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Every South Park Season Ranked Worst To Best

Created by the comedy duo Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the long running adult comedy series "South Park" has become a pop culture icon over its 20-plus year run. The series is centered around four young boys in the fictional town of South Park Colorado and the various misadventures they find themselves in. The largely episodic nature of the show allows it to both make poignant statements on a variety of topics, all while incorporating excessively crass grade school humor. The irreverent cast of characters help round out the series, with most being extreme parodies of the many different types of people in life.

Although "South Park" has stayed popular for the majority of its distribution on television, it's not without a few hiccups over its long time on the air, as well as more than a few gems. Below we'll be ranking Season 1 through 24 of the animated comedy series from worst to best (via Rotten Tomatoes).

24. Season 21

While it departed from the much derided serialized nature of previous seasons, many of the problems audiences expressed with Season 20 are echoed here. A review discussing some of the flaws with Season 20 stated that: "Our real world out-South Parked 'South Park.' The show used to be the kind of show that shocked its audience; now, it feels like we're the ones who are doing the shocking," said Esquire's Matt Miller. Season 21 is less forgivable than its predecessor for hearing fan complaints and changing little. 

Even though "South Park" has always embraced tackling hot-button issues over the years, many felt the 21st season retread a number of the same jokes as the season before it, and continued to stray from the core elements of the comedy series in a way that muddled what "South Park" has always stood for. It started to be unable to keep up with the politically charged nature of the world at the time, adopting a tone that just didn't work for "South Park."

There were a few solid picks in this season, with its second episode "Put It Down" commenting on the anxiety from the nonstop stream of terrible news we've grown accustomed to. Despite that, the jokes that landed are few and far between in this season, leaving it at the bottom of our list.

23. Season 24

Tackling the ongoing issues in the world as bluntly as ever, "South Park's" 24th season continued the recent trend of opting for an overarching story as opposed to the traditional standalone episodes. Despite somewhat positive reception to the unique and memorable time-travel plot, Kayla Cobb of Decider said that "it seems as though Parker and Stone have found a place where they can play and experiment while still giving fans exactly what they want." Here, many of "South Park's" main characters find themselves in the future, and the season's scant four-episode run made it the shortest in "South Park" history. 

What results is an effective but brief story, leaving fans with much to be desired and leaving Season 24 a bit one-note, finding itself hard to stand up against other more robust seasons.

22. Season 20

Season 20 was arguably one of the most divisive seasons in "South Park" history, which is saying something considering the show's entire foundation being built upon its offensive humor and the animated comedy's long history of being met with derision. The parody of the 2016 election cycle didn't sit well with some viewers, as stated in Esquire by reviewer Matt Miller: "It was a season of half-thoughts and glimmers of brilliance that never amounted to anything. And because they were trying to keep up with the rapid changes in the election, the jokes and analysis suffered." 

Furthermore, the departure from "South Park's" episodic nature in favor of almost solely focusing on one season-long story was an unwelcome change for many, resulting in this season being one of the lowest rated to date.

21. Season 22

The 22nd season of "South Park" stumbles quite a bit when it comes to the overall quality of its humor. While it doesn't have any episodes that are downright terrible, it lacks any that can really be considered above average. Despite being a disappointing entry overall, this season did convey some poignant messages on the current state of the world. This was notable in episodes like "Unfulfilled" and "Bike Parade," which commented on the working conditions at Amazon. Unfortunately, it typically did so in an ineffective way that felt bogged down by the message it was trying to convey, and didn't coincide with a humorous twist as effectively as previous seasons. 

While looking back on older seasons and comparing them in relation to modern "South Park," Vox's Emily St. James said, "And yet 'South Park' is still trapped, to some degree, by having launched in 1997 ... it was a lot easier to let the show have its fun back then, without worrying about its cultural impact."

