Tuesday, December 4, 2012

South Park Ranked by Season

I have watched every episode of South Park. I've seen most of them many times. I am, and have been for some time, a massive South Park fanboy. As I was looking over the DVDs and deciding which one to pop in the player, I began reflecting on how much more frequently I watch some of them than the others. And because I like lists, this naturally prompted me to start trying to rank the seasons from best to worst. So here's the result. I have ranked all 16 seasons of the show in order, starting at the bottom and working my way to the top. Along with my rankings and comments about each season, I've included my pick for the best and worst episode each season has to offer, as well as a selection of other strong episodes worth highlighting but which I didn't have the time or space to write about individually.


#16. Season 14
While there was some good material in this season, it was extremely uneven on the whole. The continued drift away from all the traditional jokes and characters is to be expected, since the show needs to keep moving forward, but for the first half of this season it felt like the guys might finally be running out of ideas. The strong finish, including the Coon and Friends trilogy, saved this season from being a total disaster. It's still South Park, and it's still good, but of all the seasons they've released I think this one was the weakest.

Best Episode: Insheeption
As the title suggests, this episode was a spoof on Inception. Combined with a group hording therapy story and some really wicked child trauma, this episode probably gave me the most laughs of any from this season.
Due to the nature of the episode, it is basically necessary to have seen Inception before you watch this, because if you haven't then you probably won't get half the jokes.

Worst Episode: Crippled Summer
One of those utterly pointless gimmick episodes that nearly every comedy show seems to do now and then, this one centers around two things: an intervention for Towelie's drug problems, and a Wacky Racers-style competition in a summer camp for handicapped kids. The Latter is dumb, but tolerable. The former is just plain bad.

Other Top Episodes: It's a Jersey Thing, 201, The Coon and Friends Trilogy


#15. Season 16
Sadly, the newest South Park output has not been as strong as most of the series. Admittedly, even a hardcore fan like myself has to admit the show is waning. Extremely erratic quality with some genuinely bizarre decisions by the creators (like doing the final third of one episode in an atrocious live-action format) left this newest season low on the totem pole. It was salvaged by the stronger second half, but the season as a whole was one of their very weakest.

Best Episode: Raising the Bar
Cartman's acceptance of his fatness gives the show tons of opportunities to pick fun at those morbidly obese Wal-Mart shoppers you always see taking up the isles with their power scooters because they don't want to walk (you've all seen the people I'm talking about). Combine that with a few shots at the travesty of American culture that is Honey Boo Boo and you get the best episode of the season.

Worst Episode: I Should Have Never Gone Ziplining
The bulk of this episode is actually quite entertaining. That's why it was so crushing when, in an already weak season, they decided to totally ruin one of their better episodes by giving us a third of it in horrible and pointless live action.

Other Top Episodes: A Nightmare on Face Time, Insecurity


#14. Season 1
Yes, it's the season that started it all, but since they were still just starting to work out the formula for the show, South Park had not yet begun to approach its future heights. There are some good episodes, and the seeds had been sown, but the look was still primitive, the comedy was juvenile, and the subtle brilliance of the show's satire was really nowhere in sight.

Best Episode: Pinkeye
The show's very first holiday episode, this was a Halloween special that made liberal use of the comedy-show reset (where everything is back to normal next week). A zombie plague, misdiagnosed as pinkeye, consumes the town and provides the first season's most entertaining episode.

Worst Episode: Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo
I have never liked Mr. Hankey. I find him annoying in virtually every episode where he appears, and this is the Christmas special that first inflicted that annoying little piece of crap on the viewers.

Other Top Episodes: Cartman Gets an Anal Probe, An Elephant Makes Love to a Pig, Mecha-Streisand


#13. Season 15
And we're back to the new stuff. This season was solid enough, with no distinctly bad episodes. It just didn't have the gems that many other seasons had, either. Top to bottom, it's one of the show's most consistent seasons. This is about the point on the list where I have run out of notably weak seasons and am really starting to get into the thick of the show.

