Thursday, April 17, 2008

Top 10: My Favorite South Park Episodes

After seeing a few of the episodes from the current season of South Park, I began to ruminate on the entire run of the show. There have been a lot of great moments and a lot of great episodes over the past decade or so, and yet, my mind was almost instinctively drawn to a few key episodes from my memories, and that internal ranking seemed to be worth sharing with you all.

I have to note that this list is purely subjective, and I encourage discussion about this subject, both in terms of your disagreements with me and hearing about your favorite episodes as well.

Well, anyway, let's get on with the show.

10. Starvin' Marvin in Space - After a tragic first contact encounter with a lion for an alien from the planet Marklar, Starvin Marvin the Ethiopian take the alien's ship and uses it to try to find a new home for his fellow villagers, with the help of his friends from South Park. Only two thing can stop them from accomplishing this goal however: Christian Missionaries led by Pat Robertson, and a Jabba the Hutt-like Sally Struthers. I thought this brought a nice conclusion to the storyline of a character introduced in season 1, and I liked some of the shots at televangelists, and the inclusion of the song "I am Chewbacca" on the closing credits.

9. Lil' Crime Stoppers - The boys play detective and solve a few cases in their neighborhood, which gets them noticed by the Park County Police force where they are made Junior Detectives and sent to do real police work, like raiding a meth lab, despite the fact that they have no training and no weapons. Well, aside from pointing at criminals and saying "bang, bang". Police movie cliches- Check. Adults putting the children in inappropriate situations - Check. A lesson learned by all - double check.

8. Towelie - The Boys get a new game system called the Okama Gamesphere, and after they get addicted to playing it, it is stolen by a nebulous government organization who want their help finding a walking, talking towel that gets high all the time named Towelie. The boys want their game system back badly, so they grab Towelie and start getting drawn into a series of ever-complicating situations and betrayals which they don't care about at all, even though the situations are remarkably like action sequences and plot points in a game. The episode is a nice bit of self-deprecation on the part of Stone and Parker, and again, it is one of those totally over the top plotlines that just worked so well.

7. Raisins - Wendy dumps Stan for Token, and Stan falls into a deep depression, and the other guys try to improve his mood by taking him to Raisins, a preteen version of Hooters. Unfortunately, Stan is in such a funk that despite their best efforts, he ends up hanging around and becoming a Goth kid. Meanwhile, Butters falls in love with one of the waitresses at the restaurant, Lexus, and he learns some hard lessons about the nature of the service industry. I identified with both Stan and Butters in this episode much to my dismay, and I think it is that personal connection that makes it one of my favorites... well, that and the fact that Butters gets a really good burn in on someone too.

6. Quest for Ratings - The Boys, along with Token, Butters and Jimmy put together a news show for the school's closed circuit television station and compete with Craig's show, one which is comprised entirely of closeup videos of dogs. To try to win the ratings contest, they move away from substance and towards sensationalism, slick graphics and celebrity news. I just have to say one line of dialogue that made this a classic for me: Stupid News Hair!

5. The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers - This one is an easy choice. Stan's parents rent the Lord of the Rings and the most hard core pornographic film ever made, who accidentally switch them. The Boys, who enjoy playing Lord of the Rings, who don't know what they have, think the tape is evil, so they undertake a quest to return the tape to Two Towers video in the next town over. This one is just so geektastic, and it goes with the parody aspect just enough to be funny, and so elements are just so right.

4. Red Sleigh Down - Cartman discovers that his misdeeds for the previous year far outweigh the good things he has done, so to ensure that he gets a robotic dog toy, he convinces Santa Claus to bring Christmas to the people of Iraq. Unfortunately, his sleigh gets hits by a Stinger missile, and he is captured, and there is only one man who can save him: Jesus Christ! Best. Christmas. Episode. EVER! If this was a movie, I would watch it on a loop for all 12 days of Christmas, because Santa and Jesus kicking a whole lot of ass is something so rare and beautiful...

3. AWESOM-O Eric Cartman dresses in a homemade robot costume named Awesom-o in an attempt to gain embarrassing information about Butters. Eric soon discovers that Butters has an incriminating video tape that he plans to show everyone the next time Cartman pranks him, and so he is forced to continue playing the part in a series of humiliating and increasingly dangerous scenarios. Cartman got some mighty fine comeuppance here for all the crap that he has put Butters through over the years... his whole ordeal felt so right... he's been asking for this for YEARS!

