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The early episodes can surprise you, here are two examples from season one: "An Elephant Makes Love to a Pig" when Shelly saves Stan from being sent away (but not before kicking his ass yet again), and "Starvin Marvin"'s ending when Marvin brings Thanksgiving to Ethiopia after the mutant turkeys get slaughtered. While not sad, they can get some a little teary eyed.
Butters being bullied by his sadistic grandma in "Butterballs".
This is a very special case, because in this episode, the issue of child abuse and bullying is played very seriously. Especially things like her stabbing him with a fork under the table. One of the most realistic portrayals of a child being abused mentally, physically and emotionally... on South Park.
Though not as upsetting as Butters' much more severe abuse, seeing Mr. Mackey and Stan crying after being bullied can elicit real-life "aww"s.
The episode "Kenny Dies", in which Stan spends the entire time afraid to face Kenny as he wastes away. He works up the courage to visit him at the end of the episode, and to a triumphant tune, he strides in to the hospital with a present for Kenny and an ear-to-ear grin. The scene that ensues is one of the most powerful uses of Mood Whiplash there is.
Stan: Did he say anything before he went?
Kyle: He just said... "...Where's Stan?"
[fade to black]
Cartman crying on Kyle's shoulder after talking to Kenny in the hospital. EricCartman crying genuine tears of sorrow.
I always assumed Cartman might be crying from happiness, with him suddenly coming up with a way to make Stem Cell research legal again so he could sell off the aborted foetuses. He had just realised he could use Kenny as emotional leverage. It being Cartman, he considers Kenny's possible recovery a convenient side-effect of him making money. Cartman gets money and Kenny gets better. Everybody wins. Being sociopathic, Cartman can't see what's wrong with thinking that way.
According to Parker/Stone, one of the goals was see how far they could go in one episode without telling a single joke. There is some dark humour (hearing "On The Road Again" as a bunch of foetuses are packed up, the Make A Wish foundation being put in its place, Cartman's enthusiasm over dead foetuses, Chef comforting Stan) but none of the dirty and sexual jokes South Park was by then famous for.
In the movie, the soldiers' reaction to Kyle's speech to his mother has the same effect on me.
Kyle: But Mom, you never took the time to talk to me. Whenever I get in trouble, you go off and blame everybody else. But I'm the one to blame. Deal with me. You keep going off and fighting all these causes, but I don't want a fighter... I want my mom.
The Mole's reprise of the song "La Resistance" as he dies also counts.
And Kenny being allowed to go to heaven at the end of the movie also.
"Goodbye, you guys."
That he says it after removing his hood and revealing his face for the first time in the series' history caps this moment quite a bit.
Phillip screaming when Sheila shoots Terrance. Followed by Phillip getting the same.
The song "Eyes of a Child" during the credits. despite the humorous lyrics, just listen to it and try not to shed a tear.
"The Return of Chef". The whole damn climax and ending, but particularly "Chef... we love you" and then Kyle's usual Catch Phrase only this time it's so much more. And Cartman's attempt at a Hope Spot makes it even more heartbreaking.
Also the episodes opening having Cartman genuinely in tears as Chef leaves.
"Chef's Salty Chocolate Balls" has Mr. Hankey's apparent death, and the montage following.The Woobie in Kyle was clearly visible.
Kyle: (weeping) I'll never forget you. You were my best friend after Stan.
"Guitar Queer-O". Stan on his Heroin Hero trips are pretty moving, as is his post-meltdown sequence while playing a driving game. And when he makes up with Kyle, that's moving too.
"The List". There's funny stuff in that episode. And then there's Kyle ranting to himself obsessively while getting ready to burn the school down.
Cartman's subplot in "Major Boobage" as he hides all the cats he found, like a rip from an Anne Frank movie.
The end of The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs: All of Butters' former readers now want him dead as his second book became instrumental in the murders of the entire Kardashian family. The boys try to rub it in his face that his fame has plummeted, but Butters couldn't care less as he's horrified that his own book got Kim Kardashian, whom he had a crush on, and her entire family killed.