Best Episode: The Last of the Meheecans
Starting with a backyard border patrol game, Butters gets lost and winds up living and working as an "illegal Mexican" in some couple's house. He accidentally leads a mass exodus of Mexicans back to their home country, and gets caught up in a bizarre reverse-border-war against Cartman and the Texas authorities. It's one of the few episodes in this season that really stands out from the rest.

Worst Episode: Broadway Bro Down
Randy Marsh gets caught up in the secret bro-tastic lives of the top Broadway composers. Moderately entertaining, this is one of the best of the episodes to be the worst in their respective seasons.

Other Top Episodes: City Sushi, You're Getting Old, 1%


#12. Season 4
The first season on the post-movie South Park, I generally think of this as the first "adolescent" season of the show. By that I mean the animation and focus had basically shifted from its origins to the general style and feel it would follow in the years to come, but the show was still developing. Perhaps most notably, this was the season that introduced Timmy. The show was not yet at its peak here, and this was not the best season to come along at this point. Still, it was stylistically closing in on its goal.

Best Episode: The Wacky Molestation Adventure
This is one of those "the kids learn what it's like to live in a world without parents" episodes. Mostly based on Children of the Corn, but with helpings of other child-run constructions like Lord of the Flies or even a little Home Alone, the bulk of the episode actually comes from the perspective of two outside visitors. It's not entirely within the normal character of the show, but it makes for great entertainment.

Worst Episode: A Very Crappy Christmas
This is another Mr. Hankey monstrosity. One really good move the show has made in recent years is to do away with these poop-oriented Christmas episodes, because they're basically all bad.

Other Top Episodes: Fat Camp, Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?


#11. Season 2
The longest season in South Park's history at 18 episodes, the second season still saw the show growing into its shoes. It was a significant step up in overall quality from the rather primitive first season, though. This is also the season that featured the notorious full-length Terrence and Phillip episode, which aired on April Fool's Day as the season premiere instead of the conclusion to Season 1's cliffhanger ending. Despite the fact that many fans loathe that episode, I actually kind of enjoy it. I think it's one of those instances that really defined Matt and Trey's attitudes in relation to the show.

Best Episode: Gnomes
The episode that gave birth to the underpants gnomes and their infamous business model of "Phase 1: Collect underpants. Phase 2: ? Phase 3: Profit". Tweek can be a bit exhausting at times, but getting to know him in this episode is entertaining.

Worst Episode: City on the Edge of Forever
This is a season that doesn't really have any single, outstandingly unwatchable episode. However, flashback episodes are always lazy and rarely interesting. Despite the fact that they got a little more creative than usual for one of these, it is ultimately still a flashback episode.

Other Top Episodes: Chickenlover, Cow Days, Ike's Wee Wee


#10. Season 5
Introduced Jimmy, initially as a rival for Timmy. This season also carried on with the growth of the show's style and complexity. This is really the last season that demonstrated the show still in the process of maturing into its prime. Along with Season 4, this season sort of marked the "adolescent" stage of South Park's life cycle. This would be the last season of regular Kenny deaths, since his "real" death was essentially the culmination of the season, and they stopped killing him every episode after they brought him back roughly a year later. This season also featured several iconic episodes that go down as being amongst the show's best known and most well regarded.

Best Episode: Scott Tenorman Must Die
One of a small handful of the show's absolute greatest episodes, this essentially established Eric Cartman as one of the defining television characters of his generation. To paraphrase the creators, it elevated Cartman from merely a shitty little kid into a full-blown evil monster. He's a fantastic villain, and his revenge on a teenage tormentor in this episode is arguably his finest hour.

Worst Episode: Towelie
This is perhaps a slightly lazy pick, since Towlie is a notoriously stupid character and his episodes are therefore easy targets for criticism. I actually don't hate this one, but in a very consistently solid season it is the only episode that stands out as being notably worse than those around it.

