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When South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone got to turn their animated Christmas short into a Comedy Central TV series in 1997, they never imagined they’d still be making it in 2020. The show’s Sept. 30 “Pandemic Special” marks the beginning of their 24th season according to IMDB’s season and episode guides. In those seasons, many supporting characters have come and gone. 

South Park
South Park | Comedy Central

Parker and Stone learned relatively quickly which characters would work and which would not. While they were promoting their film, Team America: World Police, in 2004, South Park was in its eighth season, gearing up for the election episode “Douche and Turd.” Here’s what they had to say about their successful characters, and the ones that became forgettable.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone understood which ‘South Park’ characters connected

By season 8, Butters had emerged as a standout supporting character. He’s pretty much become one of the main kids. South Park tried to make Tweek the fourth friend after Kenny died for good (until he returned), but Tweek hasn’t appeared much since. Timmy and Jimmy still show up occasionally, and Towelie, whose entire premise was being the worst character ever, made a comeback with season 23’s Tegridy Farms subplot. 

South Park Tweek with boys
L-R: Tweek, Cartman, Stan and Butters in front of Father Maxi | Comedy Central

“There’s good characters and bad characters,” Stone said in 2004 when asked about Tweek vs. Butters.

Parker said there are organic considerations that make South Park characters last.

“It’s been a fascinating thing because we didn’t really know how to write when we started South Park at all,” Parker said. “We’ve just sort of grown up a bit and it’s amazing to just see how, if you take Butters and Cartman and put them in any scene, it works. It’s this simple law, which every writer knows, of taking two opposites and putting them in a room together. I love anything with Cartman and Butters at the same time, it’s great.”

‘South Park’ stopped being controversial a long time ago

South Park was known for dealing with topical issues like Terry Schiavo and Osama bin Laden as soon as those real-world figures made news. There Scientology episode ruffled some feathers, but once critics got used to the notion that Parker and Stone’s 8-year-old characters would swear and do offensive things, the show itself stopped being news.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone
L-R: Trey Parker and Matt Stone | Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

“I think that we’re so left alone now, we kind of do whatever we want,” Parker said in 2004. “There’s still obviously the certain language things we can’t do, but it’s changed so much.”

Since 2004, cable networks would even become more liberal with the use of the F-word and C-word.

“It’s so funny looking back now at the first season or two of South Park and being like, ‘Wow, people thought that was [raunchy]? That got the cover of Newsweek?’” Stone said. “It’s just so tame.”

Trey Parker and Matt Stone leaned into the emotion of ‘South Park’ characters

As raunchy as South Park gets, fans still care about Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny. Cartman’s breakup was painful for him, even though it just led him to concoct more awful schemes. Parker and Stone were already learning that eight seasons in.

South Park Cartman and Butters
L-R: Cartman and Butters | Comedy Central

‘South Park’ Fans Are Eagerly Awaiting the Return of This Beloved Character

To us, it’s been fascinating because when we started South Park, we didn’t know how to write. I mean, we knew how to be funny, but you can watch those [episodes], they’re not that good. It’s basically like they’re just not written well. And we’ve learned over the past eight years of doing South Park, we’ve learned the craft of writing. We’ve learned all the stuff about how it’s all about emotion and how to pay off those emotions. That’s why to us, we feel like the show’s gotten better every season, just because we do care.

Trey Parker, Team America: World Police press junket, 2004