2. Imaginationland - In this three part episode from last season, Kyle makes a bet that he will suck Cartman's balls if the latter can prove they are real... and one appears and Kyle refuses to pay up. Soon, a strange man comes looking for the leprechaun and invites Kyle, Stan and Butters on a magical hot air balloon ride to Imaginationland, where all the fictional characters ever created exist, but almost as soon as they arrive, Islamic extremists begin carrying out a series of devastating terrorist attacks on the good denizens of Imaginationland, including breaking down a barrier which was keeping the most evil characters(including Eric Cartman's Woodland Critters) from taking over. The storyline unfolds into three related but divergent threads following Cartman's quest to have his agreement with Kyle honored, Kyle and Stan's efforts trying to save Imaginationland with/from the US Government and Butters' quest to save the good characters from the evil from within Imaginationland. The fact that it was released as the selling point of a DVD with a couple of other bonus episodes speaks to the quality of the work in this extended narrative. It has so many good elements, from the plot and characters to even the design of our very imagination. It works on so many levels, and it is worthy of praise. I hope it gets nominated for an award or two for this year.

1. The Losing Edge - By far, this is my favorite episode. It isn't flashy... it is just a really solid execution of the premise. The South Park kids, despite the fact that they hate playing baseball, finish first in their local Little League division, and discover to their horror that their success means they may have to play the game for their entire summer. After deciding that they are going to try to take a dive in the Colorado State Championships, the boys find out that the other teams are just as committed as they are to losing. Meanwhile, Stan's father faces challenges of his own as a drunken brawler in the stands. I know that this may be a controversial choice for #1, but I've literally seen this episode 20 times since it originally aired, because it encapsulates everything I love about this show: pop cultural pastiches, self-deprecating humor, the idiocy of adults and like I said above, solid execution of the underlying premise. It truly is the best around. And I don't think the fact that I don't like baseball either hurts the episode either.

So, how wrong do you think I am? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Mel said...

I'd put the Lord of the Rings ep at number one, closely followed by Imaginationland; then at three I'd have the alien anal probe one (where they discover that Earth! is a galactic reality show), followed by the one where the bully comes back and they accidentally re-light their preschool teacher on fire; then Raisins, then the WoW episode.

MC said...

Cancelled almost made it to the list... I mean, a giant talking taco crapping ice cream is a winning concept, but it narrowly got edged out.

Megan said...

I also must pimp for the "WoW" episode, simply because, "Maahm! More hot pockets!" has become a catchphrase in my house. And we've never even had hot pockets. Ever.

Nice list, Matt!

thom said...

I honestly lost interest in South Park during the first season. With that said, a friend of mine forced me to watch "Scott Tennerman Must Die" and it was one of the most brilliant things I'd ever seen.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I think this season of South Park is pretty strong for a change. I'm actually laughing while watching this time around.

Chris said...

I'll second the World of Warcraft parody ep. Pure genius. "How do you kill that which has no life?!"

MC said...

Megan/Chris: I know there is a lot of support for the WoW episode in the community, but honestly, it just doesn't fully float my boat.

Thom: You will notice that I didn't choose any of the really early episodes for my list. It took time to hit its stride.

Dr. MvM: I was literally shocked by the Britney Spears one... that hasn't happened in a long time.

Lee said...

I'm always quite partial to the planetarium episode because it is based around a Star Trek episode (right down to the music).

I haven't watched South Park for such a long time now though, used to watch it all the time but drifted away, much like I did with Simpsons for a while there. Of course with Simpsons they show new episodes here in Australia rarely and never regularly.

Becca said...

Cool post! I love that Imaginationland's just great fun to watch and name all the imaginary characters!

MC said...

Lee: I've had that experience with certain American series up here in Canada.

Becca: There is that and the whole Kurt Russell thing.

Tuffy said...

I've been thinking about this list since it went up and there are 6 eps that absolutely must go in my top ten:

-girls' future-telling device
-cartman in the year 2050
-losing edge, definitely



Oh crap. Anyway, great list!

MC said...

Go God Go(the Buck Rogers episodes) almost made the list.

WillyWonka said...

I know this is a really hard list to make, but here are the changes I would make.

Casa Bonita was better then Awesome-O in terms of the Butters/Cartman combination, Woodland Christmas Critters was a better Christmas episode then Red Sleigh Down but still shouldn't crack the top 10, and Good Times With Weapons, Scott Tenorman Must Die, and Christian Rock Hard should replace Raisens, Starvin Marvin, and Quest for Ratings. Also, I would have placed Passion of the Jew ahead of Towelie. The Losing Edge would be in my top 10, but wouldn't be #1.

Here's my list:
10.) Lil Crime Stoppers
9.) Passion of the Jew
8.) Make Love, Not Warcraft
7.) Good Times With Weapons
6.) A Ladder To Heaven
5.) The Return of the Fellowship of the Ring to the Two Towers
4.) The Losing Edge
3.) Scott Tenerman Must Die
2.) Casa Bonita
1.) Christian Rock Hard

MC said...

I can respect most of those picks and your reasons for choosing them except one. Ladder to Heaven seems like the odd one out because it is one of my least favorite episodes.