Other Top Episodes: Super Best Friends, Cartmanland, It Hits the Fan, Proper Condom Use, The Entity


#9. Season 11
When I break the show up into different eras, I often use Season 11 as the start of the current one. Largely, I think that's because it was the season when they started making the DVD releases uncensored, so the home  video viewing experience changed somewhat. It's also the first season without any Chef, though functionally he was not present for Season 10 either. What all this is getting at is my feeling that this was the first season where the show began to wane and begin its gradual descent from the peaks of its prime years. There are several fantastic episodes in this season, and it featured another of the show's trilogies (Imaginationland). It also had some genuinely terrible episodes, though, and the overall caliber of the show was a bit lower than in those real prime years.

Best Episode: D-Yikes
This one was really hard, since this season had two of my favorite episodes. I settled on the one where Mrs. Garrison decides she's a lesbian, and defends her new gay bar home against the invading Persian club owners in a 300 parody. It's got some of the funniest scenes the show has ever had, and would make my personal list of the top 10 episodes. I also considered the excellent Night of the Living Homeless.

Worst Episode: Lice Capades
This one was also hard, as both this and The Snuke are terrible episodes. I decided on this one just because the annoying voice of the lice who fills the episode's lead role gets stuck in my head just by thinking about it. I'll move on now, before it gets lodged in there any deeper.

Other Top Episodes: Night of the Living Homeless, With Apologies to Jesse Jackson, More Crap


#8. Season 3
Easily the best of the show's early seasons, this one featured several hilariously good episodes. The show was still growing and changing, so this would be its highest peak until several years later. One of the longest seasons, with 17 episodes, it also features significant guest appearances in a pair of episodes, which is very unusual for the show. Picking a favorite episode is really difficult, since the top group from this season are so good. It's a little uneven, though, since it also has a few of the show's weakest episodes ever. This season also featured the show's first trilogy, unofficially called the Meteor Shower Trilogy, which all took place with different characters on the same night.

Best Episode: Korn's Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery
There's something about a good ol' fashioned Scooby Doo spoof that I just can't resist. With Korn actually voicing themselves in this special Halloween episode, they team up with the boys to solve a mystery about pirate ghosts. Or ghost pirates. They can't seem to decide. In any case, it's probably my favorite holiday episode the show has ever done, and it makes great use of a rare guest appearance.

Worst Episode: Jakovasaurs
Given the choice between pointless and obnoxious, I'll call obnoxious the worse episode. While I considered Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics, and I noticed that on in a previous post I called it worse than this one, I decided this time on this monstrosity. The Jakovasaur is loud, stupid, annoying, and basically functions as a hyperactive cousin to Jar Jar Binks. The whole episode derives its humor from the townsfolk wishing the creature was gone, but to quote myself from an earlier post on this subject, "He and his obnoxious family make you, like the town's residents, feel relieved when the whole thing is finally over."

Other Top Episodes: Rainforest Shmainforest, Cat Orgy, Chinpoko Mon, The Red Badge of Gayness


#7. Season 12
A small step back up from its immediate predecessor, this is another one of those seasons that is just really solid from top to bottom. While there are a few slightly flat episodes, there really wasn't a bad one in the whole season. The peaks aren't quite as high as in many other seasons, but every episode is enjoyable. One episode pays stylistic tribute to the film Heavy Metal, which is cool. The season's sole notable character development was Mr. Garrison's sex change back into a man.

Best Episode: The Ungroundable
This episode takes a shot at Hot Topic, Twilight, and emo kids. Naturally, I loved it. Butters thinks he's a vampire, and the humor pretty much all comes from watching the show poke fun at a pile of angst-driven stupidity surrounding the kids he falls in with in his new "dark" life. The episode also takes the time to distinguish these groups from actual goths, which is a nice touch.

Worst Episode: Eek, a Penis!
The episode where Garrison regains his manhood via a transplant from a lab rat that has been genetically modified to grow a new human penis on its back. The rat gets loose and Garrison has to chase down his rogue genitalia before he can have the procedure. It's not really a bad episode, it just ranks a bit lower in my book than the others around it.

