You would think that after 20 years on the air, South Park might start to dip a bit in quality. After all, if most shows (especially comedies) manage to last more than three seasons without suffering a steep drop in quality, they’re usually heralded as the entertainment second coming. Yet, when South Park debuted its 20th season, the show received its highest ratings in over a decade. 3.7 million people tuned in to watch the continuing antics that occur in a quiet little mountain town in Colorado. What keeps them coming back?
Well, the great writing, acting, and clever commentary doesn’t hurt, but you have to believe that a big part of the reason behind South Park’s success is that it is still able to shock people. Networks strayed away from controversial entertainment for years whenever possible, but it wasn’t until the success of South Park that they started to realize that controversy can indeed create cash and that being offensive isn’t always a bad thing. It’s why South Park’s biggest episodes typically aren’t the ones that introduce some beloved character or advance a storyline, but rather are the ones that manage to offend even more than most.
Here are the 15 Most Offensive South Park Episodes Ever.
15 Woodland Critter Christmas
Season eight’s "Woodland Critter Christmas" starts innocently enough. Not just innocent for a South Park episode, but innocent in the way that classic TV Christmas stories are. You’ve got a friendly narrator that speaks in rhymes, a little boy thrust into a Christmas quest, and the cutest animated animals this side of a Disney film. Yes, right from the very start, South Park fans know that nothing this innocent can exist in the world of this show and that something is about to go horribly, horribly wrong.
Even still, not even an alert fan could possibly predict just how dark this episode would get. Not content with merely offending those who hold Christmas sacred, Matt Stone and Trey parker decide to try to offend everyone by telling a story that focuses on those same animated animals turning out to be crazed satanic worshipers with a penchant for extreme violence and other unspeakable cruelties. Once this episode starts to ramp up to its jaw-dropping conclusion, which includes aborting the antichrist from Kyle, you start to realize that this is one of the most concentrated efforts to offend that the South Park writers have ever concocted.
14 Cartman Joins NAMBLA
Given how South Park has continued to venture into more and more shocking territory over the years, you would think that its earlier seasons might not be that offensive in comparison to what would come. Sometimes, that’s the case, but there are just some early South Park episodes that stand the test of time and remain forever shocking. This is especially true of a little adventure from South Park’s fourth season appropriately titled "Cartman Joins NAMBLA."
NAMBLA, for those blissfully unaware, stands for North American Man/Boy Love Association, and is a real life organization that promotes relationships between adult males and underage children. "Cartman Joins NAMBLA" is all about how Cartman discovers the group online and proceeds to attempt to join their ranks in order to meet older, cooler friends. The subject matter is offensive enough, but what really makes this episode stand out is the way that this story is presented. Almost nothing about the group or their efforts is taken seriously in this episode, and the whole thing even devolves into a chase scene straight out of Scooby Doo that involves nude men chasing boys throughout a hotel.
13 Scott Tenorman Must Die
"Scott Tenorman Must Die" will always occupy a special place in the heart of every South Park fan as the episode that forever raised the bar on how hardcore this show can be. The basic premise here is that Cartman is being bullied by an older kid named Scott Tenorman who constantly fools him via a series of juvenile pranks. Cartman, as he is prone to do, promises revenge. It’s a set-up so simple that it could have just as easily been the premise of an episode for a far tamer show.
Things go off the rails when Cartman completes his revenge plot and it ends up involving the butchering of Scott Tenorman’s parents, cooking them into chili, and tricking Scott into eating that chili. The episode escalates to such an incredibly horrific point so fast that you’re either going to be unspeakably offended or you’re going to just laugh out loud. Those that hold the episode in high regard, like South Park's creators, tend to cite it as one of their favorites. Everyone else is left asking “Wait, did that kid just eat his own parents?”
12 Terrance and Phillip in Not without My Anus
In its first season, South Park became an immediate phenomenon that put everyone involved with the show on the map. It also caught some viewers by surprise by ending on a cliffhanger despite the fact that there wasn't much serial storytelling in the rest of the show. Millions of fans eagerly tuned into South Park’s second season premiere on April 1st, 1998 to find out who was really Cartman’s father. That premiere date should have been an immediate hint that this premiere was going to subvert expectations.
"Terrance and Phillip in Not Without My Anus" isn’t offensive because of its content alone; it’s offensive because it genuinely bothered viewers who had tuned in to resolve the first season’s cliffhanger and were instead treated to a side-story that featured almost none of the characters or stories from the previous year. This was Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s way of proving that they could get under the skin of even their most loyal viewers and, despite the fact that it doesn’t feature much in the way of traditionally offensive content, it was very effective in doing so.
