South Park has balls. Some are chocolate and salty. Others are mammoth and bouncy. They’ve even lost a pair along the way.
When South Park hits the air, there’s become an expectancy of ball-bustingly crude social commentary unlike any other program on television. Being a “ballsy” show goes beyond 4th graders from Colorado learning about proper condom use or saying the word “shit” 162 times. Matt Stone and Trey Parker have taken on celebrities, cultural institutions, religions, and at times shocked us really just for the hell of it. Through it all, they constantly redefine what to means to push the boundaries of their medium.
Debating the merits of each new episode is a pastime for us at Den of Geek and when it comes to the episodes that warrant the most discussion, “ballsy” comes to mind. We had six writers pick the episodes that elicit some of the series’ strongest responses and tell us why they think these episodes, for better or worse, stand out in South Park lure.
“Cartman Joins NAMBLA” (Season 4, Episode 5)
As “Cartman Joins NAMBLA”’s title might suggest, this brilliantly messed up piece of television doesn’t pull any punches. As Cartman finds himself feeling more mature than the rest of his friends, he ends up seeking more sophisticated playmates online using the keywords “Men Who Like Young Boys.” The repeated chat room sequences are inspired examples of escalating envelope-pushing (in a pre-To Catch A Predator world too, mind you) that culminate in not only Cartman joining the titular North American Man/Boy Love Association, but also becoming their spokes model.
Like a lot of great South Park episodes, the beauty here isn’t in embellishing NAMBLA at all (which is a real thing), but they can do the most damage just by plainly presenting the facts of this nutso organization. What’s just as messed up here is not necessarily these men’s preoccupation with wanting to have sex with little boys, but the other aspects that NAMBLA is invested in with them, such as ballroom dancing, and enjoying a four-course meal. It’s a real glimpse into a group of actual crazies, which is something South Park would get increasingly good at.
This whole episode is a twisted wormhole into the uncomfortable as the rest of the children in South Park naturally get jealous of Cartman and try to get their own older friends from NAMBLA, too. The centerpiece is essentially an attempted rape sequence where a horde of naked pedophiles chase our heroes as the entire thing transforms into an ode to slapstick.
If all of the pedophilia wasn’t enough, Kenny’s B-story sees him repeatedly try to ensure that his mother miscarries her child so he doesn’t become the second child. He puts his mother (and more significantly, his father) through hell here, and it’s a disturbing yang to the rest of the episode’s upsetting yin.
Sacré bleu, indeed!
– Daniel Kurland
“Scott Tenorman Must Die” (Season 5, Episode 4)
You absolutely knew this had to be on the list. Why? Because Cartman made Scott Tenorman eat his parents. That’s why!
Of all the terrible acts ever inflicted on other characters in the world of South Park, few have been as stunningly depraved and brilliantly orchestrated as this defining Cartman moment.
Despite the title promising bad mojo coming Scott’s way, few actually believed that “Scott Tenorman Must Die” would end with anyone’s death (save for Kenny’s). After all, the brunt of the humor seemed to be about how much power this little brat held over Eric Cartman. It’s a classic Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, Tom and Jerry, or Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny relationship. Cartman can never catch the rabbit.
Yet he actually did… but only after he lured Scott’s parents off-screen to a violent murder at the hands of a gun nut farmer. He then preciously slaved over cooking their bodies into scrumptious chili and handed it to the unsuspecting bully.
This would be like Bart Simpson killing a kid in class. It is at this moment that Stan, Kyle, and every viewer at home realized the levels of evil and malevolence that resides behind the eyes of this little chubby kid in a red coat. Before that moment, he was comic relief. After that scene, Cartman’s wickedness passed into the realm of legend.
“Oh the tears of unfathomable sadness, yummy. Yummy, you guys!”