20. Season 23

Although Season 23 was inconsistent in quality, some of its better episodes helped it shine when compared to the more recent seasons of "South Park." The loosely connected plot throughout the first half of the season was handled well enough, with critiques of both the Chinese government's censorship practices in "Band in China" and the United States' own immigration policies in "Mexican Joker." Audiences had set understandably set their expectations pretty low by this point, and were pleasantly surprised by some of this season's offerings. 

"It would likely surprise no one to learn that 'South Park's' Season 23 premiere featured three things: an ICE story line, a jab at the impending vape ban, and a new mythological villain called the 'Mexican Joker.' It might surprise some, however, to find out that it actually ... kind of worked?" said Laura Bradley, Vanity Fair. Although the season is far from achieving the same comedic level that "South Park" has managed to pulled off in the past, it was definitely a step in the right direction after several underwhelming years.

19. Season 15

While there's nothing overtly wrong with Season 15, it was largely unfocused and lacked much of the comedic weight that many of the show's previous seasons pulled off. The season got off to an average start, with several jokes across its 14 episodes not landing very well. Despite its flaws, there are a few notable exceptions to the overall lackluster quality, with season standout "You're Getting Old" parodying the "Matrix" series across two episodes. After coming down with a severe case of depression amidst his parents divorce, Stan is told he's living in a simulation and finds himself going on an adventure directly parodying the 1999 sci-fi action film. 

After scene after scene of nonstop bloodshed, the two-part storyline ultimately comes to a conclusion with Stan turning to alcoholism to cope with the bleak nature of life.

18. Season 18

Season 18 marks "South Park's" first attempt into telling more serialized stories as opposed to the typical slice-of-life adventures with a few two- and three-part episodes mixed in. While the concept was promising, Season 18 stumbles a bit with the idea, delivering a number of episodes that fall flat with audiences. In a review referencing this new phenomenon for "South Park" Max Nicholson, IGN, said, "Then there was the two-part season finale, which attempted to bring all the other storylines together ... but ultimately this kind of went off the rails. Actually, the best parts of these episodes were the stuff completely unrelated to previous storylines."

Although the majority of this season's offerings don't merit repeated viewings, the seventh episode "Grounded Vindaloop" is a diamond among the rough. After Eric Cartman convinces Butters he's living in a simulation, Butters goes on a destructive rampage with disastrous consequences. As the episode progresses however, it's gradually revealed to audiences that neither he nor Cartman have any idea who's in reality and who isn't. After he's had his fun, Cartman receives a phone call telling him that he, in fact, is the one hooked up to a VR headset, and he reacts by spending the whole time comically doubling down on elaborate lies to poor Butters — leaving the rest of the gang as the only hope to save both of them.

17. Season 1

In hindsight, the debut season of "South Park" was flawed to say the least. The season never quite managed to find its footing with its characters, and the lackluster animation pales in comparison to what the show would be able to pull off in seasons to come. Despite its imperfections, however, it laid the foundation for some of the most memorable episodes down the line, and proved popular enough with audiences to kick off the nearly 25-year cultural phenomenon we know today. James Endrst, in a 1997 Hartford Courant review, said the breakout series is: "Outrageously entertaining, devilishly original, and singularly warped."

The grim premises of the episodes "Death" and "Pinkeye" serve as season standouts, with an arc revolving around Eric Cartman's dubious paternity that would continue in Season 2. "Pinkeye" was the first season's highest rated episode.

16. Season 2

Coming off of the success of Season 1 and returning to television just a little over a month after Season 1's conclusion, "South Park's" second season would become the longest to date with 18 episodes. While it feels reminiscent of the previous adventures in the small Colorado town, Season 2 manages to further expand upon the characters and add to their respective personalities.

Some of the best episodes in Season 2 include "Gnomes," which we can thank for introducing the caffeine-addicted character of Tweek, alongside a gang of the titular creatures that descended on the town of "South Park," to steal Tweek's underwear. Another great pick in this season is its 15th episode "Spookyfish," which follows Eric Cartman's murderous pet goldfish. Travis Fickett, IGN, further delved into its comical plot and said, "This episode is also an early example of one of 'South Park's' outlandish epic stories, involving parallel universes, Indian burial grounds, evil (and good) doubles and a murderous pet massacre. It all ends with a classic 'Who is the good one?' scene when the Cartmans face off. It's fun, funny, and clever and an early example of 'South Park' greatness." 

