Let’s face it, The Simpsons is shit now and has been for the best part of a decade, while South Park continues to get better and better. It’s officially the funniest show on TV, and with the 14th season just kicking off with the Tiger Woods themed premiere “Sexual Healing” is there ever going to be a better time to review the 10 greatest episodes? The answer to that is yes, obviously, when the show eventually finishes, but I’m at work and I’m bored so there you go.
1. The Death Camp Of Tolerance
Funniest moment. Cartman: (whispering to Craig) Yo, I think that Mr. Slave guy's a... Pakistani.
2. Make Love, Not Warcraft
I have to admit, I had no idea what World Of Warcraft was when I first saw this episode. How quickly that changed. A parody of online role-playing games (and those who play them), this episode was made in collaboration with WOW creators Blizzard entertainment, and used state-of-the-art machinima to give a bona fide twist to Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman’s online escapades. This narrowly beat out two similarly themed episodes, season 8’s Good Times With Weapons, a caricature of Japanese animation (“Protect my balls!”), where the boys obsession with martial arts weaponry is given a distinctly eastern twist, and The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to The Two Towers in season 6, where the boys fall madly in love with The Lord of the Rings. In shows like these, Trey Parker and Matt Stone somehow are able to channel the eight-year-old in them, and us at the same time, with frightening authenticity. It’s getting harder and harder nowadays, but I can still remember a time when life was so simple it was defined by whatever my particular fascination was at that time. This is just 22 minutes of kids being kids, and that’s why it’s so wonderful. Obsessive, psychotic, egomaniacal and dangerously unhealthy kids, but kids all the same.
Funniest moment. Blizzard executive: How do you kill...that which has no life?
3. The Biggest Douche In The Universe
Ladies and gentlemen…John Edward. A lot of what is so great about what Parker and Stone do on South Park, is that like Bill Hicks before them, they always seem to fall on the right side of the line concerning the issues that matter. Now I’m sure there are dark corners of American TV that infuriate them just as much or even more so than John Edwards and the other assorted “psychic mediums” that clog up the airways. However, the reason they chose to attack him with such intensity in this episode (when Stan visits him at his house books on display include “Make Women Believe You’re Psychic! Then Have Sex With Them!” and “How To 69 With Yourself”) has nothing to do with the mediocre programmes he has produced, but the thousands of bereaved individuals he has shamelessly exploited to further his own reputation (this is a man who suggested in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that he host a show where he attempts to talk to the victims). Basically, Cartman still has Kenny’s soul still trapped inside him (don’t ask) and at Chef’s suggestion they visit the set of Edwards’ show Crossing Over in the hope that he might help them explain this bizarre paranormal phenomenon. Disappointed with his hopelessly vague statements (“The things did include stuff!”) Chef takes Cartman to Scotland so his mother can perform an exorcism. However, one of Edwards’ comments inadvertently affects Kyle so profoundly he decides to enrol at Jewleeard (“a school for young Jews”). Edward’s refusal to explain to Kyle that his “gift” is merely a trick leads to Stan waging a one-man-war on the charlatan to save the soul of his friend. The episodes climax, where Stan and Edwards face off in a psychic showdown features one of the most Hicksian lines in the whole South Park oeuvre. Stan explains to Edwards just why he is the biggest douche in the universe, because “the big questions in life are tough - Why are we here, where are we from, where are we going? But if people believe in asshole douchey liars like you, we're never going to find the real answers to those questions. You aren't just lying, you are slowing down the progress of all mankind. You douche.” Powerful stuff. Plus you get all those great Rob Schneider trailers as well. An undisputed classic.
Funniest moment. Voiceover guy: From the creators of Der, and Tum Ta Tittaly Tum Ta Too, Rob Schneider is Da Derp Dee Derp Da Teetley Derpee Derpee Dumb. Rated PG-13.
Doctor: (About to operate on Cartman) Get me 50cc's of Ketamine, stat! And we should probably get something for the kid, too
4. The Losing Edge
When asking someone who there favourite Simpsons character is, I always feel it necessary to add the obvious disclaimer, “Apart from Homer of course”. I used to feel the same way about South Park and Cartman, a Machiavellian genius so unique that he goes on the very short list of greatest comedy characters of all time, alongside such luminaries as Hank Kingsley, Beavis and William Fontaine De La Tour Dauterive. Later seasons have seen him eclipsed though, by the sheer force of nature that is Randy Marsh, and if any one particular episode was responsible for his elevation to cult status it has to be The Losing Edge. Ostensibly a story about the boys and their attempts to get out of having to play baseball all summer, by the end of the first act it has become clear that this is merely a flimsy premise to get Randy to drink and fight with his shirt off in public places. The boys’ journey to the championship game is eclipsed by Randy’s own battle with the insane mascot Bat Dad, and as we reach a climax that includes the greatest Rocky parody of all time, it becomes abundantly clear that, to paraphrase Joe Esposito’s You’re The Best (the theme from The Karate Kid which is used several times in this episode), nothing is ever gonna keep Randy Marsh down.
Funniest moment. Randy: This is for what? Arresting me for what? I'm not allowed to stand up for myself? I thought this was America! Huh? Isn't this America? I'm sorry! I thought this was America!