Kyle deleting Kip Drordy as a friend on Facebook in You Have 0 Friends. It's much sadder than it sounds.
Don't forget earlier when he lost all of his Facebook friends for befriending Kip in the first place. Makes you think which one is the bigger Woobie, huh?
They both are. Kip because everyone avoids him for next to no reason and Kyle, just for being nice to him, loses everyone just for being nice to Kip, just for showing a kid kindness. It makes what happens below all the more satisfying.
It Got Better at the end when all of the "friends" collected by Stan's vanquished self-aware profile were transferred to Kip. I don't know any individual profile with 200,000+ Facebook friends!
Towelie trying to overcome his drug addiction in "Crippled Summer".
"Butters Very Own Episode." It can make you cry like that seeing that kid being treated like crap, and specifically Butters saying "No, I'm lying" after seeing the truth of the matter.
Another Butters moment - in "Marjorine", Linda Stotch is completely hysterical at his apparent death. She's screaming and sobbing over the adorable blue coffin and Stephen has to hold her back. We know he's alive, but she doesn't.
From that same episode, something that makes more sense in Hindsight, Butters (dressed as Marjorine) sobs out in the bathroom to the girls "You have no idea how hard it is to be me!" Note that Butters says "me", not "The new girl". He's not acting...
In Heller Keller! The Musical, there is this heart-breaking bit where Timmy has to give up his pet turkey Gobbles. And then it has people all down the street, with dead relatives and run-over dogs, and you're just waiting for the joke, but then some lady comes on the screen, and she says something like, "What have you done today?" and then it pans to the sky. Very sad.
Then again, that WAS the joke. It was kind of like a parody of those Public Service Announcements. Still, the entire scene is tragic and maybe even the joke added to the tears.
A big, BIG YMMV, but the deaths of Mingee and Gary in "A Million Little Fibers."
Who'd have thought television viewers could get so attached to a talking vagina and bunghole?
Only on South Park, my friend. Only on South Park.
The ending of "Chef Goes Nanners" when Wendy declares she never had feelings for Cartman, and she runs off after Stan while Cartman sighs and shuffles offscreen, dejected.
The "Third Grade" song from "Fourth Grade". Clyde actually cries after hearing it.
The cast singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics" for two reasons. One, them showing Mary Kay Bergman's characters (she committed suicide shortly before) and the boys saying that they'll be together throughout the years if the fates allow, not aware they'll be together for at least the next eleven seasons.
Kyle's "I'm a Jew on Christmas" song in "Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo".
While most of it was Played for Laughs, some of the things Cartman blurted out in "Le Petite Tourette" actually made you feel bad for him, and... no, I'm serious, you felt bad for Cartman.
Cartman: I cry at night because I don't have a dad!
Speaking of Le Petite Tourette, when Kyle's at the Tourette's building and sees kids who actually DO have Tourettes, a kid gives a very sad story about his dad divorcing his mom simply of his son's illness. The kid ends the story saying that he'd probably be better off dead. It makes Cartman's abuse of it all the more infuriating-maybe until you get to the above, but still.
"Best Friends Forever", big time. While not to the same extent as Kenny Dies, it plays very similar.
"You're Getting Old" is easily one of the most depressing episodes so far. It starts off initially well, with Stan having his 10th birthday party surrounded by friends and family. He receives a CD from Kyle featuring music that his mother, Sharon, disapproves of (because "it sounds like crap"), and it's taken away. However, Stan has already downloaded the music to his iPod, and begins listening to it, only to realize that he literally only hears shit. He speaks to Kyle about this, who can apparently hear the music perfectly, and Kyle suggests that he sees a doctor. The doctor administers some tests which consist of playing two music tracks (both of which sound like more crap to Stan), and then comparing a poster of crap to a poster of an upcoming movie to Stan, to which he responds that they look the same. The doctor eventually tells him that he's developing cynicism, which comes with age, and it will entail viewing and hearing things that once seemed great as a child, as crap. Stan continues to go about his life as more and more things appear as crap to him while Randy gets into more youth-related mishaps with the new musical movement (naturally, this is all Played for Laughs, with even a bit of Lampshade Hanging thrown in by Sharon, up until the last five minutes of the episode). Things eventually turn darker as Stan's friends completely alienate him due to his new attitude, and to make things worse, Randy and Sharon begin to argue and acknowledge that neither of them are happy with their lives anymore. The episode ends with Stan seeing pretty much everything as crap now, even his former best friend Kyle, while Randy and Sharon begin to sell their house and divide their belongings as they prepare for their upcoming divorce.