15. Season 16

Much like the season that came before it, Season 16 delivers on the satirical and irreverent tone "South Park" is known for, however the quality of episodes this time around can vary wildly for better or worse. While the majority are reminiscent of Season 15's fairly generic quality, a few in particular help elevate Season 16 above its predecessor.

Season 16 would be the last to contain more than 10 episodes, and while some of them bring little in the way of new and humorous ideas, two Cartman-centric episodes titled "Cartman Finds Love" and "Raising the Bar" give the season a couple picks that bring it to its middle of the road status. His infamously tactless personality is fully built on in these two, with the former "Cartman Finds Love" showing how comically-far he'll go to bring about his archaic perspective of the world, and the latter showcasing his complete disregard for the needs of others. While both episodes deal with some fairly sensitive topics, "South Park" lays them bare in a way that underscores their importance through its own blunt manner.

14. Season 19

After the previous season's experimentation with serialization, "South Park's" 19th season manages to pull off the concept with the best results, presenting its ideas in a fresh way that kept viewers engaged. A review published by IGN substantiates this perspective — Max Nicholson, IGN, said: "As far as continuity is concerned, 'South Park': Season 19 was a definite improvement over last season." Lampooning both sides of the political spectrum and a rapidly developing cultural war at the time, Season 19 retained many of the core elements that make the series so beloved.

While there's no bad episode in Season 19, its eighth episode, "Sponsored Content" is the best overall. The conflict between the school principal and Jimmy over the censorship of the school newspaper runs alongside this episode's ridicule of the fusion between real news and rampant advertising. IGN's Nicholson said it "definitely ramped up the intrigue and made the interesting decision to put Jimmy at the forefront. Parts of this episode were really strong, like Jimmy fighting PC Principal with his school newspaper."

13. Season 17

If it wasn't for Season 17's satirical combination of rampant consumerism and fantasy media, it would be ranked considerably lower on our list. The first half of "South Park's" 17th season was nothing special, consisting of primarily unremarkable stories with the occasional comedic moment.

The three part "Game of Thrones" parody, however, helps to elevate Season 17 from a lackluster entry into a solid choice, even if it is just for those three episodes. "Cleverly fusing elements of the Next-Gen Console War with HBO's 'Game of Thrones,' 'Black Friday' was easily one of the best 'South Park' episodes we've seen in Season 17," said Max Nicholson, IGN. The rivalry between the children of "South Park" over the launch of a new gaming console coincides with a huge Black Friday sale, with the three-part epic concluding in a crescendo of comically over-the-top violence.

12. Season 12

Halfway through our list, we're getting to the seasons that have the most classic and iconic moments in all of "South Park." While there is an occasional weak episode here and there, the majority of the seasons going forward managed to maintain a consistent level of quality comedy from start to finish.

Long before the "South Park" pandemic special, an invasion of giant guinea pigs descended on the Colorado town in the two-part series "Pandemic" and "Pandemic 2" in Season 12. The madness didn't stop there though, as the events of "Super Fun Time" are as brutally violent as they are hilarious. When a school field trip to a nearby frontier park goes horribly awry after a group of criminals hold the patrons hostage, bloodshed ensues after a number of the park's actors refuse to break character under any circumstance. Meanwhile, Cartman and Butters cheat death by sneaking off to a nearby arcade, with Butters refusing to break the buddy system rule and stop holding Cartman's hand the entire time they're together. 

11. Season 14

"South Park's" 14th Season was another quality entry into the series' lengthy catalog. While it had a few misses, the season continued to build upon its history of mocking cultural trends and events, all while mixed with its signature sardonic style.