Other Top Episodes: Elementary School Musical, Over Logging, Breast Cancer Show Ever


#6. Season 9
This is the most unsteady season from what I consider to be the show's real prime years. Several episodes just feel a little off for some reason. Still, this is overall a very good season with a lot of really enjoyable material. From this point on, every season I have left to talk about is great. So when I call this unsteady, I just mean relative to the top 5. Notably, this season opened with Mrs. Garrison's sex change into a woman. It was also the last season to feature Chef as a regular character. For many people, this season is best remembered as the one that got Tom Cruise pissed off by picking on Scientology in the episode Trapped in the Closet. On a metal note, this season has the episode where we learn that the only way to defeat a mass of hippies is to play Slayer at maximum volume.

Best Episode: Ginger Kids
One of Cartman's absolute best episodes ever. After being fooled into thinking he's become a ginger, a group he previously claimed had no souls, Cartman starts up a malevolent ginger cult. His ability to manipulate others for his own evil purposes is rarely ever put on display as brilliantly as it is in this episode.

Worst Episode: Bloody Mary
Randy becomes a weird sort of hypochondriac alcoholic, and he seeks to be cured at a miraculous bleeding statue of the Virgin Mary. It's really not a horrible episode. It can be a little gross at times, but it's fairly entertaining. It's just one of a few episodes that felt, as I said before, a little off for some reason.

Other Top Episodes: Die Hippie Die, The Death of Eric Cartman, Two Days Before the Day After Tomorrow


#5. Season 7
This is a slab of prime rib right out of the golden years of the show. Season 7 saw the new and improved Kenny who actually lives through most episodes. It also celebrated the show's 100th episode, had the picking-on-Mormons episode that could be seen as the genesis of Matt and Trey's current Broadway hit, and it introduced the goth kids who have subsequently become a recurring part of the show's universe. And right in the middle of all this, it has a run of three of my very favorite episodes.

Best Episode: Christian Rock Hard
This one was a really, really tough choice. Grey Dawn, with its oh-so-true look at senior drivers, was a very close second. The shots taken at Christian rock bands in this episode are just too good and too accurate to pass up, though. I should be clear and say I'm not attacking Christianity here, but Christian rock is almost universally shitty. With that said, I really enjoyed watching them tear into it. Besides, it's basically always good to give Cartman a lot to do in an episode.

Worst Episode: I'm a Little Bit Country
Uncharacteristically clumsy in its political satire, this episode just felt unsatisfying. It wasn't terrible, and it had some laughs. Still, it just didn't do much with what seemed like very fertile ground in the form of anti-war protests.

Other Top Episodes: South Park is Gay, Grey Dawn, All About Mormons


#4. Season 6
This season always stands out to me as a singularly strange one, because Kenny is almost entirely absent from it. Since he died "for real" near the end of Season 5 and he didn't physically return until the last episode of this season, Season 6 is basically "the season where you don't see Kenny". He does end up intermittently possessing Cartman for the final third of the season, but even then he's not really a regular part of the show's events. All that aside, the general content of the season is at a really high level here, with this standing as the start of the show's absolute prime years. Also, this season saw the birth of Professor Chaos, and he's always entertaining.

Best Episode: The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring of the Two Towers
As the title clearly indicates, this is South Park's take on the Lord of the Rings films. They end up on a quest to return a tape to the video store, and it all comes together with wonderful and funny parallels to the movies. Butters as Golem is a particularly entertaining aspect.

Worst Episode: The New Terrance and Phillip Movie Trailer
The boys spend the episode running from one place to the next, sitting through a stupid Russell Crowe TV show and waiting for the trailer to the new Terrence and Phillip movie. It's not utterly pointless, but it's not up to the standard of the rest of the season, either.

Other Top Episodes: Professor Chaos, The Simpsons Already Did It, The Death Camp of Tolerance


#3. Season 13
This is easily the best season of the past few years. At the point this came out, the show was no longer really developing its full identity. Rather, it was beginning a slow decline. To date, Season 13 is the last really great season of South Park, and given the show's current trend, I kind of expect it to stay that way. Whether socially, politically, or religiously the satire is bang-on throughout almost the entire season. Sure, there a few weak episodes, but there are a pile of excellent ones too. This season also introduced The Coon and Mysterion, who have rapidly become major fan-favorites.