– David Crow
“All About Mormons” (Season 7, Episode 12)
“All About The Mormons” was not as ballsy as attacking the Scientologists, but that’s only because of the threat of litigation. Parker and Stone have a long and intimate relationship with the Mormons that led to the Broadway smash musical The Book of Mormon, now playing but good luck getting tickets. The Mormons have always been a perennial punch line, from Donnie and Marie’s teeth to the fucking tabernacle choir. That was before we knew about the magic underwear. South Park unveils the entire story in one of their greatest musical set pieces: The crazy stories that Joseph Smith made up, taken directly from the Urim and Thummim. Gary Harrison, the new kid in town, endures the school ground hazing and whatever taunts are laid at him with good cheer. It’s Stan’s turn to beat up the new kid and winds up getting invited to dinner. The kid’s family is kind of weird, instead of TV they entertain each other with music and stories, but the whole family is so annoyingly happy it’s infectious.
Randy’s first reaction to even having Stan visit a Mormon family is to go and kick Gary’s father’s ass, after making sure he’s a white guy. The Marsh family gets infected and Stan turns pre-emptively paranoid. The ballsy thing is they turn it around and Stan comes off as a high and mighty bigot who can’t look past religion and even try to be the kid’s friend. The kid comes off pretty good. He’s got great life, a great family, and helps people because that’s what the Mormons do. It goes completely against the expectations of the show. It’s more than just a softball, it’s a love letter.
Trey Parker even gives Gary the best line: “You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.” Cartman speaks for everyone when he declares that the kid is cool.
– Tony Sokol
“Trapped in the Closet” (Season 9, Episode 12)
“The Return of Chef” (Season 10, Episode 1)
Matt Stone and Trey Parker have said they strive to be “equal opportunity offenders” and throughout South Park’s run, they’ve made good on that statement by constantly finding topics ripe for satire in the most sensitive of places. When we look back at why South Park has endured for 23 years (assuming they fulfill their contract through 2019), “Trapped in the Closet” and its domino effect will go down as the pivotal moment in the series’ ideology.
When South Park took on Tom Cruise and Scientology, it also took on an old friend, Isaac Hayes, the voice of Chef, who was along for the ride as the show took on the Catholic Church, Jews, Muslims, and even Mormons in a similar way in its first nine seasons. “Trapped in the Closet” was the breaking point for Hayes, a devout Scientologist, who quit South Park for its “intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others.”
That the episode was pulled from rebroadcasts—it was widely reported that Cruise lobbied Viacom to pull the episode, though his representatives soon after denied the stories—isn’t what makes the episode “ballsy,” even if was one of Matt and Trey’s finest half-hours and was nominated for an Emmy. The ensuing decision to let Hayes walk from the show without apology, and to brutally kill and dismember his character and further jab Scientology’s cult-like perception in the shocking “The Return of Chef” forever cemented South Park’s religious doctrine. These episodes are the glue that holds their balls together.
The lingering “ballsiness” from the Scientology episodes carried into the “Cartoon Wars,” episodes just weeks later and the highly controversial “200” and “201,” all episodes that dealt with censorship, fear, and intimidation – which sounds a lot like the religions they tend to skewer.
– Chris Longo
“Go God Go Part XII” (Season 10, Episode 13)
When including an episode from a two-parter like the “Go God Go” saga (also known as the Quest for Nintendo Wii), it is difficult to decipher which is the ballsier episode. However, in our arbitrary ruling, “Go God Go Part XII” deserves the spot just a bit more due to it expanding upon the end of the previous episode’s delicious irony. That, plus its gnarly homage to the very ’70s intro in Buck Rogers of the 25th Century TV series.
In a series famed for its equal opportunity evisceration of religion, South Park took on atheism, Richard Dawkins, and sweeping generalizations from a dogma that increasingly becomes as puritanical as most organized religion. While Matt and Trey have shown a severe skepticism of religion and especially its most devoted fanatics–“Cartoon Wars” is only absent from this list because Comedy Central didn’t have the balls to back up Kyle’s idealism–there is plenty to be wary of in other uncompromising ideology.
