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May 22, 2020

Thinking of binging South Park? Try these three episodes first

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South-Park_052220 Screenshot/YouTube

A look at many of the characters you'll meet if you head on down to South Park.

There is just too much TV content out there for you to watch everything. That's where we come in. 

We want to help those of you who are considering watching one of the many TV shows available to stream that you haven't had a chance to watch before. If you are on the fence about a show, have had it recommended by friends or are simply curious, we've got you. 

Is the show worth it? How should I watch it? And what should I know about the series before diving in?

We've decided to answer those questions, and also provide our suggestions of three episodes to watch first — episodes that best summarize why the show is worth watching to give you a crash course on what makes it great. We are avoiding extremely serialized shows, like Breaking BadThe SopranosThe Good Place, and other classics that demand you sit through the entire series start to finish. 

We already took a look at the several solid shows worth diving into, like The Simpsons, Seinfeld, BoJack Horseman and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Now here's a look at one of the most controversial shows ever to grace American televisions: South Park.

South Park is a no-holds-barred show that really makes fun, in a deep and raw way, of every single religion, nationality, creed, celebrity and controversy you can think of. As such, some of the episode titles and subject matter of the article below may be offensive. Just a heads up. 

How many episodes are there?

307 over 23 seasons.

When does it get good?

That's a complicated question. There really are a few different eras of South Park, each with their own merits and drawbacks.

The Early Years (Seasons 1-3)
It's a little crude animation-wise, and a bit dated humor-wise, but there are some absolute gems as the show finds its footing in its first few seasons — like "Starving Marvin," or "Red Badge of Gayness." In each of these episodes, Kenny dies. The show also has a humor level that is a bit less mature that in its later years.
The Shock Years (Seasons 4-6)
After the success of the movie South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut in 2000, the show got raunchier and pushed boundaries, hard. "Scott Tenorman Must Die," came from this period, as did controversial episodes like "Super Best Friends" and "Simpsons Did It." These are fantastic episodes as the show's trajectory surges up. Kenny keeps dying — but the bit ends after Season 6.
Peak of its powers (Seasons 7-14)
At least in my opinion, the hit to miss ratio is off the charts during the middle years of this series. If you were unable to watch the entire 300+ episodes and wanted to start a binge somewhere with nothing but hilariousness, somewhere in this era would be recommended. According to IMDB's episode rankings, 27 of the show's top rated 40 episodes came between Seasons 7 and 14.
Big swings and misses (Seasons 15-18)
During the four season stretch from 2011-2014, the show had some absolute monster episodes, like "Broadway Bro Down" and "Reverse Cowgirl," but there were nearly as many clunkers as there were memorable ones.
Super Serialized (Seasons 19-present)
With a few exceptions, the show has started to mimic peak TV dramas in having full season-long storylines dominating their shows. This really took hold in Season 19, when a tanned and red-haired Mr. Garrison served as an avatar to Donald Trump as both ran for president. These episodes have a lot to offer but are in many ways different than the previous seasons.

When does it stop being good?

The show was absolutely incredible and rarely missed up through Season 14, but the most recent eight seasons have, as we said, been hit or miss. It's still worth watching it all, but many fans of the show (like fans of most shows) lament on the show's changes in modernity.

Why should I watch it?

When we talk about South Park, we are talking about a show that is revolutionary with its approach to satire. There are really four different categories of episodes of the show. 

Original: Like, say "Awesome-O," where Cartman pretends to be a robot for an entire episode to prank Butters. Much more common early in the run.
Parody: Like all of the super hero episodes such as "The Coon," or like "The Day Before the Day After Tomorrow." No celebrity, TV show or movie is safe.
Commentary: Nearly all of the episodes from the last few years fall under this category, where they are not quite a straight parody of a particular thing, but do poke fun at or seek to paint something in pop culture or politics as being ridiculous. "All About Mormons" comes to mind — and is worth highlighting as show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone also wrote the Broadway hit, "The Book of Mormon."
Hybrid: Where original plots and features mesh with something that is currently being talked about — like the recent Season 22 episode "Board Girls" which deals with transgender issues and also the popularity of nerdy board games.

Why did I break this down for you here? Well, the appeal of the show is the way it is able to find its humor in current events and in popular media (like YouTube or memes or Twitch, all of which get episodes poking fun at them). Unlike most other comedies out there, South Park is written and animated in the week it airs, which makes it incredibly relevant and therefore sometimes a bit dated to look back at. 

The slice of life one can gleam from watching old episodes is a really cool feature of the show (you know, like, remember Pokemon? or remember Nintendo Wii? Each had episodes). 

The show is also great thanks to the personalities of the characters, which we didn't even really delve into. The playful (or sometimes too far) ripping the four main boys lay on each other is a theme throughout the show. They love each other — well, with the exception of Cartman — but also fall into each other's vices. The parents and adults on the show, especially in the second half of its run, have taken on some incredible personas and plot lines as well.

Where can I watch it?

The series currently resides on Hulu, but it is also run in mini marathons pretty much every few days on Comedy Central.

What three episodes should I watch?

To get a crash course and a good taste of what makes the show great, we recommend the following three episodes:

*Note — these are three episodes we recommend to paint a picture of the full range of the show, we are not saying these are the three best.

'Scott Tenorman Must Die'

SEASON 5, EPISODE 4 (2001)

To avoid spoilers for this epic episode we'll keep our description of it relatively brief. If you want to see how far South Park will go, this is the show that pushes the envelop in the first third of the series' run. It's also one of the best examples of the show's original stories, not based on parody or political/social commentary:

The clip above is also, you know, a brief primer in the language and subject matter South Park has never been shy to deal with. Check out this episode and prepare to say "wow."

'The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers'

SEASON 6, EPISODE 13 (2002)

Yeah, it's another one from the early 2000's but this parody of Lord of the Rings might very well be their best. The boys are, like everyone else in 2002, obsessed with the Peter Jackson films and pretending to be characters from the breakout books and movies as, unbeknownst to them, the video tape they rented of one of the movies is actually a porno movie. Their parents send them on a quest to return the tape to the video store — yes, remember those?

The best thing about this episode, and really the show as a whole is it still works if you don't know the reference well, but works even better if you do. The parents in this episode start to get a little more personality as they'll later shine in the middle to late seasons of the show. The secondary characters too, like Butters and Jimmy come into their own in this episode.

'Reverse Cowgirl'

SEASON 16, EPISODE 1 (2014)

This episode takes the generally held idea that the TSA sucks and flips it completely in its head. In a confluence of events that can only take place in South Park, the mother of one of the boys at the elementary school falls victim to her son not putting the toilet seat down in a horrific and, well, deadly way. Because of this tragedy, the townspeople and government overreact, making a seatbelt mandatory when going No. 2.

As you can see, the new restrictions get a little out of hand. South Park has a knack for finding creative ways to really hand it to social norms and say the thing out loud we've been saying to ourselves for years.

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