South Park, Comedy Central, Wednesdays 10pm
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Caution: potential spoilers.
The show premiered in 1997, based on a pair of shorts from 1992 and 1995, both called The Spirit of Christmas.
I usually think the show is at least kind of good, but there have been episodes I thought sucked, and even when it's good it can be gross and offensive to pretty much everyone. But sometimes it's bloody brilliant, and it can deliver bitingly satiric yet insightful social commentary, all while being utterly absurd and hilarious. I should probably also mention that the show originally used cutout animation, though after the pilot, computer animation has been used for all subsequent episodes. (It still somewhat resembles the original cutout style, though the look has gotten less crude as the series progressed.)
Season 1 (1997-98)
It's set in the fictional small town of South Park, Colorado, and focuses on four third-grade boys named Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman, and Kenny McCormick. Stan and Kyle are fairly normal kids. But Cartman is pure evil, and generally the funniest one of them (though everyone on the show can be pretty funny). Cartman's "friends" don't really like him, and he has a particularly antagonistic relationship with Kyle, whom he hates because Kyle is Jewish. As for Kenny, his voice is muffled by his coat hood, so it's usually impossible to tell what he's saying, though everyone on the show seems to understand him. More importantly, Kenny dies in every episode. (Kenny is probably the friend Cartman hates the second most, because Kenny's family is poor.) Aside from the four main characters, there's a pretty large cast of supporting characters, of which I'll mention a few of the most important ones. There's Stan's parents, Randy and Sharon. Randy often gets involved in some of the most ridiculous things that happen in town, much to the consternation of Sharon. Stan also has a bully of an older sister named Shelly. Kyle's parents are Gerald and Sheila Broflovski; his mother is particularly overbearing, most of the time. Also, Kyle has an adopted baby brother named Ike. Cartman's mother, Liane, spoils him rotten, and he treats her basically like a servant. He's never met his father. Kenny's parents are Stuart and Carol, who are both alcoholics. Kenny has an older brother and younger sister, but none of his family are of much importance to the show.
Other important characters include Chef (voiced by Isaac Hayes), who works at the school and is a friend of the children, who often seek his advice on whatever they're dealing with. He's one of very few adults in town who are somewhat rational (the only other one who comes to mind is Sharon Marsh). Most of the town's adults are screwed up, each in their own way, and frequently do really dumb things. There's Mr. Garrison, the third grade teacher, who has a hand puppet named Mr. Hat, and who is bigoted against pretty much everyone. There's Principal Victoria, the head of South Park Elementary, who's reasonably well-meaning but doesn't always make the best decisions. There's the school counselor, Mr. Mackey, who's just kind of odd, m'kay? There's Officer Barbrady, the town's dimwitted police officer. There's Mayor McDaniels, whose desire to make the town seem better than it is sometimes leads to questionable actions. And um, there's lots of other people. As for kids, the one we get to know best, early on, is Wendy Testaburger, on whom Stan has a crush. (However, his nerves often cause him to throw up when she talks to him, at least early in the series. But at some point, they start dating.) She's probably the smartest kid in school, and the most socially conscious, so of course she and Cartman don't get along at all. Wendy's best friend is Bebe Stevens. There are some other kids, like Pip, Clyde, and Craig, who were all around since season one, but I never paid much attention to them.
There's a TV show the boys like to watch called "The Terrance and Phillip Show." Terrance and Phillip look like even more crudely animated characters than the ones on "South Park" itself, with even cruder (and dumber) humor. But actually they're real people (within the context of the series, of course). The way they look is just the way all Canadians look, on this series. And incidentally, Kyle's brother Ike is also Canadian. Also this season, there's a Christmas episode that introduces a magical character, Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo. (He'll be seen again in some other seasons' Christmas episodes.) And... lots of other weird stuff happens throughout the season. In the finale, Cartman tries to learn who his father was, but the truth about that isn't revealed, just yet.
