For over twenty years, television screens around the world have been filled with the kind of profanity and vulgar attitudes that only South Park could have. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the show follows the lives of four friends in South Park, Colorado. Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny are just the main four members of a truly massive cast of colorful characters, and the show’s “take no prisoners” approach to comedy has made it consistently relevant and creative for two decades. But the hilarity is used as a mask of a much sadder show than the silly animation would have viewers think, and the show is willing to go places that even hard-hitting dramas would never even consider.
Some moments from the show have been completely horrifying or heartbreaking. Some characters have motivations that make them pitiable, and backstories that make it hard to laugh at their verbal tics. Even the behind the scenes work of the show has been full of controversies, with actors leaving the show over the content and the creators growing to dislike entire parts of the series. South Park is frequently the funniest thing on TV, but it’s also one of the darkest, most depressing half hours to ever hit the small screen. And the craziest thing is that the show is usually able to hide it well behind the veneer of gross out humor and political bashing. Here are 22 of the darkest moments from South Park that you never realized were there.
22. The Four “Friends” Hate Each Other
In every friendship, there’s a certain level of gentle ribbing and mockery, of course. We all have fun with our friends, and their flaws. And then you have the main four “friends” of South Park, who seem to straight-up hate each other. And it is more than just the eternal animosity between Kyle and Cartman, as everyone gets mad at one another on this show. Stan and Kyle, who are nominally best friends, have rift-inducing arguments all the time over the course of the show. And while Stan and Kyle love Kenny, Kenny’s feelings towards Cartman aren’t even the same level of hatred as the others. Instead, he almost pities Cartman, and even once bequeathed him his PSP after his passing just because Cartman had nothing else going on in his life. The show isn’t really about four friends. It’s about four enemies who continue to hang out for some reason.
21. They Ruin The Lives Of Everyone They Meet
And it’s not just their own lives they find ways to ruin, but the lives of others. All of main kid’s attempts to stay on top of the world and ahead of their peers usually gets people, companies, even entire countries obliterated in the process. And it’s not out of malice or forethought that disaster follows them. It is just an unintended consequence of their plans. They put multiple people’s lives at risk while trying to save a whale from Seaworld, and even end up harming the whale along the way. Their antics have gotten various celebrities taken out in front of them. And Kyle, supposedly the member of the group with the biggest conscience, ended up getting Canada attacked with a nuke in the process of getting Terrance & Phillip pulled from television. These four are basically accidental super villains, except Cartman, who is a real super villain.
20. Stan Has Substance Issues
Stan Marsh is probably the closest thing the show has to a consistent protagonist. Many of the plots center around him, with him either alone or leading the others into a mission to fight something topical. And dealing with all those absurdities has already got him drinking first thing in the morning. During one episode, Stan turns 10 and becomes increasingly cynical of the world. Everything from music to movies to even his own friends begin to just sound like garbage… literally, because this is South Park, and that’s what South Park does. But he’s introduced to a Morpheus stand-in, who explains that he and others like him have figured how to essentially “enter the Matrix” of happiness by just getting totally out of it. By the end of the episode, after everything has mostly gotten back to normal, he’s still having a drink in the morning to get through the day. It’s an incredibly sad moment in an otherwise ridiculous show – especially given the later story lines about his family’s history of addiction.
19. Kyle Is One Bad Day Away From Becoming Cartman
Of all the characters in the show, Kyle is probably one of the most conflicting. His heart is usually in the right place, coming from the most morally observant perspective of the main cast. But in the process of trying to right some wrong or stop an injustice, Kyle will step over a lot of lines that push him a lot closer to his nemesis Cartman than he wants to admit. He’s preachy and convincing in the same way that Cartman is, usually manipulating the whole town through his moral authority to rile everyone up. And his choices usually backfire or get out of his control, leading him to just bail. His ability to flip flop so quickly screws everyone over more than once, and some of his moral missions are revealed to be self-serving and selfish (like his attempts to force Stan to vote for his candidate, or trying to lecture Butters on stealing after tricking Butters into thinking something was his to save his own skin). At his worst moments, he’s almost as bad as Cartman, something the show has explored in the past.
