For a show that prides itself on eleventh-hour commentaries on current events, The best South Park episodes have managed to withstand the test of time throughout the 21 years it’s been on the air. The adventures of Cartman, Kyle, Stan, Kenny, and more of the wider, wackier world of the Colorado town and beyond are often crude, almost always rude, but never fail to make us laugh. Which is why nailing the best South Park episodes, probing each and every one of the nearly 300 episodes, isn’t easy. Below, we’ve narrowed it down to only the classics. Whether it’s superhero fare, Game of Thrones parodies, Butters being the butt of every joke – it’s all here, from the early shocking years right up to the show’s experimentation with a serialised format.
25. Casa Bonita (season 7, episode 11)
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.
24. Grounded Vindaloop (season 18, episode 7)
South Park so often mines technology for laughs that you’d wonder if there’s anything fresh for the show to say about it. Enter Grounded Vindaloop. The episode is a riff on call centre employees, the Matrix, and so much more. Better yet, it centres on one of the best relationships on the show: Cartman mind-fucking Butters until he takes it too far.
Butters’ breaking of the VR ‘rules’ is hilarious, as is the incessantly annoying call centre employee, Steve, but it’s the twist ending (which I won’t spoil here) that sets it apart from some of its other tech-based episodes. It all adds up to a sci-fi parody done right – and one of the slickest South Park episodes around.
23. Coon vs. Coon and Friends (season 14, episode 13)
South Park is often at its funniest when Eric Cartman shows himself unable to play nice with others. That personality defect soars to new heights in Coon vs. Coon and Friends as he enlists the hope of Cthulu to battle his friends. It’s a concept that would be built upon in South Park: The Fractured But Whole but, arguably, it was done even better here as Cartman and Cthulu’s buddy-buddy partnership sees them take down several easy targets, including the Burning Man Festival and, hilariously, the Whole Foods chain of supermarkets.
While the episode treads familiar territory in skewering the likes of Justin Bieber and LeBron James, it’s the weird and wonderful ending that’ll stick long in the memory. Kenny, as hooded vigilante Mysterion, proves he has immortality once and for all – but we’re finally let in on a dark secret: every time Kenny dies, his mother becomes pregnant with a new Kenny. Gross… and a little bit genius.
22. Fishsticks (season 13, episode 5)
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 a 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.
21. Go God Go (season 10, episode 12)
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.
20. Guitar Queer-O (season 11, episode 13)
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.
19. Imaginationland (season 11, episode 10)
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.
18. Marjorine (season 9, episode 9)
Poor Butters. That kid just can't catch a 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.
17. Super Fun Time (season 12, episode 7)
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.
16. Best Friends Forever (season 9, episode 4)
Trey Parker and Matt Stone often work until the last possible moment so South Park can be as timely as possible, and it worked to devastating (and tragic) effect in Best Friends Forever. The main plot of Kenny become addicted to the then brand-new PSP quickly morphs into a mirroring of the real-life case of Terri Schiavo’s right to die.
Of course, there was a trademark South Park spin on things, with Cartman hijacking the search for Kenny’s will so he can get as much attention and money as possible, plus a ludicrous Heaven vs. Hell battle involving a golden PSP, but it’s the real-world debate surrounding this episode that eventually captured the hearts and minds of millions. Terri Schiavo died just hours after this episode aired, with South Park bringing the right-to-die issue even further into the public consciousness – this is both the funniest and occasionally heartbreaking proof that South Park, if nothing else, is always dictating the conversation.