5. Fat Butt and Pancake Head
I could wax lyrical about the unmitigated genius of this episode, how Jennifer Lopez’s infamous diva behaviour is ridiculed to reveal just how mean-spirited she actually is (a trick that would be used again on Paris Hilton amongst others), or how the world is better place thanks to phrases like “Ben Affleck spooge” and “taco-flavoured kisses”, but I can sum up why I love this episode much more easily than most. Two words. Mitch Connor. Greatest South Park ending ever.
Funniest moment. Cartman: The cyanide pill I took should be taking effect very soon. Hmmm, looks like the sun is going down. I wonder, will I dream?
6. Scott Tenorman Must Die
Scott Tenorman must die is the 9/11 of South Park episodes, because after this episode broadcast in July of 2001 nothing was ever the same again. Before these twenty-two demented minutes of television aired, Cartman was just some evil fat kid with an unnatural proclivity towards racism, greed, and other forms of anti-social behaviour. Afterwards, it was obvious that Parker and Stone viewed him as the devil incarnate, as the sheer force of will he expends trying to gain revenge on Scott Tenorman is frightening to behold. This was the first ever South Park to forgo the traditional A-B, two plot structure, as the whole narrative is based around Cartman’s attempts to get back his $10 (Scott Tenorman sold Cartman his pubes), plus the additional $6.12 that was tricked out of him. The other three boys, and the rest of the town, are placed in the background as Cartman travels to Fort Collins to attend the imaginary Pube Fair, trains a pony to bite off Scott’s penis, enlists the help of Radiohead (Scott’s favourite band) via a phoney fan letter (“Didn’t you hear the letter? This poor kid has cancer! In his ass!”) and then finally stages a Chilli Con Carnival all in an attempt to get his money back. Said Carnival is merely a ruse for his most diabolical scheme of all, feeding Scott a chilli made up of the ground-up flesh of his recently deceased parents. As the horrors of his plan continue to unfold (“After a night with the hacksaw, I was all ready”) the audience’s reaction is mirrored by Stan and Kyle, one of sheer bewilderment at the insanity on display (“Dude, I think it might be best for us to never piss Cartman off again.”). And did I mention that it’s also a loose adaptation of Titus Andronicus; by far Shakespeare’s most bloody play? Genius.
Funniest moment: Cartman: Excuse me sir, could you please point me in the direction of the pube fair?
7. The Return of Chef
For choosing to tackle Scientology head-on, Trapped In The Closet will go down as one of the most controversial South Park episodes of all time. Once the dust had settled though, the sad news for fans of the show was the exit of one of the longest-running, and most beloved characters, Isaac Hayes’ Chef. Hayes, a Scientologist himself, was apparently so distraught at the mockery inflicted upon his “religion” he decided to quit. To this day rumours continue to circulate concerning what exactly happened between Hayes, Stone and Parker. Trapped In The Closet aired in March 2006, and Hayes had suffered a severe stroke merely two months earlier. Many believe he was in no fit state to view the show, and that his hastily arranged exit was organised by his agent, Christina Kimball, herself also a Scientologist. Either way, as the tenth season began, the creators had to come to terms with a huge, Chef-sized hole in the show, and a way of explaining his departure to the audience. In typically inspired fashion they came up with “The Return Of Chef”, where Chef leaves town for three months to join the mysterious “Super Adventure Club”, only to return a rampant paedophile. Splicing together audio clips from previous episodes ingeniously produced Chef’s dialogue, and so his jerky stop-start delivery makes his behaviour appear all the more bizarre. The boys try to rescue him from his evil captors (The SAC have been brainwashing him) but tragedy ensues, and Chef is killed. The episode ends with his memorial service, one of the most genuinely moving moments in the shows history, as it becomes blatantly obvious that we aren’t paying tribute to Chef, but Hayes himself, and Parker and Stone are still clearly coming to terms with their own hurt feeling concerning what happened (Sample line “A lot of us don't agree with the choices Chef has made in the past few days. Some of us feel hurt and confused that he seemed to turn his back on us. But we can't let the events of the last week take away the memories of how much Chef made us smile.”) As the episode reaches its tearful conclusion, any lingering grudges against Hayes have long since vanished. As Kyle himself puts it with the eloquence only an 8 year old could summon, “We shouldn’t be mad at Chef for leaving us. We should be mad at that fruity little club for scrambling his brains.”
Funniest moment. Chef: I'm gonna make love up your butt!
8. The Passion of the Jew
As I mentioned earlier, Scott Tenorman Must Die was a crucial episode in the evolution of the show, as it marks the point Cartman went from being a selfish asshole to arguably the most evil kid in the whole world. In spite of his sins against Scott and his family, I always considered Cartman to still have some good in him. However, The Passion of the Jew obliterated any hopes I had for his redemption as he embarks on his most diabolical plans yet, his “final solution”. Many South Park episodes end up suffering as a result of the controversy they create. Trapped in the Closet in particular contains many wonderful moments, but by the time I actually got around to seeing it, it felt bogged down by expectation. Similarly, Hell On Earth 2006 was already so notorious in England as a result of the inclusion of a Steve Irwin joke so soon after his death, that in the end it couldn’t help but disappoint a little. Fortunately, The Passion of the Jew is not similarly afflicted. A bile-soaked bomb aimed squarely at Mel Gibson’s head, this is for everyone who felt nauseated by the blatant anti-Semitism and blood-and-guts sermonising of The Passion of the Christ. That something so impassioned, so righteous, and so indignant could be as hysterically funny as this is a testament to Parker and Stone.
