South Park take pride in being offensive, confrontational, and going to dark places. Of course, it’s better than most adult animated shows, because South Park is, first and foremost, a satire of popular life and culture. But even among the content itselfsome episodes stand out by a darker tone over others.
They deal with extreme character choices, take a more serious stance on certain subjects, and discuss topics that are more challenging for mainstream audiences. Of course, in large part due to the classic sardonic sense of humor that South Park is known for. But sometimes, even South Park goes to darker places than expected.
10 “The Chef Returns” – Season 10, Episode 1 (2006)
After Isaac Hayes leaving the show, Chef’s character had to retire, and that would be as tragic as retirement if there ever was one. Chef returns to South Park after spending time traveling with the Super Adventure Club. The boys discover that Chef has changed dramatically, speaking strangely and expressing bad wishes for them.
They go to the Super Adventure Club, only to reveal that they have brainwashed him into following their evil practices. As they try to save him, Chef ends up being struck by lightning, burned, scratched by rocks, and mauled by a mountain lion. This is a sad and terrible ending for such a beloved character to appear.
9 “Woodland Critter Christmas” – Season 8, Episode 14 (2004)
Of all the Christmas specials South Park has produced over the years, this one is easily the darkest and best. A few days before Christmas, Stan finds a group of talking forest creatures making trees. They were happy that Porcupiney the Porcupine would give birth to their savior. But what starts as wholesome fun soon descends into hell – especially since the creature is actually a Satanist.
They discover Kyle is the perfect vessel to swallow the Anti-Christ’s spirit and usher in a new age of darkness. Now Stan must stop them with the help of a group of orphans and a gun-toting Santa. Not a conventional Christmas by any means.
8 “Britney’s New Look” – Season 12, Episode 2 (2008)
Britney’s New Look is a rare episode revolving around celebrities seemingly pitying them rather than mocking them. A new work about Britney Spears seems to be on the air on South Park every day, and Stan & Kyle decide to get their pictures to sell for money.
But the more time they spend with him, the more they realize that he desperately wants to escape the press. As the episode progresses, Britney is pushed to her limits, actually blows half of her head off, and ends up being photographed to death by paparazzi as part of an ancient sacrifice.
7 “Episode Butter’s Very Own” – Season 5, Episode 14 (2001)
Butters’ parents had shown themselves to be terrible people before, but… Episodes Alone Butters bringing them to a new low. Upon learning of her husband’s infidelity, Butter’s mother tries to drown him in the car in the river in a hysteria of grief.
Once he calmed down and realized what he had done, the two lied to the press and claimed their son had been kidnapped. Little did they know that Butters had survived and was barely aware of his parents’ bad behavior. Butters seems to have a knack for falling into traumatic situations that shatter his innocence.
6 “Kenny Dies” – Season 5, Episode 13 (2001)
Up until this point in the series, Kenny would die in nearly every episode and return the following week with no explanation. But in Kenny Diedhe is confronted with a terminal illness and is played primarily in person.
The other boys have a different reaction – Kyle stays at the hospital to be by Kenny’s side, Stan refuses to see him out of grief, and Cartman decides to use him to lift the ban on stem cell research. Thankfully, Kenny returned a year later and has lived ever since.
5 “Stanley’s Cup” – Season 10, Episode 14 (2006)
After Stan’s bike is pulled, he has to coach a hockey team for the little ones. One of the children, Nelson, suffered from a terminal illness, and only a win against the Detroit Red Wings was enough to save his life. Unfortunately, the team is not properly trained to play in the big leagues.
Of course, the audience expected such a sports story Stanley Cup to end with the team winning and illness being beaten or reduced. But instead, it ends on a very violent note that may elevate one team but deeply destroys another.
4 “Cartman Joins NAMBLA” – Season 4, Episode 5 (2000)
In a characteristic display of narcissism, Cartman decides that his regular friends are no longer “mature” for him. So he decides to find some adult friends on the internet, only to end up running afoul of a group called NAMBLA. The group invites them to hang out at a hotel, but it seems the members don’t really have their best interests in mind.
Meanwhile, Kenny learns that his mother and father are trying to have another baby, and he tries everything he can to ensure that one is not conceived. The two plots collide in an entangling cavalcade Marlon Brando similar, a Scooby-Doo-esque chase through the hotel, and Kenny’s dad needs a hot shower.
3 “Crack Baby Athletic Association” – Season 15, Episode 5 (2011)
In Cartman’s usually evil scheme, he, Butters, Craig, and Clyde have decided to form Crack Baby Athletic Association. At this new company, they film drug-addicted babies fighting each other and post their videos online. Soon they became very popular, because they received an offer from EA Sports to make video games out of them.
Although horrified by Cartman’s actions, Kyle finds himself directly participating in the scheme. Unfortunately, the happy ending the boys receive still doesn’t completely remove the shock that they’ve used the baby’s drug addiction for profit.
2 “HumancentiPad” – Season 15, Episode 1 (2011)
When it comes to traumatic events faced by boys, Kyle is only second to Kenny in terms of exposure. But no episode has Kyle in a worse predicament than the previous one HumancentiPad. One day, he downloaded his latest iTunes update but made a near-fatal mistake when he didn’t read the terms and conditions.
Very Steve Jobs and his Apple agent caught him, he was forced into a terrible punishment Centipede Man. In the end, the only happy note that ends this episode is when Cartman is struck by lightning after angering God.
1 “Scott Tenorman Must Die” – Season 5, Episode 4 (2001)
Scott Tenorman Must Die marked a turning point in Cartman’s character from racist bully to borderline psychotic supervillain disguised as a child. In this episode, he finds himself the target of pranking and bullying by teenage punk Scott Tenorman. No matter what Cartman tries to get revenge on, Scott always seems to be one step ahead.
In perhaps Cartman’s most nefarious act to date, he decides to take a page from him Titus Andronicus‘ book. Cartman killed Scott’s parents, made them into chili peppers, and gave them to a terrified Scott for a final act of revenge.
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