I'm goin' down to South Park, gonna have myself a time...
It may have had humble beginnings with side-stepping layers of coloured card, but South Park has developed into one of the most on-point, satirical comedies on TV. With season 20 premiering tonight, the show has achieved cult status, with visits to Cartman, Kenny, Stan, and Kyle one of our regular weekly indulgences. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone think up each show about a week before they are due to air, meaning they can attack topical subjects, like presidential elections, Black Friday, Caitlyn Jenner, and Game of Thrones.
If you're new to South Park or already an ardent fan, here's our rundown of the top 20 episodes so far. There are so many brilliant moments to choose from, so we judged episodes by their laugh-out-loud humour credentials and their satirical statuses. There's tons of spoilers here, so if you want these episodes to be a surprise, jot down the name and season but close your eyes for the rest.
20. Casa Bonita
Kyle invites Stan, Kenny and Butters to Casa Bonita, a Mexican-themed restaurant in South Park. Cartman is livid for being left out and turns on the charm, which leads to Kyle suggesting that if Butters can't go for any reason, Cartman can take his place. Cue dastardly plan to take down Butters.
What makes this episode so funny is the lengths that Cartman is willing to go to get what he wants. He tells Butters that a meteor the size of Wyoming is about to hit Earth, and hides Butters in a bomb shelter. Of course, Butters parents get worried, so Cartman delves deeper, telling Butters the meteor has hit, civilisation has ended and toxic radiation has turned what's left of the human race into rabid zombies. If Trey Parker calls this one of his favourite episodes, it is definitely good enough for us.
19. Christian Rock Hard
There is so much satire and parody in this episode it's hard to keep track, but there's something unmissable about seeing Cartman fronting a Christian rock band. The plot is nothing short of brilliant; Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman form a band called Moop but they disagree on direction, forcing Cartman to storm out and start his own Christian band. The boys then illegally download songs for inspiration, get busted by the FBI, and team up with Britney Spears, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, Alanis Morissette, and others to take down piracy. So far, so brilliant.
Of course, in true South Park style there's an equally funny sub-plot, where Cartman enlists Token and Butters to form Faith + 1. His secret for success is simply swapping the words baby and love in popular romantic songs for the word Jesus. After selling a million albums, Cartman loses the plot and ends up beaten on the floor with Butters farting in his face. Don't believe us? Watch it and find out.
18. Douche and Turd
Can the pressures of voting in a presidential election be captured by a hotly contested school mascot race between a giant douche and a turd sandwich? In the world of South Park it can! The episode kicks off with the school mascot being targeted by PETA activists for the 47th time, resulting in a rally to choose a new mascot. The two joke candidates spearheaded by Kyle and Cartman end up head-to-head in the race for votes, but Stan can't see the point of voting for a giant douche or a turd sandwich as they are both equally crap.
The result is a thinly veiled satire of the American voting system, with Puff Daddy also getting a starring role with his 'Vote or Die' campaign of intimidation. The whole thing is laugh-out-loud funny, with Stan eventually being banished from South Park on a donkey. Oh, and don't forget the weird scene with PETA activists interbred with animals. It's all a bit disturbing.
South Park is incredible at attacking celebrities high up on the douche-bag scale and no one possesses more douche-baggery than Kanye West.
In Fishsticks, Jimmy comes up with this-joke.
Of course, everyone in South Park finds this hilarious and Cartman tries to steal credit for the whole thing. As the joke becomes a worldwide phenomenon, the only person who doesn't understand the punchline is Kanye West, who becomes increasingly desperate to know why everyone is laughing at him. After he crashed Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Awards, Comedy Central played the episode four times back to back. Take that, douche.
16. Go God Go
Okay, so technically this is a two-parter, but Go God Go and Go God Go XII are genius for anyone who's ever put a big old question mark in the religion column. Cartman attempts to freeze himself to make the three week wait for the Nintendo Wii tolerable, but he ends up emerging in the year 2546. There's also an incredible sub-plot of Richard Dawkins helping Mrs. Garrison teach evolutionary biology (resulting in a passionate affair), but we'll let you explore that joy all on your own.
If you've ever wondered what a world controlled by highly evolved sea otters looks like, then this is the episode for you. The same goes for anyone who's ever imagined riding an ostrich like a horse. By the end of Go God Go XII you're left wondering whether Cartman is stuck in a time loop doomed to repeat his mistakes for all eternity. Probably not.
15. Guitar Queer-O
Parker and Stone just couldn't resist making a pop at Guitar Hero just a few weeks after the release of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock in the United States. The episode sees the whole gang, including Clyde, Token, Jimmy, and Butters playing the game, with Stan and Kyle smashing the 100,000 points record. The two are contacted by a talent agent and they become rock star celebrities in the space of 24 hours.