18. Cartman Is Responsible For The Demise Of His Own Father
A list of all of Cartman’s crimes would probably use up all of the words this article is allowed to post, so let’s just focus on what’s probably the single most horrifying thing a comedy character has ever done. In a season 5 episode, Cartman is repeatedly tricked by an older boy named Scott Tenorman and humiliated in his attempts to get back at him. Cartman stages a chilli carnival to apparently feed Scott disgusting chilli, so Scott tries to get three steps ahead of Cartman – playing right into his trap. Cartman reveals he actually managed to trick Scott into eating chilli that contained something so horrifying, we can’t describe it here. It’s treated in-universe as a truly shocking and horrifying moment, which somehow gets worse when it’s revealed that Scott is actually Cartman’s half-brother. They shared a father that neither ever knew. Forget everything on American Horror Story, as that’s the most over-the-top dark moment on television.
17. Kenny Lives An Unending Nightmare
Kenny has turned out to be a really heroic figure in the show. And it’s not just because he’s sacrificed himself countless times to save others and even the entire world (he’s literally done that multiple times). The show has explored how Kenny can be harmed so much and return back to life, and it’s horrifying. While it was initially just a running gag through the early seasons, as the show developed, it became a thing that Kenny not only knew about but had to come to terms with. He became increasingly caviler with his own life and just started trying for any high to pass the time. It’s a wonder he even can keep going at all after all the reveals, up to and including that he’s a spawn of Cthulhu. But he keeps trying to help and save the day, despite the seemingly endless slog that his unending life.
16. Butters Has The Worst Life Ever
Life sucks for Leopold “Butters” Scotch. One of the nicest characters in the show, Butters always has a good set of intentions behind his actions and choices. And it usually gets him screwed over. His own nativity is used by his friends whenever they need a scapegoat. He’s thought of more as a tool than a person by Cartman, who usually gets Butters hurt in the process of his own schemes. His own parents verbally and sometimes even physically abuse him, and he’s spent more time in the hospital than almost any other character. Things just never work out for the happiest little boy in the world, and he’s even commented on it in the past. His exterior happiness hides a core of anger and depression, and it’s always sad to see his attempts to help turn around on him and just make matters worse.
15. The World Wants To Break Wendy
There haven’t been many episodes where Wendy, Stan’s off and on love interest and the show’s answer to Lisa Simpson, has been portrayed as being completely in the wrong. She’s one of those rare characters in this show who seems to spend most of her time on the heroic side of the morality divide, but that doesn’t mean that she has won too many times. For all the occasions where she’s come out on top against Cartman, the world at large has pushed back against her and her attempts to help the world. Her biggest loss came during The Hobbit, when her attempts to help raise the self-esteem of another student started a chain of events that led the rest of the girls using Photoshop to adjust pictures of themselves and shunning Wendy for her attempting to force the truth out. The episode ends with Wendy, broken down by the world, relents and tearfully makes a Photoshopped picture of herself.
14. Tweak And Craig Are Actually Super Sad
Tweak and Craig have transformed into one of the more enduring pairs on television. But while their time together has created a surprisingly strong relationship, there’s no escaping the fact that they only really came together by the will of the rest of the world. In Tweak x Craig, a new influx of Asian students and their appreciation of yaoi (gay-themed fan art) convinces the rest of the school and town at large that Tweak and Craig are romantically linked. The thing is that the two aren’t, and don’t even care all that much for one another in the early stages of the episode. They’re forced to spend more and more time together on the reward of money, and almost reluctantly begin a relationship just to calm down everyone around them. While they’ve become best friends in the process, their relationship still started on incredibly shady territory.
13. Poor Heidi
Heidi was a minor character for most of the run of the show, and was treated just as one of the random girls in the class with the boys. But her role increased a lot over the course of the 20th season, where her attempts to get off social media puts her alongside Cartman, who was forced off social media by the other boys. The two find what seems like a genuine happiness, and start going out (to the shock of the rest of the school). Through this screen time, we find out Heidi is motivated, intelligent, and emphatic. But as Cartman grows more and more frustrated with her (but can’t let her go), he tricks and belittles her into acting more and more like him. When she tries to break it off, her friends mock her for ever considering Cartman, which bruises Heidi’s ego enough to go all in on Cartman and get back together with him. Heidi transforms into a mean-spirited and horrible person over the 21st season, culminating in a final epiphany that almost sees her seriously harming Cartman. She manages to break up with him, and hopefully will work towards becoming a better person. But her time with Cartman was a painfully powerful portrayal of a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship.
