“South Park,” Comedy Central’s hit series centered around four foul-mouthed young boys in a small Colorado town, has returned for its 25th season. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we’ve got the 40 greatest episodes of the series, ranked from worst to best. Click through our photo gallery above and see if your favorite episodes made it on to the list.
The show made its debut in August of 1997 with the infamous pilot, “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe,” which quickly established the show’s humor and raunchy themes. Most critics were, at first, not very fond of the series. The consensus of their reactions found that the show was vulgar, childish, and low-brow. While critics were not kind to it, the show quickly found an audience. The pilot received just short of a million viewers. By the time the first season concluded, the program had become Comedy Central’s biggest hit in their history with the season finale drawing over six million viewers.
Emmy voters were quick to recognize the show as the first season received an Emmy nomination in 1998 for Best Animated Program for the episode, “Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride.” “South Park” has since become a mainstay in the Animated Program category garnering 15 additional nominations in the category and winning it four times (2005, 2007, 2009 and 2013). The show also garnered a win for Best Animated Program (More Than One Hour) for “Imaginationland” in 2008 and two additional nominations for Best Character Voice Over in 2016 for creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It also received a Peabody Award in 2006 and was named one of the top ten television programs by the American Film Institute in 2004 and 2006.
The show also served as a spring board for the impressive careers of Parker and Stone. In 1999, they released “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” which grossed $83 million worldwide and even garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song (“Blame Canada”) for Parker and fellow composer, Marc Shaiman. Their next film, the marionette-action-comedy “Team America: World Police,” would gross over $50 million.
In 2011, Parker and Stone collaborated with “Avenue Q” composer Robert Lopez to create the Broadway musical, “The Book of Mormon.” The show was an instant success with both critics and audiences. It earned nine Tony Awards including Best Musical. Parker and Stone both claimed Tonys for Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score and Parker earned an additional one for Best Direction of a Musical. The pair also won the 2012 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. This leaves Parker and Stone only having to win an Oscar in order to complete their EGOT.
Here’s just a teaser of some of the episodes in our photo gallery above. Where would you rank the following titles, if at all?
BIG GAY AL’S BIG GAY BOAT RIDE (S. 1, E. 4)
Stan becomes the school’s star quarterback, but he becomes despondent when he realizes that his new dog, Sparky, is gay. When Sparky runs away Stan goes searching for him and is lead to Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Animal Sanctuary. This was the first time “South Park” showed its ability to address topical issues and it remains one of their best. The episode also marks their first major guest star (George Clooney as Sparky), resulted in their first ever Emmy nomination for Best Animated Program in 1998 and was nominated for a GLAAD Award.
MR. HANKEY, THE CHRISTMAS POO (S. 1, E. 9)
Kyle, feeling lonely as a Jew during Christmas, tries to get the town to rally around Mr. Hankey, a holiday piece of fecal matter that transcends religion. But the town isn’t that keen to celebrate a piece of poop and instead embarks on a non-denominational PC holiday celebration. The great moments from the episode are almost too many to name. There’s Kyle asking Officer Barbrady if Jews can eat Christmas snow, Kyle’s “It’s Hard to Be a Jew on Christmas” song, the research facility to determine what words are most offensive and Cartman’s first rendition of “Kyle’s Mom is a Big Fat Bitch.” But the best payoff was watching Kenny celebrate after not getting killed for the first time.
CHICKENLOVER (S. 2, E. 3)
When an unidentified person starts violating the town’s chickens, Officer Barbrady reveals that he can’t read and must start taking lessons at South Park Elementary. Cartman takes on Barbrady’s job as a police officer. The episode gave birth to Cartman’s iconic, “Respect my authori-tah!” line but the best gag comes at the end. Shortly after learning to read, Barbrady is given a copy of “Atlas Shrugged.” He later declares that he has “read every last word of this garbage and because of this piece of sh**, I’m never reading again!”
TIMMY 2000 (S. 4, E. 3)
Timmy Burch is physically and mentally handicapped but the school mistakes him as having Attention Deficit Disorder. When this allows Timmy to get out of doing homework, all the other kids in school get diagnosed with ADD as well and put on Ritalin. At the same time, Timmy becomes the front man for the band Lords of the Underworld and their fame takes off. Among the episode’s best gags are always seeing Phil Collins with an Oscar (after he beat co-creator Trey Parker at that year’s ceremony) and the test to determine if kids have ADD where a doctor will read a long novel and ask a question about one obscure detail. The best of that latter gag was when he reads “A Farewell to Arms” to bunch of children and they’re all bored out of their mind by the end, including Kenny repeatedly banging his head against a wall. What really makes this episode legendary is Timmy’s introduction and how he became a regular character who was never mocked for his handicap.