11 Trapped In The Closet
Despite the giant bullseye the group wore on their back, many fans doubted that South Park would ever devote an episode to the Church of Scientology. After all, it’s generally a good rule to not start launching globally televised personal attacks at a group that has proven they have no qualms about suing and harassing anyone that publically challenges them. Of course, that does help to explain why Stone and Parker did decide to just go all out on the subject when they finally did do an episode on it given that they may never get the chance to do so again.
"Trapped in the Closet" is an attack on Scientology framed as a story about Tom Cruise literally refusing to leave a closet. The subtext of the latter story wasn’t lost on many viewers (including Tom Cruise himself who threatened to back out of promoting Mission Impossible III if the episode re-aired), but it is the segments devoted to retelling the fundamental beliefs of the Church of Scientology that have earned this episode so much of its controversy. It was a slap in the face of Scientologists and a wake-up call to everyone that was unaware of the group.
10 With Apologies To Jesse Jackson
To be honest, most of this episode’s offensive content comes from its first few minutes. It is in that opening that the unlikely premise of Randy Marsh appearing on an episode of Wheel of Fortune is used as the set-up for a plot device involving Randy incorrectly guessing the answer to a puzzle and using the “N” word in an incredibly offensive context. Story-wise, the rest of the episode focuses on the fall-out of this event which largely involves various political parties, activist groups, and celebrities all taking sides over what just transpired.
The really funny thing about this episode, though, is exactly who it ended up offending. Many people ended up praising "With Apologies to Jesse Jackson" for the way that it intelligently surveyed the culture of hate that surrounded the use of this word in society. However, this episode ended up making a lot of people that try to stay away from this topic all-together incredibly uncomfortable. It was a very open discussion about a sensitive topic that a lot of people were not ready to have.
9 It Hits The Fan
Here is another South Park episode that was based on a single word. The premise of "It Hits The Fan" is that the residents of South Park are all eagerly awaiting an upcoming episode of the fictional hit show Cop Drama that promises to use the word “S***” for the first time. The joke is that South Park regularly features content far more offensive than a single word and that the word isn’t that big of a deal. In case you didn’t get the joke, the writers are sure to hammer it in by using the word not once but an astonishing 200 times during the course of this episode.
The story goes that Comedy Central would only air this episode if Stone and Parker cursed so often during it that it ultimately wouldn’t seem like that big of a deal. So, that’s exactly what they did. What’s interesting to note is that the airing of the episode didn’t generate nearly as much controversy as everyone involved thought it might. That's pretty shocking when you consider how far this story goes to offend what is generally considered to be the "average" television viewer.
8 Crack Baby Athletic Association
Matt Stone and Trey Parker are pretty intelligent guys, but when they decide to really go to town on a particularly controversial subject, they sometimes prefer to drop all subtlety and opt for sheer blunt force. This season 15 episode is a tremendous example of that technique as Stone and Parker share their thoughts on the NCAA’s treatment of their athletes by telling the story of an underground fighting ring operated by Cartman that pits crack-addicted babies against each other for drugs.
The imagery of that premise will certainly not be lost on anyone that views this episode as evidenced by the collective gasp of air that occurred the moment audiences saw crack babies fighting each other and realized right away that this is the show’s alternate take on the world of college football. No stone is left unturned so far as their teardown of that particular system goes as everything from charity being used as a cover-up to the greedy nature of video game publisher EA is incorporated into a storyline that is fundamentally disturbing.
7 Bloody Mary
"Crack Baby Athletic Association" got a lot of mileage out of a disturbing visual, but it can’t quite match the sheer audacity of the central image of this particular story. See, the town of South Park believes that they have witnessed a miracle when a local statue of the Virgin Mary starts to bleed from its…well, from an unusual place. In short order, everyone becomes convinced that the blood from the statue has healing properties. This is good news for Randy Marsh who has recently determined that he is an otherwise incurable alcoholic.
The message here was more about not looking for miracles and the often absurd culture of faith healing, but the use of the Virgin Mary (as well as a very memorable scene involving the Pope’s visit to the statue) angered many Catholic viewers across the world. Not only was the episode banned in several countries, but this became one of only a few episodes that Comedy Central was forced to pull from the air in syndication. It wasn’t allowed back into the rerun rotation until almost two years after its debut.
6 Super Best Friends
"Super Best Friends" is a parody in three parts. The first, and most obvious, is a parody of the old Super Friends show. Unlike the group of DC superheroes that starred in that old cartoon, however, here the forces of good are represented by the iconic figureheads of most every major religion who have come together to fight the rising religious power of magician David Blaine. The second parody is of Blaine himself who is roasted here quite gloriously. The third is actually an early South Park parody of Scientology as represented by Blaine calling his religion Blaintology.