What about when the real version of "Landslide" started playing? Not some usual South Park parody, but the real freaking song as sung by Stevie Nicks. And seeing Sharon packing up the china. It doesn't hit you that there would be no crap-people, no Satan dressed as Brittany Spears, no Tom Cruise or government conspiracy to save the day. And that hurt. We have grown up on this show, and to see it come to it's end is painful. That's the Tear Jerker here. That a show we have grown-up with and and loved will end soon.
Not to mention the whole conversation between Randy and Sharon sounds horribly like Matt and Trey expressing the unsaid tensions of the show's difficult period, making this a meta-Tearjerker.
It gets even sadder for three reasons: 1. Two men stealing underwear from Randy in order to protect them from his shitting on stage, no matter how surprisingly entertaining it is especially in this episode, doesn't make it any less depressing. and 2. Seeing Randy, who's random interests has been one of the funniest parts of the show, suddenly reveal that he was actually hiding his boredom with life. Yes, that's right, all of those great episodes are truly about a man trying to avoid the truth about his life, take them from crowning moments of funny to Funny Aneurysm Moments. shivers and finally 3. Stan and Kyle's friendship ending, especially Stan seeing his friend as a literal pile of shit after all of those other times they've separated, after all the other things that nearly tore them apart, it just hurts. The fact Cartman and Kyle, who normally can barely stand each other are seen happily playing together while Stan is who knows where, seeing the world as shit and having had his parents split up and being unable to enjoy anything. Wow. Just wow.
Stone and Parker have recently confirmed that the show will continue, which makes you wonder what the hell this episode was all about.
Hell, this episode can work as a metaphor for just getting more and more cynical and depressed with age or even just depression.
"Ass Burgers" snapped everything back to status quo with the exception that Stan has turned to alcohol to escape the monotony. The poignancy of it all makes it perhaps a greater tearjerker than the episode that preceded it.
In "Pinewood Derby", there's a man who, when he loses the derby, kills himself in front of his son. Suicide humor isn't unheard of from South Park and usually, it's pretty damn funny. What separates this joke, however, is that the son, with a horrified expression, starts yelling to himself "It's okay!" over and over.
Something similar happens in "Coon vs. Coon & Friends" where, distressed that no one remembers him dying (something that isn't exactly new), Kenny shoots himself in the head in hopes that his friends will remember him committing suicide right in front of their eyes, much to the horror of Stan and Kyle.
1%. Cartman does deserve punishment for a lot of things but how can you not feel bad for him as one by one, all his favorite toys are destroyed. The kicker is that his Polly Prissy Pants doll turns out to be the one who killed off his other toys and asks Cartman to kill her. He, with tears in his eyes, complies.
This isn't the doll gaining sentience like usual SP tradition. This is Cartman, destroying all his favorite childhood toys, in his version of "Growing Up". That's both terrifiyng and sad at the same time.
Stan: You guys have no idea how this feels. It's like... you always hear songs about a broken heart and you think it's just a figure of speech. But it's true. My chest hurts. I have this... like... sinking feeling where my heart is. It's broken.
Butters' "beautiful sadness" speech in "Raisins," where, after Butters finds out the Raisins girl he pined over only liked him so she can get more money out of him at the restaurant, the Goth kids want Butters to be one of them, but Butters declines, stating that his being upset that he got dumped is actually a beautiful thing because the sadness makes him feel human.