As you can tell by now, criticism of "South Park's" unrelentingly offensive stories are often hurled at series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. While typically resulting in minimal fallout for the animated comedy, episodes like "200" and "201" prove that the content on screen can go a little too far at times. Building off the plot surrounding their controversial Season 9 episode "Trapped in the Closet," Tom Cruise once again returns to South Park Colorado to rally support against the town, in some of just a few episodes that would ultimately receive widespread censorship.

10. Season 13

While none of the truly classic episodes aired this time around, "South Park's" Season 13 was defined by its consistent quality throughout almost every installment. With Butters becoming a pimp, Stan leading a murderous battle against illegal whaling, and Cartman becoming captain of a band of Somalian pirates, the season was packed with hilarious and violent antics. As a testament to the quality of the season, the third episode "Margaritaville" managed to win an Emmy award for Outstanding Animated Program for programming less than one hour. 

The episode surrounds the people of "South Park" worshipping the economy during a time of hardship in a hilarious and poignant commentary on the 2008 economic recession. Travis Fickett, IGN, summed up the entire experience: "If there's any single moment out there that better captures how this entire economic situation feels — I haven't seen it." 

9. Season 3

The last season to air episodes in the '90s, "South Park" managed to truly find its footing by the third season. While not quite as great as some of the comedic genius that would soon come after, the well-established characters and backdrop set the stage for years to follow.

Production quality had greatly improved by season three which — combined with better developed plotlines — helped the series bear a much closer resemblance to what we know today. Episodes like "Rainforest Shmainforest" and the Pokemon parody "Chinpokomon" help the season stand out against the ones that came before it. Up until this point, "South Park" was mostly focused on telling stories contained in its own fictional world, with little-to-no references to the real world. These episodes would begin to incorporate some satirization of the culture and lifestyles outside of the town, letting it bleed into the narrative of the series and ultimately beginning the transformation into what the show is celebrated for today.

8. Season 11

Beginning with arguably one of the most controversial episodes in "South Park's" history, Season 11 continued the trend set in previous years of incorporating highly polarizing takes on modern issues. "Le Petit Tourette" and "Cartman Sucks" build upon Cartman's twisted sense of humor, with both schemes horribly backfiring on him.

Additionally, the three-part episode "Imaginationland" is considered to be one of the strongest in "South Park" history. After the boys find a leprechaun in the woods, they discover the fantastical realm of Imaginationland. Despite its innocent appearance, a terrorist attack is unleashed upon the land, kicking off a war between the United States and the fictional creatures of Imaginationland in one of "South Park's" all time most ridiculous stories to date.

7. Season 10

No stranger to controversy for its satirization of every conviction under the sun, "South Park's" 10th season would become another of its most contentious to date. Frequent religious parodies are interspersed with the standard slice-of-life fare that audiences are used to, managing to be just as comical as they are offensive.

The controversial nature of this season is intertwined with its predecessor, with the Season 9 episode "Trapped in the Closet" taking a jab at Scientology in as blunt a fashion as ever. Voice actor Isaac Hayes II, who had played the character of the elementary school's chef of the same name, publicly departed from the team behind "South Park" following its airing. Despite the hot water, writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone didn't balk at the criticism, airing the two-part episode "Cartoon Wars" just several months later, tackling the issues of censorship and freedom of speech in a matter-of-fact and hilarious way.

6. Season 9

Full of dead whales and Cartman hijinks, Season 9 was among some of the best that the creators of "South Park" had to offer. Bar a handful of average episodes, the majority this time around became instant classics. The previously mentioned critique of Scientology would become one of the season's most memorable and well received episodes. However, it's outdone by "The Death of Eric Cartman." After he believes that he's died and is stuck in limbo, Cartman proceeds to manipulate Butters to try to earn his way into heaven. 

The episode isn't alone in being one of the funniest though, with "Ginger Kids" and "Die, Hippie Die" being considered some of "South Park's" most memorable. The former's hilarious portrayal of how quick Cartman is willing to turn back on his own supposedly-important convictions would add a layer to his character that only made him more reprehensible, while the latter would lay the groundwork for his propensity for cartoonish mass murder. 

