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Only one show on TV has a sentient towel, Christmas poo, and the devil giving heart to hearts. It’s not an LSD trip, although it is what would happen if all the writers of a sitcom got high on LSD in the writers’ room. South Park has been on since 1997, meaning it came on air before the invention of the camera phone and the USB flash drive. To people who watched the pilot as it premiered, you’re welcome for making you feel old. A show running for that long has to come up with a lot of unique characters to keep the show interesting and South Park is no exception.
So here are my picks for the top ten best South Park characters.
You know Santa, the elves, the reindeer. But do you recall, the most famous Christmas poo of them all. Arguably, a piece of poo isn’t the best symbol of Christmas. Mr. Hankey stops by South Park once a year and brings Christmas joy and cheer and stank along with him. Mr. Hankey has made appearances on South Park since the first Christmas episode of the series and has stayed a constant reminder of the holiday season in South Park. That is until season 23 when he is ousted from the town because people finally realize that poo is not a great symbol to represent Christmas, a belief that it would be hard to disagree with no matter how much we all love Mr. Hankey.
#9- Heidi Turner
This poor girl! Heidi never had much of a role in the show before she started dating Cartman. For the first season she and Cartman were dating, she turned him into a halfway decent human being. He was respectful, kind, and an advocate for women’s rights in season 20. But that all changed when Cartman was reunited with his former sexist ways at the end of that season and became an A-hole again. And that’s when the sh*t hit the fan. Throughout season 21, Cartman and Heidi remain together but Cartman becomes manipulative, mean, and clingy yet somehow completely disinterested in the relationship.
In being this way, he turns Heidi into the female version of him. Heidi has perhaps the biggest and most emotional character arc in the entire series as she re-learns how to be herself again after what Cartman did to her. Unlike most characters, Heidi’s story is not played up for laughs as she realizes she needs to become independent of Cartman. No, South Park is not the world’s most real or emotional show but Heidi gave South Park a breath of what real women face when they’re in an emotionally abusive relationship and it’s occasionally nice to have a break from all the butt and fart jokes.
When in doubt, blame Canada. Kyle’s mom is the epitome of a Karen. It’s hard to tell whether she is intentionally or unintentionally embarrassing Kyle at any given moment, but humiliating her two sons seems to be what Sheila does best. She is at times a borderline psychotically over-protective mom and the very definition of a helicopter parent. Eric Cartman is enemy number one for Kyle and Sheila gives Cartman all the ammunition he needs to humiliate the poor kid. Her biggest moment to shine was in the South Park movie Bigger, Longer, Uncut in which she leads South Park’s parents on a tirade against Canada because of the nation’s lax censorship laws that allow for Terrance and Phillip to be on air. Of course, you could just spend more time with your kid to prevent them from wanting to turn on the TV to Terrance and Phillip, but blaming an entire country for one show is much easier.
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#7- Mr. Mackey
Mr. Mackey is hilarious, mm’kay. Mr. Mackey is the South Park elementary school guidance counselor. He is sedate in nature and passive. Mr. Mackey is probably the most responsible and level-headed adult in South Park but that doesn’t say much. He is mediocre at best when it comes to being a guidance counselor and has trouble standing up for himself, mostly because he doesn’t seem to realize it when the kids of South Park mercilessly tease him. Some of his best moments in the show are when he teaches sex-ed despite being, in essence, a virgin and when he becomes a drug addict after being fired for his anti-drug campaign which included passing around a baggie of weed to the kids. However, Mr. Mackey is most loved for his catchphrases such as his deadpan “mm’kay” and his staunch, hardline anti-drug message to the kids “drugs are bad, mm’kay. And if you do drugs, that’s bad.”
I’d suck on his chocolate salty balls any day. What? I have a sweet tooth and I’m looking for a terribly named snack. Chef is a borderline sex addict, an advocate of prostitution, and a mentor to the kids at South Park elementary. He’s so good a mentor I wish I had him around to perform a musical number about hookers with a special guest appearance from James Taylor. Come to think of it, that would’ve helped me out in fourth grade when I thought a hooker was a person who helps fishermen bait their line. Chef is the only adult in South Park who the boys can rely on to always tell them the truth without sugar-coating. No one talks straight to fourth graders so it’s nice the boys have someone to sing to them about what to do when they kill their teacher.