Stan watching in horror as the Japanese kill the whales and dolphins in "Whale Whores".
Stan telling Wendy that he wished she were dead in "Pinkeye", after she donated her Halloween candy to starving children in Nairobi, and Stan wanted to trick-or-treat with her.
And later when Stan sees she's become a zombie and must choose whether to kill her or not.
A small one in "It's A Jersey Thing", when Kyle discovers his Jersey side Teen Wolf-style.
Kyle: What am I, Mom?
Any time when Kyle is so depressed, he actually agrees with Cartman's bigoted opinions (ex. "Mr. Garrison's Fancy New Vagina" and "The Passion Of The Jew").
YMMV, because she embarrassed Clyde in front of his friends and school because of the toilet seat, so when she died, nobody watching the episode seemed to give a shit.
In "Cash for Gold" there's a heartbreaking scene where Grandpa Marsh tells Stan about his dog.
Grandpa: I thought I'd never forget her happy slobbering face... I can't even remember what she looks like.
Specifically its revealed that Grandpa Marsh has Alzheimer's disease.
Grandpa: She's just a baby after all.
Stan: She's not a baby, grandpa. She's 13.
Grandpa: Shelley's 13? ...Right.
Cartman being chained and prepared for sacrifice in "Jewpacrabra".
And then fucking converting to Judaism of all things in the end. Anyone even remotely familiar with Cartman's, um, contentious opinions on the matter can imagine just how indescribably fucked up this is. And yet, the episode manages to pull it off with earnest heart.
"Stanley's Cup" is a very depressing episode. In it, Stan coaches a kindergarten hockey team, and one of the team members (Nelson) is suffering from cancer. Nelson ends up in the hospital, and the fate of him depends on whether or not the team wins. Eventually, the team plays against the Detroit Red Wings, but are beaten senseless and lose, so then Nelson, watching the match on TV in the hospital, says "No hope..." and then dies. Sure, it was probably played for laughs, but think about it: This kid just wanted to see his team win for once, but the last thing he saw before he died was his team being brutally beat down and losing.
Everything that happens to Karen in "The Poor Kid." Gives the name of the episode a double meaning.
The abuse the Weatherhead's put their foster children, combined with Mr. Adams horrified reaction.
Mr Mackey may have been an asshole to the kids doing the dental hygiene play in "Royal Pudding" but he reveals that his father had been killed by tooth decay two years ago.
"Raising the Bar" has a small one when Cartman admits he's fat after Kyle tries to tell him at Wal-Mart at he is. Not absolutely heartbreaking, but this can be seen as rather emotional. (Until the last line of his speech, which veers into narmy territory because he apparently felt the need to pepper it with obligatory F-bombs.)
Cartman: I've been doing a lot of thinking, about what you said at Wal-Mart. You're right, Kyle. I'm fat. All these years, you telling me, and me saying "No, I'm big-boned" or "no, that's just muscle"... It was always just me living in denial. I'm fucking fat, Kyle. I'm fucking fat as fucking fuck.
With some Adult Fear mixed in, Sheila screaming at (what she thinks is) Ike getting mauled by a dog in "Ike's Wee Wee".
In the Episode "Fat Camp," where Cartman is selling smuggled candy to the campers, a camper called Chad comes on screen crying to Cartman about his weight woes; how he is always going to be fat, has been to seven camps, and can't control his eating habits. Made worse when Cartman offers him a chocolate bar calling it a "Friend" and Chad nibbles the bar tearfully.
Camper: [sobbing] 'Cause I'm always gonna be fat. I don't wanna eat no sweets, but I can't control myself when they're right in front of me like this. [sobs some more. Cartman moves away a bit] All my life I've been fat. I've beh- I've been to seven camps and I swore to my momma that I'd lose the weight. I want to, but I can't help myself. [breaks down]
In "Fatbeard", Cartman goes to Somalia with Butters, Clyde, Kevin, and Ike. There's one pirate who explains to Butters and Ike why he became a pirate, is scared every day because he fears his family will die, does not want to be a pirate, and can't understand why anybody would want to live like that.