CARTMAN JOINS NAMBLA (S. 4, E. 5)
Cartman’s attempts to find friends that are “more mature” leads him to bring a group that promotes pedophilia into town. At the same time, Kenny does everything he can to prevent his parents from having another child. For me, this is “South Park” at its best because it creates insanely zany situations that result from the most wrong things you can imagine and there’s nothing that’s fouler than NAMBLA. Every joke in this episode is also perfectly timed and executed perfectly. The moments from the B-story with Kenny trying to keep his mother from getting pregnant (including riding a theme park ride called The John Denver Experience, which simulates a plane crash) are put together just as well. The fact that both storylines come together in a crazy Scooby-Doo-like ending take this to a whole different level. All of this makes this the best episode of “South Park.”
HELEN KELLER! THE MUSICAL (S. 4, E. 13)
The fourth graders are rehearsing a production of “The Miracle Worker” for the school’s Thanksgiving festivities when they hear that the show the kindergarten children are doing is out of this world. Not to be outdone, the fourth graders turn the show into a fantastical musical including giving Keller (played by Timmy) her own pet turkey. When Timmy goes to find a turkey to use in the production, he ends up connecting with a disabled turkey that he names Gobbles. The insane production that the children put on is where most of the comedy in the episode comes from but the moments between Timmy and Gobbles are surprisingly touching. I still maintain the moment when Gobbles hops up on Timmy’s bed and nuzzles next to him is one of the sweetest moments in the entire series.
CARTMANLAND (S. 5, E. 6)
After the death of Cartman’s grandmother, she leaves him an inheritance of $1 million. Cartman spends it on his own theme park and his success causes Kyle to lose his faith in God. With how much Cartman enjoys making Kyle miserable, this episode provided a great payoff of Cartman getting exactly what he wants only to have it brutally taken away. Specific highlights include Kyle’s parents trying prove God’s existence by telling the biblical story of Job and the look of absolute apathy on Cartman’s face as his amusement park becomes overrun with people.
THE PASSION OF THE JEW (S. 8, E. 3)
After being repeatedly harassed by Cartman, Kyle finally goes to see “The Passion of the Christ” and it causes him to have a crisis of faith after seeing how Jews were depicted in the movie. Cartman decides to use the film’s fans to orchestrate a “final solution.” Stan and Kenny see the movie and hate it, prompting them to find Mel Gibson so they can get their money back. The show used its humor brilliantly to show the massive problems that arose from Gibson’s religious blockbuster. Priceless moments include Gibson going nuts in his house trying to kill Stan and Kenny, Kyle’s reaction to the graphicness of the film and several Jewish characters (drawn in stereotypical ways) yelling out, “Stereotyping Jews is terrible!”
TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET (S. 9, E. 12)
When Stan is feeling left out he finds himself drawn to Scientology and is revealed to be the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard. Even if you remove the controversy that surrounded this episode, including the departure of Isaac Hayes, it is still incredibly solid. Even though it had been part of the public record for over a decade at that point, this episode was how most people around my age found out about the Scientology “origins” story. Periodically displaying “THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE” never ceases to get a laugh. The plotline of Tom Cruise literally refusing to come out of the closet is a gag that also still works as well as Stan yelling at the Scientologists to go ahead and sue him followed by the end credits with all the names changed to either “John Smith” or “Jane Smith.” The episode was nominated for the 2006 Emmy Award for Best Animated Program but lost to “The Simpsons.” In accepting the award for “The Simpsons” a member of their team said on stage, “This is what happens when you don’t make fun of Scientology.”
THE SNUKE (S. 11, E. 4)
Cartman’s suspicion of a new student at school, who happens to be Muslim, leads him to uncover a terrorist plot to attack a rally for Hillary Clinton. This tribute to Fox’s action-drama “24” is a spoof that works perfectly on every level. It brilliantly combines tropes from “24” (the use of split-screens showing simultaneous action, crazy plot twists, the trademark ticking clock and phone ring) with standard “South Park” fare (fart jokes and raunchy humor). I’ve also had a special place for this episode since it called out Clinton for putting on a fake southern accent during her speeches at the time, which I thought I was the only one who noticed it.