The fun really starts when Stan is encouraged by his manager to drop Kyle and partner with a kid, Thad, who has memorised all the buttons for all the songs. Stan then gets hooked on the game Heroin Hero. Yep, you can guess where this is going. The whole thing is a piss-take of the rock-and-roll lifestyle, but it's also just as interested in taking down obsessive point-chasing gamers. Stick around to see Guitar Hero's reaction to Stan and Kyle smashing one million points.
Probably the best three-parter in South Park history, Imaginationland is so rich in characters, sub-plots and general laugh-out-loud humour that it's worth watching a few times over. The opening episode sees Cartman searching for a leprechaun with Kyle, who says he will suck Cartman's balls if he finds one (hence the episodes alternative title, Kyle Sucks Cartman's Balls).
What follows is a crazy, psychedelic journey into the world of cartoons and a warped Disney-style world, with the annoying catchy Imagination song. There's also a parody of Saving Private Ryan, a great scene with Michael Bay, M. Night Shyamalan, and Mel Gibson, plus a whole terrorist sub-plot that is so farcical it almost (but not quite) makes sense. Watch it immediately.
Poor Butters. That kid just can't catch any kind of break! In Marjorine Cartman is convinced that the girls have a device which can predict the future, so he convinces Butters to fake his own death and return to school as a girl to infiltrate the girls secret club. In the meantime, Butters parents believe he will soon rise from the dead as a spawn of Satan, and they're both terrified.
By the end of the episode, the long-suffering Butters is chained in the basement of his own house while his dad kills a saleswoman for him to feed on. Of course, Butters is once again scarred for life. Interestingly Parker and Stone aren't great fans of this episode, but we'll be damned it if doesn't make us laugh every single time.
12. Super Fun Time
South Park takes on Die Hard in this episode, which once again pairs the hapless Butters with evil Cartman. Mr Garrison takes his class on a trip to Pioneer Village - a kind of living history experience - but they are soon involved in a weird Burger King robbery and hostage situation. Hilariously, none of the townspeople will break character, which makes them easy fodder for the baddie Franz.
While all this is going on, Cartman has dragged Butters to an amusement arcade next door called Super Phun Thyme. When they return to Pioneer Village and see the police cars, they believe it is all for them and decide to sneak in. There's so much to love about this episode (including another dodgy death for Kenny), but it is the Pioneer Village staff that bring the laughs. Watching Butters dragging Cartman's unconscious weight back to the school bus is also high on our must-see list.
11. Ginger Kids
One of the best recurring themes in South Park is Stan and Kyle getting their sweet revenge on a deplorable Cartman. In this episode, Cartman decides that anyone with red hair, pale skin and freckles has no soul and needs to be expelled for the sake of humanity. Despite Kyle's attempt to explain the science of red hair, Cartman continues his tirade. To get their own back, Kyle and Stan sneak into his bedroom and turn him ginger.
There are a couple of scenes that make this story fantastic; the first is when Cartman wakes up, looks at himself in the mirror, and realises all his nightmares have come true. The second is when Kyle and Stan do ginger research with a family of three ginger kids and dark-haired parents. Watching them cry over their creepy-as-hell kids is priceless.
10. You Got F'd in the A
Stan and the gang get served by a group of dancing kids something which Chef finds horrifying and immediately tells their parents about. Randy decides to teach Stan how to dance back with some side steps from Achy Breaky Heart Yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds. What follows is the dance off to end all dance offs, with Randy ending up in hospital with a serious case of being served.
The episode has some serious high points, with Butters tap dancing past revealed in all its glory and the brilliant goth kids playing a starring role. True to form, Butters ends up bloody and traumatised by the whole experience, which just adds to the list of his misfortunes. And that's never not funny.
9. The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers
Trey Parker and Matt Stone reckon this episode spoofing The Lord of the Rings is one of their finest in the history of South Park, and we definitely agree. Stan, Kyle and Cartman are partaking in a joyous day of cosplay when their Fellowship of the Ring video gets accidentally swapped for a kinky movie.
True to form, it's Butters who is ruined by the experience when he sees Stan's parents porn (when he should be watching Frodo start his quest), and he soon becomes obsessed with finding out what it all means. By the end of the episode he's rocking back and forth in the basement mumbling 'my precious'. I can't recommend this episode enough, but make sure you stick around for the scene when the parents try and explain the contents of the porn video to their clueless sons. It's more than a little cringe-worthy.
8. Make Love, Not Warcraft
If you've ever wondered what Cartman, Kyle, Stan, and Kenny would look like as morbidly obese nine-year-olds then look no further than Make Love, Not Warcraft. The boys are playing the legendary MMORPG when a high-level player starts ruthlessly picking them off. The retaliation they hatch is simple. They must play WoW every minute of every day until they can stop the big baddie.
Benefiting from some fun lines from Stan's dad Randy, this episode is relatively simple, which makes it a perfect, uncomplicated jumping-on point for South Park-curious WoW fans, despite some hilariously brutal parody of MMO players. The episode also relies heavily on machinima to bring some genuine-looking computer graphics to the in-game scenes. It's really quite impressive.