12. Everything About Stan’s Grandpa Is Depressing
Every single time we see Stan’s elderly Grandfather Marvin Marsh on screen, the show takes a turn for the heartbreaking. Marvin is on in his years, and his fading mind had been explored frequently over the course of the show. It’s used sometimes as a running character trait (like his constant confusion over Stan’s name) and sometimes utilized as a pure emotional gut punch. In season 16’s Cash for Gold, Marvin’s fading memory is given a tender stage, as he tells Stan about his beloved pet dog, and how in his old age he can’t even remember her face. His grandfather is actually one of Stan’s main motivating factors, and has gone through a lot of trouble just to help him out.
11. Randy Is The Most Depressing Character On TV
Randy has transformed into one of the premier characters of South Park, with entire emotional arcs and story lines centered around someone who originally started the show as one of the more stable adults in town. His younger dreams of glory never came to fruition, despite his surprising musical talent. And while he loves his family, he keeps falling into new passions with frequent regularity. In You’re Getting Old, it’s revealed that it’s partly from his boredom and sadness with his marriage, which briefly splits him and his wife Sharon apart. And on top of all that, his substance abuse has become more pronounced in recent years, even serving as a consistent undertone in Freemium isn’t Free as Stan and Marvin try to control their gaming addiction. Randy has gradually been spiralling out of control for over a decade, and it always feels like he’s on the verge of breaking completely.
10. Gerald Broflovski Is Way Worse Than Shelia
In the early years of the show, Shelia Broflovski (Kyle’s mother) was one of the more consistent sources of conflict for the boys. Her attempts to censor the world in the name of protecting Kyle and his adoptive brother Ike were so central to the early years of the show that she served as one of the primary villains. But in recent years, audiences have learned that her husband, Gerald, is an decidedly worse person than his wife. Besides his predatory tactics as a lawyer in town, he’s also revealed to be a massive online troll in the 20th season. He takes out his rage against the world online and on random people, and laughs while he does it. And while other trolls are given understandable motivations and hang ups that made them into trolls, Gerald mocks people to the point of self-harm for the kick of it. He’s a craven coward too, and even frames Ike for his actions at one point. He manages to end the season without being found out by his wife, and it’s one of the most frustrating purposeful choices the show has ever made.
9. Mr. Mackey Can’t Catch A Break
Mr. Mackey is supposed to be the counsellor for the boy’s elementary school, but more often than not he finds himself more distracted with all the ways the world has ruined his life over the years. Thanks to Stan and the cast of Inception, he uncovered some dark memories from his childhood that led to him becoming a hoarder. He’s been fired with little cause in the past, and is often bullied into doing whatever is needed of him. He’s had problems with addiction, and the first woman he ever really loved met a very sad and tragic end in the 7th season. He recently met a nice woman quite like him, but it’s only a matter of time before things wrong for her.
8. Mr. Hankey’s Broken Marriage
Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo is one of the most absolute bonkers aspect of a show that does nothing but crazy stuff. The character was introduced early in the series run, as a part of a parody of A Charlie Brown Christmas. And over the course of the show, he’s reappeared as a kind spirit of Christmas who can help the boys out whenever there’s a big problem going down. But for all of his charitable works, none of that good will comes back to his home life. He married his wife (who is also a talking piece of Christmas you-know-what) when he was still quite young, and they have three children. But their marriage has suffered in past years, and she’s fallen hard into substance abuse. It’s always treated as a somber experience whenever it comes up, especially when his children seem to know and sadly understand their disputes.
7. Towlie Has Some Serious Issues
Created in a lab to become the perfect towel, Towelie is one of the most ridiculous aspects of the series. And helping add to that image is the fact that Towelie is always consuming illegal substance – always. It’s a consistent bit of character, and it sometimes takes steps even further towards the insane when the towel ends up having an extra addiction to a serious substance. The character has attempted to go sober a number of times over the show, but always failing to stay clean in the end. And this is despite his young son, Washcloth. Yes, a towel had a son with a woman, and it was a Washcloth. This show is weird, so try to keep up. It’s that absurdity that underscores the depressing reality of the situations, like Towelie trying to call his son while out of it, or being forced to attend rehab.