Best Episode: Fishsticks
This outright mockery of Kanye West's unjustified ego came at a perfect time, as a few months later he made a total ass of himself at the Grammys. The episode also took a much-needed shot at Carlos Mencia for his frequent acts of comedic plagiarism. Besides, Kanye diving into the ocean because he's finally accepted that he is "a motherfuckin' gay fish" is one of the best endings any episode of the show has ever had.

Worst Episode: Eat Pray Queef
Maybe if I were a woman this would appeal to me more. That certainly seems to be the message of the episode. I understand tackling unequal gender-based behavioral expectations, but it felt like the concluding segment of this episode was way too obvious and ham-handed about conveying its message. Also, Terrance and Phillip serve their purpose, but do we really need two more of them?

Other Top Episodes: The Coon, Margaritaville, Dead Celebrities, W.T.F.


#2. Season 10
When I started piecing this list together, I honestly thought this would be my top pick. Despite the sad departure of Chef in the first episode (using assorted clips of old audio recordings, since at this point Isaac Hayes had already left the show over the episode on Scientology) this season packs many of the most entertaining episodes in the show's history. Somehow, amidst a pile of brilliant material, two of the absolute worst episodes in the show's history appear. Were it not for those, this would have been the best season the show ever had, with brilliant shots at Al Gore, The Hardy Boys, Family Guy, and Muhammad being just some of the season's many highlights.

Best Episode: Make Love, Not Warcraft
This is my absolute favorite episode of South Park. As both a fan of the show and a long-time World of Warcraft player, I love this episode from both sides of the lens. The pokes at the gaming culture and community are hilarious, seeing in-game locations I recognize is cool, and the whole thing is just executed flawlessly. I should also note that the "Mom! Bathroom!" scene in Cartman's basement, while extraordinarily base and juvenile, just might be the funniest scene in cartoon history.

Worst Episode: A Million Little Fibers
Probably the worst episode in the show's history. Quoting myself again, from my old list of the show's worst episodes, "This episode is flat-out awful. The three central characters are Towelie, Oprah's anus, and Oprah's vag. So yeah, that pretty much sums it up right there." Stanley's Cup is also a pretty awful episode, but mostly that's because it's so needlessly depressing.

Other Top Episodes: Manbearpig, Mystery of the Urinal Deuce, Tsst, Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy


#1. Season 8
Considered by many fans to be the show's absolute peak, after looking back through the episode list I feel I have to concur. There are a pile of great episodes, to an extent that picking a favorite is very tough. Additionally, there are no bad episodes in the whole season. As an added bonus, this season has the best Christmas episode the show ever did. Virtually the entire season like is a highlight reel of South Park at its finest. This was also the season where Matt and Trey seemingly looked into the future to see Mel Gibson lose his mind, and then they put it into a cartoon.

Best Episode: Douche and Turd
This was a really tough call. Given that this episode almost entirely encapsulates my views about voting, and we just had the election, I feel like this is a good choice. Not only does it take a great look at voting and the pressure to vote, it also takes a stab at PETA, and they can always use a good stabbing.

Worst Episode: Goobacks
This isn't a bad episode. It tackles illegal immigration in a pretty effective way, and it's got plenty of good laughs. It's just not anything special, and it's from a season where almost everything else is.

Other Top Episodes: Good Times With Weapons, The Passion of the Jew, Something Wall Mart This Way Comes, Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset, Awesom-O


There you have it. That's my ranking of every season of South Park, along with the best and worst that each season has to offer. If you've seen most or all of the show, then this might be of casual interest to you. If you're just looking to get into it, this may provide a helpful guide. And if you don't give a crap about South Park, I'm guessing you haven't read far enough to see this message, so I'm not really talking to you.


  1. You have inspired me to put all the South Park seasons on Netflix. I have not really watched it regularly since about Season 10 but did once really enjoy it. I definitely need to see some of my favorites again.

  2. Sounds like a good decision to me.