#5- Kenny McCormick
“Oh my god, they killed Kenny!” “You bastards!” Kenny is the quietest member of our starring quartet of fourth-grade boys, mostly because his coat zips up to his nose so it’s hard to hear anything he says. Kenny has been through the most of any South Park character. He has died hundreds of times but each time he does, he always shows up good as new the next episode. Kenny occasionally takes on the alter ego of Mysterion and when he’s Mysterion, he seems to be the only superhero who does any good of all of Cartman’s superhero team called Coon and Friends. But when he drops the superhero act and just is Kenny, according to Butters during his Hawaiian emo phase, he is the only kid at South Park elementary who keeps it real.
#4- Butters Stotch
Butters is cute and cuddly and is a favorite punching bag for everyone in South Park. Butters has been through nearly as much trauma as Kenny having been trapped in an imaginary land from which he can’t escape and forced to fake his own death so the boys of South Park elementary can spy on the girls. Butters has been through it all and yet he still manages to stay wide-eyed and bushy-tailed throughout the series… except for a brief period in season 20 when he gets a broken heart and somehow manages to become the biggest misogynist South Park. And that’s saying something being that Eric Cartman exists. But other than that, he’s a cute little sweetheart with a heart of gold.
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Towelie is a perpetually high anthropomorphic towel. He’s one of the most random, unnecessary, and stupidest characters created from the minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone who seemed to just throw a bunch of random character traits into a bag and pulled out a “weed addicted towel.” Towelie is always there to provide our leading characters with facts about the importance of towels or to assist in any weed-related endeavors. There was an episode in season 14 in which the characters of South Park attempt to hold an intervention for Towelie but by his next appearance on the show, he’s high as a kite. Haven’t they learned that they can’t separate Towelie from weed? It’s his defining personality trait!
#2- Randy Marsh
I’m sure Randy tries to be a good parent, but all the parenting he’s done for Stan on the show further reveals his incompetence. Stan has essentially learned to parent himself because Randy sucks so much at being a dad. He’s not like Kenny’s dad who just doesn’t give a crap, Randy seems to care about Stan and his well-being but he just doesn’t have the patience or mental capacity to even attempt to be a good father. Instead, Stan’s forced to become the most responsible kid in South Park being that he’s often forced to pull his dad out of jams caused by his own immaturity and stupidity. Normally, a parent would have to do that for a kid, not the other way around. Of course, we’d all feel bad if an actual kid had to endure a parent like this but, since Randy and Stan only exist on TV, their relationship is incredibly entertaining to watch.
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#1- Eric Cartman
Cartman is the world of South Park’s biggest bully. It’s hard to find a single redeeming quality of his that leads us to believe that he’s a somewhat decent person. But that’s part of what makes him such a hilarious character. Cartman is racist, sexist, and just an all-around swell guy. Other characters find him insufferable but that allows everyone in South Park to all seem more relatable by comparison no matter how outlandish they are. Even Mr. Garrison seems less bigoted when compared to Cartman, and that says something being that Garrison got a sex change to avoid being gay.
Most shows rarely can pull off a character as over the top terrible as Cartman but South Park manages it because it’s so outlandish and ridiculous that Cartman fits right in. The most ridiculous characters in all of South Park, in all of television for that matter, don’t come anywhere near Cartman. Can you think of another character that would kill and cook another boy’s parents just because the boy pulled a childish prank on him? How about a character who would blow his million-dollar inheritance from his late-grandma on an amusement park only he could enter? Can you think of a single character that callous, cruel, and all-around stupid? No? I rest my case.
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Carrie Fishbane is obsessed with all things comedy and loves to reflect on the impact of comedy on the world. Having spent thousands of hours studying literature, she also writes about the political impact of entertainment and the power movies and TV have to create social change. Hollywood Insider promotes ethics and substance in entertainment, which is exactly in line with Carrie’s perspective. Carrie’s favorite movies include Jojo Rabbit, Deadpool, and Inception and her favorite shows are Rick and Morty, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and The Office.