Funniest moment. Cartman: Ah hello everyone. Achtung. My name is Eric Cartman and I'm the President of the Mel Gibson Fan Club. Ah thank you, thank you. I'm happy to see that all of you were affected by The Passion like I was. Now, we all know why we're here, and I believe we all what needs to be done. But, I think it's best we don't talk out loud about it until we have most of them on the trains heading to the camps.
9. Trapper Keeper
Trapper Keeper, one of the earliest episodes to make this list, does so for several reasons. Firstly, it contains some of the finest movie homages in the history of the show. From staples of sci-fi cinema like Robocop, 2001: A Space Oddyssey and The Terminator films up to far more obscure choices like the extended sequence at the end which borrows whole-sale from Japanese magna Akira, this episode is loaded with pop-culture references. Secondly, it was one of the first occasions that Cartman’s inexplicable obsession with Dawson’s Creek materialised (“check out my sweet Dawson's Creek Trapper Keeper Ultrakeeper Futura 2000!”), one of the most endearing and child-like aspects of his character. Thirdly, it aired only eight days after the 2000 US Presidential election, and showed the whole world just how much of an advantage South Park had over their competitors in regards to social commentary by virtue of being able to produce a show so quickly. Kyle’s little brother Ike starts Kindergarten and is involved in a bitter and protracted fight to be elected class president, made all the more difficult by two children in the class who can determine the result, Flora (Florida) and the absent kid (Absentee ballots). Soon enough Rosie O’Donnell, Jessie Jackson, and half the mainstream media has descended on this small mountian town to offer their opinions on how to resolve it, but yet again it is left to a child to highlight the absurdity of the situation (“I don’t wanna play anymore cos this game is stupid”) And finally, amidst all the political references and cultural allusions, it’s really hard not to love an episode where a robot called VSM471 travels back in time under the alias Bill Cosby to try and stop Cartman’s school folder from taking over the world. Trapper Keeper reinforces the notion that even the most “issue-driven” episodes still retain the gleeful sense of abandon and anarchic energy that made us all love the show so much in the first place.
Funniest moment: Cartman/Trapper Keeper: What are you doing, Kyle? I’m afraid I can’t let you do that Kyle.
10. Terrance and Phillip in Not Without My Anus
The first episode of the second season, Not Without My Anus represents a turning point in the evolution of the show, and particularly how it was received by its fans. Season One had ended with the issue of who Cartman’s father was still undecided, and so fans had patiently waited to find out the answer. The fact that the premiere of the new season was scheduled for April 1st apparently didn’t alert many of them to be on their guard though, because when they tuned in expecting to have the identity of Cartman’s father revealed (for those who still don’t know it was his hermaphrodite of a mother) they were instead treated to an entire show about Terrance and Phillip, the two Canadian comedians who thus far had been relegated to a few brief appearances in the first series. After Terrance has been successfully acquitted for murder (Phillip serves as his lawyer), they search for treasure on the subway, travel home to eat Kraft Dinner and dress up as pirates. This all happens in the first three minutes. The episode goes on in a similarly outlandish fashion; Terrance and Phillip travel to Tehran to rescue his kidnapped daughter Sally, Sally’s mother Celine Dion embarks on a misguided love affair with their friend Ugly Bob (he looks like “someone tried to put out a forest fire with a screwdriver.”), their nemesis Scott strikes a deal with Saddam Hussein who ends up invading Canada, and finally our two heroes save the day at the Ottawa RoughRiders versus Vancouver RoughRiders football game by distributing gas masks among the crowd and having them fart in unison, overpowering Saddam and his amassed troops (“They’re using chemical warfare! How could they?”) Parker and Stone have given us hours of entertainment, and a cast of surreal characters and creatures unrivalled throughout all TV (Leopold “Butters” Stotch, Token Black, Jakovasaurs, Goobacks, Gelgameks, and Joozians) but Terrance and Phillip just may be their most inspired creation. They would go on to have several more episodes dedicated to them, as well as featuring prominently in the South Park movie, but for sheer lunacy you can’t beat Not Without My Anus.
Funniest moment. Scott: All of these things link Terrance to the murder: hair fibres, blood samples, nail clippings, a piece of his shirt, a watch with his initials on it, a day planner with the murder scheduled, a haiku called "Time to Kill Dr. Jeffrey O'Dwyer": "Dr. O'Dwyer, time to have your head smashed in with my new hammer." Terrance, you may be a famous surgeon, but you're not God. J'accuse Terrance.
Terrance: Hey Phillip, isn't that the smelly gentleman we've seen in pictures all over town?
Phillip: Yes it is, Terrance. According to that newsy, he's some kind of Turkish dictator!