In the last 25 years, there has arguably been no show on television that has gone to darker places than South Park. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a knack for poking at the most fragile and sensitive subjects in our society, and the result is that audiences’ jaws drop and our eyes widen as we howl laughter. With each new season part of what’s exciting is seeing how close the animated series can get to the famous “line.”
After 23 years, 307 episodes, two specials, and a movie, it’s a challenging task to pick out the darkest of the dark moments in the history of South Park, but that’s what we set out to do, and you can check out the results of our deep dive below. Will the scene or episode you’re thinking of right now make the list? Read on and find out!
8. Cartman Joins NAMBLA - "Cartman Joins NAMBLA" (Season 4, Episode 5)
I didn’t actually know that NAMBLA was a thing until the year 2000 and South Park aired “Cartman Joins NAMBLA” – and I think it’s possible I was just generally a happier person before that day. This is another instance of Eric being less evil mastermind and more innocent (albeit dickish) victim, but above all else it is unendingly shocking to watch the kid reach out on the internet looking for more mature friends, and become a would-be spokesperson for the horrible titular organization.
7. Cartman Buys/Retrieves Some Semen - "Simpsons Already Did It" (Season 6, Episode 7)
Being an awful and evil person, Eric Cartman is a character who the audience usually enjoys seeing victimized, but there are some instances where he is more prey than predator, and “Simpsons Already Did It” in Season 6 provides a great example. Cartman’s childish innocence leads him to feel betrayed when his magical Sea People turn out to be brine shrimp – and it takes him down a dark path involving semen. (We’re about to make a turn for the super gross here, so hang on). Not only does he reveal to his friends that his source for sperm to mutate the brine shrimp was a guy who “made [him] close [his] eyes and suck it out of a hose,” but he later finds himself inside the corpse of Ms. Choksondik while searching for evidence that could link them to her possible murder.
6. Cartman Becomes A Fetus Dealer - "Kenny Dies" (Season 5, Episode 13)
There are few subjects in American discourse that generate as much controversy as abortion, but it is one that South Park has had no issue directly discussing over the years. Few fans will ever forget the sight of Christopher Reeve sucking spinal fluid is Season 7’s “Krazy Kripples,” but two seasons before that Cartman came up with a crazy scheme after finding an overturned truck transporting fetuses for stem cell research. He wheels and deals as though he has a collection of hot speakers that fell off a truck – and the icing on the cake is that while Stan and Kyle think that his efforts must at least be in aim of ailing a dying Kenny, his only goal is to build his very own Shakey’s Pizza.
5. Butters’ Mom Tries To Kill Butters - "Butters' Very Own Episode" (Season 5, Episode 14)
As illustrated by this list, you really have to marvel at how far South Park is able to go and still get a laugh, and this is a perfect example. There is absolutely nothing funny about a woman, distraught after discovering her husband is visiting bathhouses, making a plan to kill her young son and then herself, and get “Butters’ Very Own Episode” pulls it off. Obviously one thing that helps in this particular case is Butters’ never ending optimism and obliviousness – unable to recognize that his mother is trying to drown him even after she straps him in a car and pushes said car into a lake.
4. Crack Baby Basketball - "Crack Baby Athletic Association" (Season 15, Episode 5)
On South Park, Kyle and Stan are essentially meant to be the coalition of reason among the protagonists. While Cartman and Kenny (when he’s around) freely exercise their ids, Kyle and Stan are meant to balance them out with their ego/super ego-heavy perspectives. That being said, it’s the fact that Kyle actually sides with Cartman in "Crack Baby Athletic Association" that makes it particularly nasty – on top of the subject matter being discussed here. The episode winds up being a vicious takedown of the NCAA system and its treatment of college students, but first and foremost it is pitch black dark because somebody in the writer’s room actually came up with the titular concept.
3. Cartman Attempts To Restart The Third Reich With Mel Gibson Fans - "The Passion Of The Jew" (Season 8, Episode 3)
Cartman’s casual anti-Semitism has been a fucked up part of the show since Season 1, but it reached a whole new level when the character watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ. Watching the horrifically violent movie, the little hate-filled monster gets the impression that the world is ready for the rise of a new Nazi party led by the filmmaker, and he goes as far as to organize a mixer at his house to teach hateful chants. Of course, the fact that nobody actually feels the same way that Cartman does is a silver lining to the whole situation, but the dark route that South Park’s resident instigator takes in “The Passion Of The Jew” is still one of the all-time worst things he’s attempted.
2. The Death Of Chef - "The Return Of Chef" (Season 10, Episode 1)
Prior to the tenth season of South Park, some seriously unfortunate drama unfolded. Isaac Hayes, who had voiced Chef from the very beginning of the show, made the decision to quit because of the episode "Trapped in the Closet" (which heavily criticizes Scientology – a group Hayes belongs to). This left Trey Parker and Matt Stone with a decision to make regarding how to say goodbye to Chef… and they went with the darkest possible route. “The Return Of Chef” has the titular character featured using repurposed episode footage from previous seasons, which was a controversial move by itself, but the specific moment for the purposes of this feature is the very end where the longtime cafeteria cook falls off a burning bridge, tumbles down a rocky cliff side, gets impaled on a tree, gets shot, and then gets torn apart by a mountain lion and a bear.
1. Scott Tenorman Eats His Parents - "Scott Tenorman Must Die" (Season 5, Episode 4)
I imagine that many of you saw the headline of this feature and clicked just to ensure that this moment was on the list and properly recognized for what it is: one of the darkest moments in all of television history. Cartman has obviously done some awful, awful things across multiple decades on South Park, but nothing will ever top the time that he orchestrated a plan that saw him murder the parents of his enemy by proxy, grind them up like meat, and then serve them to said enemy. It’s a kind of thing that no live-action show could ever get away with, and while it’s horrific all by itself, Trey Parker and Matt Stone pushed things even further in the episode “201” (Season 14, Episode 6), where it’s revealed that Scott Tenorman is actually Cartman’s half-brother, and that the evil fat boy killed his own father.
After 23 seasons, the show doesn’t appear to be slowing its insane train any time soon – and it may result in us feeling the need to update this feature. Stay tuned on that front, be on the lookout for news regarding Season 24, and also check out our ranking of the best South Park episodes. For everything else happening on the small screen this year, check out our 2021 TV schedule.