VOICE OVER: Callum Janes
WRITTEN BY: Matt Klem
Goin' down to South Park gonna find ourselves a change! Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're looking at the ways in which the TV show “South Park” has evolved from its humble beginnings to the mainstay it is today. Our countdown includes countless characters, less catchphrases, Cartman's voice and more!
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re looking at the ways in which the TV show “South Park” has evolved from its humble beginnings to the mainstay it is today. From characters to storylines, what do you think has changed the most in this show over its 26 season run? Let us know in the comments.
#10: Character Churn
While the show’s key players like Cartman and the boys have been a mainstay, in more recent seasons there have been both major and minor town residents who have long since seen the door. Big Gay Al, Jimbo & Ned, and officer Barbrady have received barely any screen time since the earlier seasons. Most notable of them all however is Chef, who infamously last appeared at the start of season 10 where he was killed off. It just goes to show that on“South Park”, no secondary character is safe.
#9: Stories Became More Meaningful
One of the most prominent differences between the older episodes and what we’ve seen in recent years is the way in which they are written. It’s abundantly clear that as the show has evolved, so has the storytelling. Initially, any “serious” aspect of the episode was often thrown in at the end as a “lesson” the kids learned. But as the show has progressed over the years, the stories told in the episodes have become both richer and more intelligent in their design. Rather than rely on old gags or repeated tropes, they find creative ways to tell compelling stories that still make us laugh.
#8: Randy Has Come More Into Focus
Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were in their late 20s when “South Park” first aired. In those early years, much of the focus was on the four boys. As both creators have gotten older, started families of their own, and experienced the perils of real adulthood, there’s been a noticeable shift towards more stories revolving around Stan’s dad, Randy. Parker has even publicly stated how Randy’s voice was originally an impression of his dad, and now it’s just his own voice. Randy has become a fan favorite character in much the same way Cartman has, and we can thank the passage of time for seeing more of him.
#7: Fewer Catchphrases
[b-roll: “I am a cop and you will respect my authoritah.”] When a show becomes popular, it’s only natural that fans will begin to quote the dialog. This often results in a simple line becoming a catchphrase. “South Park”’s early years saw the birth of instances of this. Whether it was the boy's reaction to yet another Kenny death, or Cartman’s insistence that he’s big boned, catchphrases were never in short supply. Yet today, we see fewer and fewer of these each season. Given how the show’s writing has progressed beyond the need for quips, and blatant teachable moments, it’s not that surprising to see these one-liners appear less often, and replaced by funnier dialog. But come on, who doesn’t miss “Screw you guys, I’m going home”.
#6: Not Just TV Anymore
“South Park” was born into the world of television, where it has been a staple since 1997. Two years later, the movie “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut” was released and for the longest time, that was essentially it. Today, the show has expanded beyond just episodic television. Several TV movies have been released on Paramount+ with more coming in the future. After initial attempts to make hit video games proved unsuccessful, the show has gone on to produce two that were critically acclaimed, with a third one on the way. And lastly, they’ve even produced several albums, and had a massive live concert in Colorado celebrating the show’s 25th anniversary.
#5: Cartman's Voice Has Changed
For 26 years and counting, Trey Parker has been the voice of Eric Cartman and many other characters on the show. To some, it might actually come as a surprise to learn that Cartman’s voice has slightly changed as the years have passed. Reportedly, Parker found his original Cartman sound to be too damaging to his voice and so he’s slowly eased off on some of the more harsher aspects to Eric’s tone. In fact, a quick Google search will yield additional fan discussions around the voice of Stan and Mr. Mackey as well, both of whom Parker voices.
#4: 6 Days to Air
Fun fact: The first episode of “South Park” is the only one to have been made entirely using real construction paper and stop-motion animation. As a result, it took them about three months to complete. Once they moved to computer based animation, production was reduced to around three weeks. Today, each episode is produced in only six days, as shown in the documentary: “6 Days to Air”. This insanely short production time is also the biggest reason why the show remains so timely in its content. The biggest news of the week can now easily be turned into an episode that can air while people are still talking about it.
#3: Serialized Storytelling
“South Park” was (for the most part) very episodic in nature, meaning each episode contained a different storyline and you could watch it knowing what had happened the previous episode. In Season 18, the show began to experiment with serialized storytelling. Since then, subsequent seasons have all experimented with continuity based episodes. In fact, all of season 20 was a singular story told in 10 pieces. It’s another testament to the writers who are always trying to find new ways to tell stories in “South Park.”
#2: Cancel Culture Immunity
Like it or not, the last few years have seen the rise of “cancel culture”. Someone does something objectionable and is “canceled” for being insensitive. One can’t deny that “South Park” has somehow remained immune to such things. Despite the fact that it continues to hold nothing back in its assault of virtually everything, no one seems interested in “canceling” it. Early years saw many controversies which ultimately fell on deaf ears and allowed the show to continue to push how far it could go. Indeed, it seems that holding nothing back has allowed the show to flourish. In fact, the show has even called out cancel culture.
#1: Kenny Doesn't Die in Every Episode
One of the earliest running gags on this show was how poor Kenny McCormick would die in every episode, and then reappear unharmed in the next one. The joke (and the ensuing catchphrase after his death) was initially funny at first, but as with many running gags, it got old and so the creators finally pulled the plug; literally. In fact, they presumably killed him off for good in season five, only to have him resurrected shortly thereafter. But that’s not to say they’ve ceased the gag entirely…