After years of streaming exclusively on Hulu, the manic and controversy-embracing world of South Park has made its big lucrative jump over to HBO Max, the exclusive home for all 23 seasons for the foreseeable future. However, hosting every season does not necessarily mean that every single episode from the show's long and inspirational history is available on the WarnerMedia streaming site. In fact, five of the 307 episodes produced aren't around for audiences to watch online, and it's all for religious reasons.
The five South Park episodes that weren't part of HBO Max's streaming deal all feature depictions of the Islam prophet Muhammad (even if some depictions were already edited upon the initial airing). As many readers are likely aware, followers of the Islamic faith prohibit visual iterations of Muhammad and other prophets, including drawings, cartoons, statues, etc. And I'm sure many are also aware that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have had little issue with taking aim at various religions over the show's 23-season run so far, with Jesus Christ himself being part of the show since the beginning.
To clarify, HBO Max's execs weren't responsible for deciding to excise South Park episodes before it went live on the streaming service. Rather, that decision was already a reality before the HBO Max deal went into effect, with Comedy Central and parent company ViacomCBS having previously limited each of the episodes' availability in one way or another. While some fans may have hoped the eps would make their way back into the full lineup, that may very well never happen.
Below, you can check out which five South Park episodes won't be found on HBO Max (or any other standalone streaming services), as well as what those episodes entailed, and when they first became seen as controversial.
Super Best Friends (Season 5)
As the third episode in South Park's fifth season, "Super Best Friends" took shots at the Church of Scientology by bringing in magician David Blaine as a cult leader aiming to gather recruits for a suicide pact. To combat that, Stan teamed up with Jesus and recruited the titular squad of religious leaders, which included Buddha, Krishna, Joseph Smith, and more, including Muhammad, who rocked the power of flame.
At the time the episode aired back in 2001 (pre 9/11), not a whole lot of negative attention went public. However, the episode eventually got pulled from syndicaiton and Comedy Central's website in 2010 after a writer opined that Trey Parker and Matt Stone would end up meeting the same fate as Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered in 2004 for a short film that spoke out against violence to women in parts of Islamic culture. To date, it still hasn't returned to TV or streaming.
Cartoon Wars Part I & II (Season 10)
Five years after "Super Best Friends," South Park decided to self-awarely take aim at censorship culture itself with the two-part "Cartoon Wars" saga. In the episodes, South Park's population is up in arms over Family Guy planning to introduce Muhammad as a new character. Cartman, who isn't a fan of Family Guy, attempted to get Fox to pull the episode, fearing violent backlashes.
In perhaps its first major sign of censorship worries, Comedy Central semi-balked at the episode's contents in the wake of global concerns about the Jyllands-Posten cartoon controversy in 2005 that led to real-world violence in some areas. When they did air, Trey Parker and Matt Stone actually took shots at the network's imposed content editing by removing a faux Family Guy cutaway gag with Muhammad and Peter Griffin, replacing it with a black screen and title card that explained Comedy Central's refusal to depict Muhammad. Presumably because of the actual censoring therein, the episodes are still available to watch on the network's website, though not on HBO Max.
200 & 201 (Season 14)
Always quick to incorporate real-world issues and scandals into its fictional universe, South Park reflected on its own controversies in Season 14 with the connected episodes "200" and "201," which brought back a bunch of celebrities that show had mocked by that point. (Including Kanye West, Steven Spielberg, and Mel Gibson.) Tom Cruise, in particular, got fed up with all the negative attention going his way and formed a plan to file a lawsuit against the town. The only thing that would get him to stop? If they town would literally get the actual prophet Muhammad to come around and meet him. Sure enough, the Super Best Friends got called in "201," and in-fighting ensued.
Ahead of "201" airing, Comedy Central made the decision to alter the episode by covering up Muhammad's appearance with a black "Censored" box and bleeping out his name. Those moves drew much criticism from both the show's creators and from audience, and the double-ep actually earned all involved a Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Animated Program in 2010. Despite the praise and accolades, however, Comedy Central pulled repeats from airing in syndication and didn't allow the episode to hit its website for streaming. (It was this episode that led to "Super Best Friends" getting pulled.) An uncensored version of the episode did leak online in 2014, though the censored version that aired on TV was released on the Season 14 DVD set.
HBO Max dropped somewhere around $500 million to be the exclusive streaming home for the show, and the absence of five episodes hardly makes that deal feel like a waste, considering how hard it is to stop watching South Park after putting an episode on. If nothing else , the episodes' continued absence from the digital world speaks to the ever-lasting power of physical media like DVDs and Blu-rays.
But if you don't happen to have 40+ discs available at the ready, 302 of South Park's 307 episodes are currently available to stream on HBO Max (along with more excellent animated programming). Check out everything else you can catch on TV in the near future with our 2020 Summer TV schedule.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.