6. The Fate Of Chef
Chef was probably the biggest and best influence on the main boys during the initial years of the show. He was a consistently kind and friendly figure within the community, and usually one of the best sources of morality in the entire show. But then, a real life controversy saw him effectively removed completely from the series. Chef was voiced by Isaac Hayes, who was also a Scientologist in his private life. When the show turned their gaze towards the religion in Trapped in the Closet during the 9th season of the show, Hayes expressed his displeasure with the riff on his church, and asked to be released from his contract for the following season. The South Park creators didn’t let his character leave gracefully either, giving him a dramatic end after being indoctrinated by the “Super Adventure Club” in the season 10 premiere. It’s a sad farewell to the character, and even worse to learn the true story behind such a bummer of an episode.
5. One Of The Best People In The World Is The Lord Of The Underworld
Satan, who otherwise lives and commands the legions of hell is actually a part of this show. Used frequently in the early seasons, he has grown into one of the more reasonable authority figures of the entire series. He’s been used as a villain because of obvious reasons, but the show has also gone to great lengths to flesh out his personality. The show posits a figure who frequently comes to the aid of the boys when they call upon him, granting wishes to Kenny or helping Stan come to terms with his addictive personality. His romantic troubles have been the focus of much of the show, and he’s grown into a fascinating character over the years, who doesn’t really seem like that bad of a guy compared to some of the other people in the series. And, again, that means that the lord of the Underworld is one of the nicest people in the show.
4. Morality Is Broken In This Universe
The usual laws of morality that drive society just don’t exist in the world of South Park. Young celebrities are treated like a sacrifice to the public. Heaven is populated with minimal numbers, while the underworld grows by the hour. Violence is treated as an everyday occurrence, and disaster can occur at any second. This is a world where Cthulhu exists, and is pretty quickly tricked into serving as the personal destroyer for a terrible little boy to act out atrocities. The universe that the town of South Park resides in is an endlessly bleak world, and anyone’s demise can be treated as minor inconveniences in the long run. It doesn’t speak well of the creator’s outlook on our current society, especially when the show hits a little too close to home.
3. Muhammad And Family Guy
South Park has always tiptoed the line of decency, and then blown it up with a rocket. But usually, the creators of the series have the confidence of their home network to trust in them and defend their creative choices – usually. To celebrate 200 episodes, the show brought back many of the celebrities and characters mocked on the show in the past all in a bid to capture the Muslim prophet, Muhammad. Muhammad had appeared in a joke from the 5th season. Years later, a terrorist attack was carried out against Danish newspapers after featuring the prophet in a satirical cartoon. South Park tried to comment on the issue in the 10th season (and their own issues with Family Guy, of all things), but Comedy Central backed down and censored the image of Muhammad. Trey and Matt have claimed it’s one of the angriest they’ve ever been with the network. So when the time came for the 200th episode, they tried again. They even had Stan, Santa, and Jesus all give a speech about conquering fears of retaliation and committing to freedom of speech, and more specifically, to mock anything. But again, Comedy Central backed down, and the entire speech was censored in the episode.
2. Trey And Matt Hate The First Few Seasons
Trey and Matt created South Park with a minimal budget and more than a bit of crazed luck in the early years. As the show grew into a bigger and bigger success, the creators started branching out the scope of how far they would go within the show and what they would talk about. But that doesn’t mean they can really look back on the early years with much joy. Both have been highly critical of the early seasons of the show, frequently leaving the first three seasons off any list they make of their favorite episodes. The only one that Matt Stone has even recognized as having real value to him was the first ever episode. And that’s all sentimental love from it being the first episode. They’ve been vocal about their intention to always grow as artists (who use really silly jokes to win Emmys), and don’t look back at some of the foundations of their show with anything more than hate.
1. The Characters Know There Is A Status Quo And Hate It
This is maybe the saddest aspect of the show, actually. Frequently throughout the show, the main four boys have done everything in their power to affect the world around them and change it for the better. While Cartman’s efforts would make a nightmare for everyone else and, luckily for everyone, usually fall apart, the other boys have tried to just change the status quo and gotten nothing. Stan’s attempts to grow up and become a better person, Kyle’s efforts to bring peace to the world and specifically to Jewish communities, Kenny’s pursuit of just finally being able to end it all and move on: all of these conflicts drive from their desire to change and find a new world for themselves. And they always fail. Randy is the ultimate personification of this, but he’s just the most obvious piece of the show’s overarching commentary on aging in an uncaring and unchanging world. No wonder they laugh at stupid stuff so much – any bit of happiness will help in this dreary world, and at least laughing isn’t crying.
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