Yet, none of those parodies are what made this episode so offensive to some. Instead, that has to do with the fact that the episode featured a depiction of Muhammad. When a later episode still to come on this list drew controversy from a section of the Muslim community, they also became aware of this episode’s blatant depiction of Muhammad and immediately demanded the episode be removed. In fact, this is one episode that cannot be streamed from the South Park website, cannot be purchased individually, and is one of only three episodes not available on Hulu.
5 The China Problem
Just in case one highly controversial storyline isn’t enough to offend nearly everyone that is watching, this episode features two of them. The first story is where "The China Problem" gets its name from and features Cartman becoming obsessed with the notion of China taking over the world following the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Bejing Olympics. Cartman decides to launch an investigation into this alleged invasion with Butters at his side. The second story retreads some slightly familiar territory by covering the topic of what Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have done to the Indiana Jones franchise with the release of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
The Butters and Cartman storyline is just as offensive as you might imagine, but it’s also offensive in the sense that it covers a lot of old race jokes and repurposes them for this particular adventure. Instead, then, it is actually the second story that makes this episode especially offensive as it takes the online sentiment that Spielberg and Lucas “raped” the Indiana Jones franchise and presents it literally. The visual of their assaults caught many people off-guard and apparently bothered Comedy Central’s sister company Paramount who preferred for the episode to just go away.
4 All About Mormons
Structurally, "All About Mormons" is incredibly similar to "Trapped In The Closet." They even share some of the same basic scenes. The biggest difference between the two episodes is the target. Unlike "Trapped in The Closet" which gloriously skewered the Church of Scientology, All About Mormons focuses on… well, Mormons. When a family of Mormons move into South Park, the entire town becomes obsessed with what Mormonism actually is. Throughout the episode, the story of the religion’s formation is slowly detailed through a series of vignettes.
While the end of this episode sends a very clear message that the good values of a religion are sometimes more important than the stories behind them, that didn’t comfort those who couldn’t help but notice that writer Trey Parker spent most of the episode deconstructing Mormonism with an almost childish glee. This wasn’t the first time that the show had tackled a religious subject, but this was the first time that many people had heard of the beliefs of Mormons and people weren’t quite prepared for the delivery of the details. It all worked out in the end, of course, and Stone and Parker got a Broadway hit out of the premise.
3 Make Love, Not Warcraft
"Make Love, Not Warcraft" was released at the height of World of Warcraft’s popularity. It marks the first time that the South Park crew experimented with the concept of machinima by using actual World of Warcraft footage to film key scenes in a story that features almost all of South Park’s main characters getting addicted to the game. It’s also the one episode that Trey Parker didn’t want Comedy Central to air. Parker felt that the team had put together an episode that was simply awful and was going to cause the series’ most loyal fans to never watch the show again.
Anyone who has seen the final product will certainly understand why he was concerned. Not only is the episode technically different from anything else the series has ever done, but it exhibits the very worst of a culture that more than likely contains quite a few South Park fans. There’s no higher moral message to be found here as this is simply a tour of the darker clichés of gaming culture. Many South Park fans say this is one of their favorite episodes, but the love does little to dilute the shock of such scenes as Cartman’s mom-assisted bathroom trip.
2 Proper Condom Use
The topic of sex education in America has long been a hot-button issue, and it’s still getting sorted out to this day. The basic debate is over whether or not schools should be responsible for teaching kids about sex or whether that rests with the parents. It’s an interesting debate, especially when you consider that sex ed classes usually end up leaving kids more confused than they were coming into the class. That’s the basic idea that this episode plays off of as sex ed comes to South Park and inadvertently starts a literal war of the sexes over the matter of STDs.
The general subject matter is controversial enough, but once this episode starts to add a dash of violence into the already dangerous cocktail of kids and sex, things got very real. In Australia, the episode needed to be aired later at night than any other episode of the show due to its subject matter and British network Sky One decided to ban the episode outright. It’s currently out of syndication in the U.S. as well. It actually could have been much worse, however, as Parker and Stone originally wanted to feature a completely unedited scene of Mr. Garrison displaying proper condom usage using just his mouth.
For South Park’s 200th episode, Trey Parker and Matt Stone decided to just go all out and create a two-part episode extravaganza designed to reignite just about every controversy the show had ever created. It was basically their version of a clip show, but with a slight twist. Not only were they going to revisit every controversy, they were going to do their best to make every single one of them sting harder than before. Their trump card was set to be a finale that featured another depiction of Muhammad and comments on the nature of terrorism.
The planned ending never came to pass. Due to violent threats from terrorist groups, Comedy Central decided to heavily censor the ending to episode "201" by cutting out images and bleeping the final speech. This, in and of itself, created an additional controversy which saw free speech advocates condemn the network for their actions. That’s ultimately what makes these episodes so much more offensive than any other. Regardless of your political or religious standings, it’s almost a guarantee that you’re going to find something here that will bother you.