South Park is one of the finest comedic series ever made. Period. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s crudely animated creation has acquired its share of controversy over the years, but the fact remains that if it was simply low-brow toilet humor, it wouldn’t have lasted 20 years, and the duo’s impressive body of work wouldn’t be so critically praised.
That said, no body of work is perfect, and South Park has had its share of misfires over the years. Sometimes its attempts at edginess just come off as mean-spirited, while other times their insane production schedule simply churns out a sloppy product.
With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at what I personally consider to be the worst episodes of South Park. A disclaimer before we get going: no episodes from the first 4 seasons are being considered here since many of those episodes have a very different feel and were before they really found their voice. Additionally, mere forgettable episodes are not being considered either. For something to be considered the worst, it has to create a strong emotional reaction in the first place. This does mean that some fondly remembered episodes may be placed here due to elements I find personally objectionable. Though it will be impossible to separate my personal politics entirely, the goal is nonetheless to show how and why some of their offensive gags and stories don’t always work.
Without any further delay, let’s dive in…
The sad thing is, this episode could honestly be considered one of the best of the series. The follow-up to their 200th episode, it contains so many callbacks and references to the shows’ history that it can’t help but make any South Park fan happy. They don’t stop there though, as they take these elements and manage to craft a grand, hilarious story with drama, high stakes, and themes that build upon some of the show’s biggest ideas.
With that much going for it, why on Earth does it belong on a worst list? One reason: this is the first time (and only time, as of writing this) that an episode of South Park got heavily censored before going to air.
Really think about that. South Park, as crass it can be, always aims to be able to say whatever they want. It may not always work, and they can cross the line (as this list demonstrates), but their willingness to fearlessly tackle taboo subjects makes them a vital part of the cultural discussion.
But here, as they reexamined the taboo of depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, death threats made towards the pair forced Comedy Central to bleep out every mention of Muhammad’s name. Not only that, but they also bleeped out the entire ending monologue, which left the show feeling gutted and robbed of its commentary.
One could argue that being robbed of its commentary was itself the commentary, but given how the first part went by untouched, it can’t help but feel like they were muzzled against their will. And while people are more than free to express their disgust for what Matt and Trey advocate at times, they should still be free to say it in the first place.
All of that baggage sadly drags down an otherwise great episode, and cementing its position on this list.
Season 18 brought about a new element for South Park that had never been fully explored before: continuity. While most episodes effectively hit the reset button after each episode (most notably obvious with Kenny’s frequent deaths in the earlier seasons), this season took a different angle by actually carrying over specific elements.
The first episode began with the boys ditching school, and the second one has them return with everyone still remembering that fact. That episode ends with a one-off joke of Randy being dressed like Lorde that developed into its own seasonal arc for the character. It was a mostly successful experiment, breathing new life into the show and leading to them continuing this trend for future seasons.
That said, all ongoing stories need a conclusion, and as this season was nearing its end, it only seemed fitting to tie up all of the loose ends they’d built up. The problem was, if their “6 days to air” schedule hadn’t already tipped you off, they’re clearly just making this up as they go, not caring how it ties into the overall narrative. Though they got better with this in the following year, “#HappyHolograms” just comes off as a random hodgepodge of references, with forced conflicts, and unfocused themes. South Park works when the creators have something to say, but all they have to offer here is that the new generations’ fascination with Let’s Plays is weird. That’s it. The commentary on social media is lacking, and the celebrity lampooning on hand here is shallow in comparison to their other takedowns in the past.
It’s just a mess of an episode with a lot of wasted potential.
#8. It’s a Jersey Thing
Like “201”, this is an otherwise great episode that’s brought down by one bad element. Unfortunately, this time it’s Matt and Trey who must take the blame on this one. The plot of the episodes involves people from Jersey being so numerous and influential that they are spreading across America like a horde of zombies. That’s a pretty funny take on how huge and inescapable The Jersey Shore and Real Housewives of New Jersey were at the time. The problem comes with how the denizens plan to save themselves, by seeking Al Qaeda’s help.
