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First things first: this show is not perfect. Trey Parker and Matt Stones offensive comic masterpiece—a television staple since 1997 that starts its 22nd season this September—definitely reached the height of its run during the Bush years. Its beginnings in the Clinton epoch relied mostly on shock value and gross-out humor; its Obama-era episodes were funny, but not always incisive. And in the Age of Trump, its fair to wonder whether the show may have lost its way entirely. But those glory days certainly were glorious. At its peak, South Park was (and is still capable of being) as sickeningly funny (“Scott Tenorman Must Die”) and socially astute (“Here Comes the Neighborhood”) as it was maddening.

In a good way. Few post-Simpsons animated shows have managed to battering-ram their way into the cultural lexicon as thoroughly or mischievously as South Park. Few have enough iconic characters to fill a yearbook (Cartman! Mr. Garrison! Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo!), or as many classic episodes just waiting to be referenced whenever a relevant current event crops up. When I think of bad C.E.O. apologies, oil spills, or Cthulhu, I think of South Park. World of Warcraft? South Park. Poverty telethons, Stephen Sondheim, Mormons, Scientologists, lost underwear, cats in heat, NASCAR, pan-flute bands, chili, the word “succubus,” redheads, Jennifer Lopez, red-hooded jackets, child-mortality rates, woodland creatures . . .

Even if we were always the butt of every South Park gag, we were also always in on the joke. At its best, this series has defined, and maybe even predicted, the culture—and its also really fucking funny. From the looks of it, the rest of television is still catching up. — K. Austin Collins

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Vanity Fair

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