7. Scott Tenorman Must Die
An exchange of pubes for money is one of many laugh-out-loud moments in this iconic episode, which introduces Cartman's nemesis Scott Tenorman. In a bid to get his revenge, Cartman employs a series of tactics to train a horse to eat Scott's penis during a chilli cook-off competition in front of his favourite band Radiohead. Of course that doesn't work, so Cartman is forced to develop a plot that leads to Scott's parents' untimely demise.
Yep, it's mental, but I promise it's worth a watch for the last five minutes alone. By the end of the episode Cartman is licking the tears of unfathomable sadness off Scott's face, while Kyle and Stan are left wondering how Cartman could stoop so low. Plus, there's a piggy dance to cackle over too.
If you fail to laugh at Tsst it is my professional opinion that you will never laugh at anything again in your life ever. Cartman's mum is sick of her wayward son and decides to bring in a group of behavioural experts. The first is a Mary Poppins-style Brit who Cartman manipulates to within an inch of her sanity. The second is The Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan.
Together Cesar and Liane bring Cartman in-line by pinching his neck with the 'tssst' sound of dominance. Watching Cartman hit the deck delivers some of the episodes funniest moments, but Cartman comparing his treatment to that of the Jews under Hitler is also funny in its complete absurdity. Look out for the music from The Omen at the end of the episode for a little horror movie flashback.
5. You Have 0 Friends
Kip Drordy is probably the saddest, loneliest character in the South Park universe, which I'm ashamed to say makes him hilarious. Stan is forced into having a Facebook profile, something which makes his life a nightmare and ends up with him being sucked into a Tron-like world of thumbs ups and likes. Elsewhere, Kyle adds Kip to his friend list out of pity, only to be ostracised by everyone else because of his nerdy choice.
Considering the episode was released in 2010, Parker and Stone managed to predict just how powerful the world of social media would become, while also parodying some of its more ridiculous facets, like Chat Roulette. That they also managed to give this episode a happy ending is even more impressive.
Cartman has been torturing Butters for 19 seasons, but sometimes his schemes are so elaborate you can't help but admire him for it. In AWESOM-O Cartman pretends to be a new robot friend to discover all of Butters inner-most secrets, but ends up discovering that Butters has some blackmail material of his own (think Cartman dressed as Britney Spears humping a Justin Timberlake cardboard cut-out and you'll be on the right lines).
What starts off as a simple episode soon becomes much more interesting, with Butters taking AWESOM-O to Los Angeles where his robotic abilities are used to pitch movie ideas. I'll never get tired of Cartman shouting "LAME" every time something weird happens while he's in his cardboard robot suit, or the moment when he's stolen by the US Army to be reprogrammed as a weapon of mass destruction. Ridiculous, but one of my favourites.
3. Up the Down Steroid
This completely awful, yet very funny episode is the perfect example of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's risk-taking humour. Jimmy and Timmy are competing in the special Olympics, but Cartman wants in on the $1,000 prize money. To do this, he pretends to be mentally disabled, only to discover he's so horrendously unfit he can't beat the other kids. At the same time Jimmy has got himself hooked on steroids in a Lance Armstrong spoof.
This is one of those episodes that makes you feel guilty for laughing, but then again, it's hard to not crack a smile at the exchange between Timmy and Jimmy (especially considering Timmy can only say his own name) and Cartman's scientific approach to appearing disabled. South Park at its most awkward.
2. Dances with Smurfs
When Cartman is named new morning announcer at school he starts to abuse the power and accuse Wendy Testaburger of trying to suppress his civil liberties. Once he gets his own TV show, he goes on a political rampage accusing Wendy of trying to kill Smurfs.
What follows is basically the story of Avatar, itself lifted from Dances with Wolves. It also includes references to Fox News, the Tea Party protests and Sarah Palin. Considering the vast majority of the episode features a semi-naked Cartman with blue face paint, it's deceptively clever and very funny.
1. The Death of Eric Cartman
Would South Park be the same without Cartman? If my number one favourite episode is anything to go by the answer is definitely no. The Death of Eric Cartman combines everything this show does best; the bully's malicious insanity, Kyle and Stan getting their own back, and Cartman's laugh-out-loud relationship with Butters. When Eric eats all the crispy skin off the KFC chicken before the other boys get a taste, the gang team up to ignore him completely. Failing to comprehend why anyone would simple ignore him, Cartman comes to the obvious conclusion that he is dead.
Of course, poor Butters is five steps behind and believes if Cartman is dead he must be able to see ghosts. If that wasn't funny enough, Butters's parents put him through a series of traumatising tests (anal probe, anyone?), Cartman decides to atone for his sins with gift baskets, and then he has to deal with a hostage situation. Plus, we get another rendition of "Lou, lou, lou, I've got some apples". We could watch it over and over again.