Pirate: Every day, I dream that I can go to school, learn about the world. But my mother, she is dying of AIDS, and there is no money for medicine. My father was killed trying to find food for us. Do you know how I feel every time we try to capture a boat? Scared! And not just scared because I might get killed, but scared because if I don't get something out of it, my family and friends are going to die! I don't want to be a pirate. I don't see how anybody would!
In one episode, Cartman's grandmother dies and leaves him a million dollars. Rather than save it or donate it to charity, Cartman decides to buy a theme park that only he can enjoy and no one else can come in. The whole ordeal upsets Kyle greatly because he knows people like Cartman do horrible things to people on a daily basis, yet they never get punished for their actions while Kyle himself suffers a nasty hemorrhoid for no reason, even though he does his best to do the right things in life. Kyle also sees Cartman putting up television ads that show off his theme park while still bragging about how no one is allowed to visit it. Kyle then renounces his Jewish faith and believes that if people like Cartman can get away with anything while Kyle suffers for no reason, then there is no god. Towards the end of the episode, Kyle is slowly dying from his hemorrhoid because he gave up the will to live. Stan tells Cartman what is happening to Kyle, but naturally, Cartman doesn't care. Once Cartman starts to feel the effects of Laser-Guided Karma by selling his park back to the original owner and then losing everything to the IRS for tax evasion, Stan takes Kyle out to the park to witness Cartman's meltdown and seeing it is what brings Kyle back to life.
What really makes it hurt is when Kyle and Stan attempt to climb over the huge fence to the park to spite Cartman. While climbing the fence, Kyle pops his hemorrhoid and starts sobbing in pain. It seems really stupid (and probably is), but there's just something about the way Kyle breaks down just really makes you feel for him.
The ending of the "Black Friday" trilogy. Cartman, of all people, is absolutely crestfallen by Bill Gates brutally killing the president of Sony to win the meaningless victory of the console wars. He manages to get an Xbox One, but can't find the effort to play it after what happened.
Stan and Kyle have an earlier moment that's heart-wrenching. After Stan gets framed and grounded (thanks to Cartman), Kyle tries to set things right, but ends up getting rejected. This is Harsher in Hindsight when you realize in earlier episodes, it is usually Stan that goes through Hell just to fix any problems between him an Kyle, and in this sequence he finds himself unable to trust his best friend anymore. When he calls for his mother to get Kyle to leave, his voice cracks and rises, making the moment more heart-wrenching. Luckily, Kyle fixes this and promises to get Stan a PS4.
The ending to "The Hobbit", in which Wendy gives up her crusade on self-image after Kanye West guilt-trips her by reading a story of how Photoshop helps girls feel better, followed by her tearfully Photoshopping a picture of herself to look like a bombshell.
Cartman crying for his mom while in juvenile hall in the episode "Cartman's Silly Hate Crime 2000".
"Free Willzyx" is a merciless episode in many senses. The boys become convinced, by a stupid prank, that an orca from Sea World has become sentient and will die unless he goes home to the moon. They go to quite extraordinary lengths to help it, recruiting the Animal Liberation Front to rescue him and drive them down to Mexico for a cheap space program (the ALF, of course, think that they're trying to release him back into the ocean). The sheer horror of the ALF when they realize what's happening is bad enough, but worst of all is the ending. Willzyx asphyxiates on the moon, and the credits roll in eerie silence.
"Tsst" reveals that Cartman's mother has a lot of personal problems. Most notably that her son is a psychopath and she isn't strong enough to discipline him. Just when it seems like Cartman is about to reform with the help of Caesar Milan, Cartman's mum begins to fall for him and he turns her down. She then slips right back into the old routine of letting Cartman run her life.
In the final moments of that episode, it becomes painfully clear that Cartman's mum is a very lonely woman, which has greatly affected her parenting skills. The only reason she spoils Cartman is so that she can feel needed.