Thus the fantasy of a world without religion, one Dawkins (or John Lennon for that matter) has imagined as a peaceful utopia absent of war and aggression, gets the South Park treatment when Cartman time warps to the 26th century. Cartman of course simply froze himself while in search of a coveted Nintendo Wii. And in his defense, who wasn’t desperate to own one of those suckers in 2006?
But instead he winds up in a world where science, reason, and atheism has displaced all religion. Yet, it’s still not one of happy innocence: humanity is still humanity, and beliefs remain simply a pretext for violence. Despite even sea otters now evolving enough to commune with man, both species are at war and divided amongst countless fractions. Oh don’t worry, they’re all atheists; they’re just not the right kind of atheist. Much like the assorted denominations of every world religion, atheism has broken off with fanatics that worship at the altar of Dawkins while killing each other in his hallowed name.
Oh my science, indeed.
– David Crow
“The China Problem” (Season 12, Episode 8)
The main plot of “The China Problem,” like many South Park episodes, is plenty offensive, but nothing out of the norm for Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Butters and Cartman sure do present an awfully racist caricature of “chinese pe-powl” but I’ve also seen Cartman force-feed a kid some chili with his dead parents cut up into it, so I’m pretty desensitized to this kind of stuff from South Park. What I wasn’t expecting from “The China Probem” was a graphic depiction of rape… three different times.
In the B-plot, Stan, Kyle, Kenny, Jimmy and the some of the other boys struggle with how to process the rape of a close friend by two men that they used to trust: that friend is Indiana Jones, and those men are Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. After seeing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the residents of South Park slowly process the traumatizing event, one by one recounting the, quite literal, “rape” of Indiana Jones.
Rape jokes are usually a touchy topic in the comedy world, with many drawing the line of decency at making light of sexual assault. People expect to be shocked by South Park, but for many, “The China Probem” scenes went too far. Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Catherine Elsworth summed up the feeling of watching the episode, saying that Parker and Stone seemed “to have taken the taboo-busting to a place even hardened South Park watchers have found hard to go.” The scenes are way over-the-top, uncomfortable, and gratuitous, even if it’s just a cartoon. As a super-fan of South Park, it’s one of the few times I believe that the show has gone too far. “Ballsy” isn’t always synonymous with “tasteful” or “good.”
– Nick Harley
“Where My Country Gone?” (Season 19, Episode 2)
Call it recency bias on our part, call it laziness, call it whatever you want, but “Where My Country Gone?” is already one of South Park’s ten ballsiest episodes.
It’s easy for South Park to satirize the fringes of society: the weird Scientologists, the George Zimmermans, the…HIV sufferers (ok, that’s pretty ballsy). What South Park is doing in its current season is much trickier, however: satirizing all of us. Season 19 of South Park appears to be telling a serialized story of how an excess of political correctness is changing the U.S. and making Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s job harder. And according to them we’re all complicit.
“Where’s My Country Gone?” seems designed to make us as uncomfortable as possible. The first episode of the season “Stunning and Brave” satirizes the media’s all-or-nothing reaction to Caitlyn Jenner’s transition but you can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief that Trey and Matt choose not to animate her. Then in “Where’s My Country Gone?” there she is onscreen – not one minute into the episode looking like a dim-witted lunatic – tongue askew and exaggerated Hepburn scarf around her neck. All she seems capable of is running over innocent pedestrians in her convertible. Ballsy.
If that weren’t enough, the episode also sets Mr. Garrison up as a Donald Trump-like figure – obsessed with expelling illegal immigrants undocumented workers out of his country. Satirizing Donald Trump is certainly the “punch-up” mentality that most people can get behind. What most people probably weren’t prepared for, however, was for Mr. Garrison to violently rape a Canadian Donald Trump to death. Woah, guy.
Context matters in determining what is “ballsy.” Trey and Matt are right in asserting that the current social and political climate is about as careful and politically correct as it’s ever been. So the act of depicting a transgender celebrity as a weirdo is pretty ballsy. And fucking a guy to death is pretty ballsy in any environment.
– Alec Bojalad