Season 2 (1998-99)
We kind of get an answer to Cartman's question, but kind of not. (I won't say more than that, for now.) Also, Mr. Hat is replaced by a new "puppet," Mr. Twig. But Mr. Hat returns at the end of the season. Also this season, Stan's parents divorce, but get back together in the same episode. And the boys befriend a kid named Tweek (who is incredibly jittery, because his parents make him drink so much coffee). And of course, lots of other stuff happens.
Season 3 (1999-2000)
I guess it was this season that one of the background kids, Leopold "Butters" Stotch (who is very innocent and easily manipulated, mainly by Cartman), first had a major role in an episode. And... other stuff happens. It's also during this season that the theatrical film South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut was released.
Season 4 (2000)
It's this season that one of the background characters, a boy named Token Black, first has a major role in an episode. And it's this season that a physically and mentally handicapped boy named Timmy Burch is introduced. Halfway through the season (after the midseason hiatus), the third graders finally move on to fourth grade, where their new teacher is Ms. Choksondik. (At the time, the network started billing it as "South Park: The Fourth Grade Years." But I think they eventually stopped doing that.) Also, Mr. Garrison accepts and openly acknowledges his own homosexuality for the first time. And other stuff happens.
Season 5 (2001)
The season starts with an episode about saying "shit" a bunch of times, with apocalyptic results. Also, a second handicapped student, Jimmy Valmer (who wants to be a comedian), is introduced. And one of the show's most infamous episodes airs, in which Cartman gets revenge on a ninth grader named Scott Tenorman. Also, a sentient towel named Towelie is introduced. Butters starts getting more prominent this season. And near the end of the season, Kenny gets a terminal illness, and dies. It was really weird having a whole episode about him dying, instead of his death being a random minor gag somewhere within the episode. But his death this time was more permanent than usual. (At least temporarily.) And other stuff happens.
Season 6 (2002)
With Kenny still dead, Butters becomes the new fourth kid in Stan, Kyle, and Cartman's group. But after a few episodes, they replace him with Tweek, so Butters becomes a supervillain called Professor Chaos. Ms. Choksondik eventually dies, and Mr. Garrison later starts teaching fourth grade. And he's now in a relationship with a guy called Mr. Slave. And it's this season that we first see the City Wok, a Chinese restaurant owned by a man named Tuong Lu Kim. And Kenny returns without explanation at the end of the season, resuming his role as the fourth friend. (From this point on, he rarely dies, anymore.) And other stuff happens.
Season 7 (2003)
I think it's this season that we first see the South Park Police Department (the main cop is Sgt. Harrison Yates), who have taken over the role formerly provided by Officer Barbrady. (Though we'll still see him occasionally.) And it's near the end of the season that we first see a group of goth kids at South Park Elementary. And other stuff happens.
Season 8 (2004)
There's one episode with the first appearance of a kid named Nathan, who sells steroids to Jimmy. And other stuff happens.
Season 9 (2005)
Mr. Garrison gets a sex change operation, and is now known as Mrs. Garrison. And because she's no longer a guy, Mr. Slave breaks up with her. There's also an episode where Kenny dies again, and plays an important role in a war between Heaven and Hell. (But of course he later returns to life.) And other stuff happens.
Season 10 (2006)
Chef is killed off this season, since Isaac Hayes left the show due to the negative portrayal of Scientology in an episode last season. And other stuff happens.
Season 11 (2007)
Um, near the end of the season, there's a three-part story called "Imaginationland," which was pretty epic. (The series had done two-part stories before, but I think this was the first three-part story.) And other stuff happens.
Season 12 (2008)
Mrs. Garrison goes back to being Mr. Garrison again. Also, the town is divided over Barack Obama becoming President of the United States. Also there's an ep about the Goth Kids hating the "Vamp Kids." And other stuff happens.
Season 13 (2009)
Cartman becomes a vigilante called "The Coon," but there's a more popular superhero called "Mysterion." Jimmy makes up a joke about fishsticks, which pretty much everyone in the world finds funny. (However, Kanye West doesn't get it. But his efforts to understand it lead to his making a song about it called "Gay Fish," which I actually downloaded from the South Park website. Unfortunately, I later lost the mp3, by which time it was no longer available.) And other stuff happens.