That’s a pretty shocking joke to make in the first place, but disregarding the offensiveness, the joke simply doesn’t work. It’s too simple an idea; that The Jersey Shore is so bad that even terrorists look better in comparison, so they end up having nothing to say about it. Meanwhile, while The Jersey folk in the show are portrayed as annoying and hostile, not coming close to feeling comparable to Osama Bin Ladin, so the comparison is too distant. The way they escalate the joke by having Al Qaeda operatives actually crash planes directly on the people from Jersey also feels way too mean-spirited for no real benefit. Finally, the way they try to excuse this edginess by having Bin Laden killed off at the very end just feels like a cop-out to save face. It’s one thing to be tasteless, but to not have the courage of one’s convictions feels cowardly, and just gives the whole episode a sour taste.
That said, it’s still relatively low on this list because there’s a lot of really great jokes too. Having all the people from Jersey cut away from the moment to talk to the camera is hilarious, as is their depiction of a “Snookie”. Kyle also has some great moments, as his transition into a person from Jersey mimics classic werewolf transformations.
Had they cut out the mess with Al Qaeda, this could have been an instant classic. As is, it’s sadly one of times where them crossing the line backfired tremendously
The first half of season 15 sadly has one of the weaker batch of episodes Matt and Trey have worked on. With the exception of the stellar “You’re Getting Old”, none of the episodes from that run left much of an impact. While they were mostly forgettable, the weakest of that bunch is probably the “HumanCentiPad”.
South Park borrows references from pop culture all the time, but they work best when they weave seamlessly with the story. Here, the connection between Apple and the Human Centipede is so mismatched that it really felt like they just took two idea balls from a manatee tank and smashed them together.
It’s sad because they could have made a clever commentary on how people are so infatuated with Apple that they’ll buy anything from them, or that people will be so quick to shrug off how the products they consume can indirectly hurt others. Any messages like that though are rushed out at the end as the majority of the episode seems intended to focus on the gross-out nature of The Human Centipede itself. That’d be all well and fine, but they don’t really add anything new to it; it just feels like a lazy reference.
And while there are some good gags, such as Cartman treating his not getting an iPad as being molested, or how messed up those endless “user agreement” statements can be, they get tired fast and can’t propel the episode to anything great. It just made South Park feel tired and dated which, oddly enough, made “You’re Getting Old” all the more potent.
6. Toilet Paper
As much as South Park likes to be topical in addressing current issues, sometimes it remembers that its protagonists are just a bunch of fourth graders, and they decide to just let the boys be boys and see where that goes. This has led to some great episodes like “The List”, “Awesome-O”, “Pre-School”, to name a few, but this dud from the 7th season is not one of them.
What does it in is, again, how simple the gag is. The boys TP one of their teacher’s houses, and that simple act of childish mischief is treated as serious as a murder. That may be enough to sustain a 3-minute sketch, but for a whole episode, there’s just not enough meat on the bones. It seems like Matt and Trey knew this, as they incorporate a Hannibal Lecter-type character to fill out the rest of the story beats, and while those parts aren’t bad, they can’t help but feel tired given how often Silence of The Lambs had been referenced in other media at that point.
The funny thing is, from this very run they had a similar “boys will be boys” episode that worked way better called “Lil’ Crime Stoppers”. What’s great about that one is that it preserves the boys’ innocence in playing detective as the world around them gets increasingly crazier. Or better yet, there’s an episode of Spongebob Squarepants,where the characters go through a similar cycle of guilt and broken friendships. The twist is that it was over something as innocuous as stealing a balloon on national free balloon day. By having both the boys and the authorities take the Toilet Paper attack so seriously, it results with just having nothing but absurdity bouncing around with nothing grounded in reality to keep it in check.