiculous memetic performance to another such as: “Tebowing” and “Taylor Swifting”; even getting involved in a gang fight because of it. The main subplot involving the idea that cats are now becoming as intelligent as humans is hilarious as we get repetitive shots of THAT internet cat saying, “Old Long Johnson” over and over again. If this is what makes us laugh as humans then it deserves the ridicule this episode gives it. Indeed, while the Internet is a wonderful tool it has also given a format to not-so-wonderful tools and crazes.
CASH FOR GOLD – (Season 16)
Great art whether it’s comedy, painting, television, cinema, sculpture, dance and so on should always hold a mirror up to humanity and say, “Hey, what the hell are you doing you idiot humans?! Stop it!” This episode is a perfect example of that. Stan turns investigator when he’s given a crap piece of jewellery by his Grandfather bought from one of those exploitative TV shopping channels. At the same time Cartman sees a way of making money and starts his own business buying and selling tacky items. The satire is damning of humanity as we get an ingenious montage which shows the cycle of stupidity involved as the jewellery is sold online; sold back to Cash For Gold stores; dismantled; smelted down; sent to Asia where kids in sweat shops make the jewellery; before it finally gets sent back to the QVCesque shopping channel to be sold yet again on TV. The final image of a TV shopping channel host blowing his brains out off screen is satire at its’ most brutal and artistic.