Season 14 (2010)
Cartman finally learns the whole truth about his father's identity. And there's an ep where Nathan shows up again, and tries to kill Jimmy, with the counter-productive help of a dimwitted lackey named Mimsy. (Nathan and Mimsy are a parody of Rocky and Mugsy.) Also we learn that Sheila Broflovski is originally from New Jersey. And Mr. Mackey has a central role in an episode that parodies Inception. And there's another three-part story, which involves the Coon, Mysterion, and other superheroes, as well as Cthulhu. The story reveals Mysterion's secret identity, and it explains a lot about a familiar character. And other stuff happens.
Season 15 (2011)
Halfway through the season, Stan develops some major cynicism about life in general. And his parents separate (again). After the midseason hiatus, Stan is erroneously diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which leads to Cartman pretending he has Ass Burger's Syndrome. (Speaking as someone who actually has Asperger's, I found this somewhat amusing, though I could totally understand anyone finding it offensive. Of course, that's just what the show does. It offends. For the sake of humor.) Randy and Sharon get back together. (Which as I write this now, several years later, seems a lot faster to me than I remember it being. But maybe that's because of the hiatus.) And other stuff happens.
Season 16 (2012)
There's an episode about ziplining that includes scenes of the boys played by live-action actors. And there's a Halloween episode involving Blockbuster Video. And other stuff happens.
Season 17 (2013)
There's an episode where the Goth Kids and Vamp Kids have to work together against Emo Kids. And there's another three-part story involving Black Friday, and the kids doing a "Game of Thrones" kind of thing. And other stuff happens.
Season 18 (2014)
Randy is Lorde. Jimmy starts an Uber-like business, which leads to a parody of Wacky Races (and another appearance of Nathan and Mimsy). And other stuff happens. But I wanna say, at least early in the season, I think I was starting to get a sense that the show was becoming a bit more serialized than it used to be.
Season 19 (2015)
This season, however, is majorly serialized. It involves Caitlyn Jenner, who becomes the running mate of Mr. Garrison, when he decides to run for President. (And Garrison is rather Trump-like, though Trump himself- or someone even more like him than Garrison- is now President of Canada.) Meanwhile, South Park gets a Whole Foods store, which leads to increasing gentrification of the town. Also, Principal Victoria is fired, and replaced by a frat bro named PC Principal, who is extremely militant about enforcing political correctness. Jimmy, as editor of the school newspaper, begins investigating the proliferation of internet ads, but his old enemy Nathan once again poses a threat. By the end of the season, all these plot threads and more tie together, and... um... I guess things kind of make sense? Whatever, it was neat.
Season 20 (2016)
Mr. Garrison and Caitlyn Jenner continue their campaign, but come to realize they don't want to win. Meanwhile... various other plot points contribute to another heavily serialized season. For one thing, a lot of people have started eating "member berries," which are kind of like grapes, but they talk, and make people nostalgic for various things... like the original Star Wars trilogy. Another major plot point is that internet trolls are causing a lot of suffering, particularly of girls and women. A girl named Heidi Turner (who I guess had been seen in previous seasons, though I didn't really remember her) decided to delete her Twitter account because of harassment. This was kind of made into a metaphor for suicide. Meanwhile, Cartman's friends believe he's a troll named Skankhunt42, so they destroy his computer. This leads to him spending time with Heidi, and they start dating. Cartman seems to become a feminist. However, it's revealed that Skankhunt is actually Kyle's father, Gerald Broflovski. Meanwhile, a potential war begins brewing between boys and girls at South Park Elementary. Gerald eventually gets mixed up with a group of internet trolls, most notably one named Dildo Schwaggins. And the Danish government creates a website called Troll Trace, which could expose all the activity of any troll on the internet, and Gerald and his friends are enlisted to try to thwart the Danish's plan. Eventually, Garrison wins the election, which apparently was the member berries' plan all along. And... other weird stuff happens, and I guess all these plot threads sort of tie together, and... things finally return to normal. (Whatever that means, on this show.) However, it does seem like certain events from this season will continue to develop the plot next season....