5. Season 4

Season 4 kicked off what could be described as a golden age of "South Park," which would last some five seasons. Spanning from Seasons 4 through 8 and across nearly half a decade, this period is marked by many of the moments from "South Park" that have become iconic in pop culture some 20 years on.

Episodes like "Timmy 2000" helped broaden the range of characters in the series, which previously had been dominated by the relationship between the four boys and their family. The introduction of new characters like Timmy Burch would pave the way for future episodes such as Season 7's "Krazy Kripples," giving the show room to breathe and broaden the range of the satirical Colorado town. Further episodes like "Probably" dabbled in the heavy satirical elements that would define the show in the future. While Season 4 was one of the best audiences had seen at the time it aired, the truly great episodes were yet to come in the years that would follow. 

4. Season 7

While his heinous personality is one of the driving forces behind the entire series, some of Cartman's most hilariously-evil schemes can be found in Season 7 of "South Park." From his attempted murder of Stan in "Toilet Paper," to locking Butters in a bomb shelter so he could go to dinner in "Casa Bonita," this era went the extra mile in portraying Cartman's character as the comical sadist that he is. Season 7 also let some of the more heavy real-world themes take a backseat in favor of some truly ridiculous stories. Feuding Christian rock bands, extraterrestrial annihilation, and an invasion of the elderly round out Season 7's distinctly lighthearted yet still brutally crass episodes.

3. Season 5

"South Park's" 5th season took the politically-charged nature of the world at the time and ran with it, tackling many of the most extreme topics in its own unapologetic way. Featuring many of the top-rated episodes of the entire series, Season 5 managed to fill its moderate 14-episode run without a single miss.

Some of the absolute best from Season 5 include the profanity-laden, "It Hits the Fan" as well as "Butters' Very Own Episode" highlighting the huge disparity between his childhood innocence and the truly dark adult world of "South Park." The true gem of the season, however, is the instant classic: "Scott Tenorman Must Die," which would go down as one of "South Park's" darkest storylines, and is also currently standing as the highest rated episode of the entire series (via IMDb).

2. Season 6

From parodying the Maury Povich show to the Iraq War, "South Park's" 6th season had a lot to say, even if it went about it in the most comically over-the-top way. While the long-running gag of killing off Kenny Mccormick is nothing new for "South Park," letting him stay dead was a notable departure for the entirety of Season 6. What follows is the memorable episode "A Ladder to Heaven" in which the boys try to climb to Heaven to retrieve a winning ticket to a shopping spree at their local candy store that Kenny had on him when he died. Kenny's absence from the season also allowed other characters room to be developed as well, such as Butter's alter ego "Professor Chaos" being introduced this season in an episode of the same name.

1. Season 8

And at last, here we are. With an incredibly strong 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it can't be disputed that Season 8 was the peak of "South Park." Absolutely packed with classic episodes, Season 8 embodies the essence of what makes the show so great. The consistent quality condenses some of the all-time best gags and plotlines in "South Park" into one unmatched season. While each and every installment is a cut above, there are a few in particular that have become legendary within the series.

Some of the best of the best include the gang maiming Butters with a shuriken weapon in the anime-styled "Good Times with Weapons," and Cartman tricking Butters into revealing his deepest and most embarrassing secrets to him in "AWESOM-O." Another standout that managed to become quite possibly "South Park's" most unexpectedly irreverent episode to date, an assortment of cute woodland creatures take advantage of Stan's trust, ultimately manipulating him into helping them birth the antichrist in "Woodland Critter Christmas." Peter Schorn, IGN, even went so far as to humorously say: "'Woodland Critter Christmas' is as likely as anything to guarantee Trey and Matt an express ticket to Hell."

All in all, while some of "South Park's" more recent ventures into adult comedy haven't been able to match the greatest moments of yesterday, it's worth respecting how many laughs the series has given us over the years. Series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have proven they're more than capable of providing some of the best adult programming of the 21st century — it's exciting to see where the series will go from here some 25 years on from its humble beginnings.