South Park has been a cultural touchstone for so long that you might not even consciously remember just how long it’s aired. But this weekend, Comedy Central revealed the answer — 234 episodes, 16 seasons worth, or over five days straight.
The proof comes with the Ultimate South Park Marathon, an online-only descent into the complete run of South Park, leading up to the premiere of Season 17 this Wednesday.
Beginning on Saturday, Sept. 21 at 3 PM ET, Southparkstudios.com began a steady stream of every episode, interrupted only by ads for the sole sponsor, soccer video game FIFA 14. It’s doubtful that any really devoted fan will stay tuned for all 94 hours, 59 minutes and 40 seconds of the marathon, but if they do they’ll also get to check out creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “Year of the Fan” commentary, as well as the documentary 6 Days to Air, which chronicles the process by which South Park is made.
I checked in on the marathon at a couple of different points throughout the weekend: Once on Saturday afternoon, just as it was reaching the end of Season 1, and then Sunday morning (at which point it was right in the middle of Season 4).
The amount of live-tweeting wasn’t huge, at least on the #spmarathon and #southparkmarathon tags, though there were a few fans checking in regularly.
watching South Park with little brother. he’s laughing just as much as I did when I was 10 and watching it. #SouthParkMarathon
— Uncle Cups (@Colin_Cups) September 22, 2013
Nothing to watch on TV today. Guess I’ll settle for streaming the #SPMARATHON
— Joshua Travis (@jktravis) September 22, 2013
South Park has been on at my house for like 10 hours now #southparkmarathon
— Evan Myler Moore (@mooreva16) September 22, 2013
Commercial interruptions only occurred in between episodes; while the one-to-two minute ads were exclusively for FIFA 14, there were at least four of them in rotation (always important in a marathon situation), and each was relatively funny and unique. Plus, they were just the right length for a bathroom break.
What I find fascinating about the South Park-a-thon is this: If you have or have ever had a cable subscription, you might remember an occasion when you’d turn on the TV and there’d be a movie you like playing on some basic cable station — a movie you like enough, in fact, to own on DVD.
But instead of getting up and playing the DVD of the movie, so you can watch from the beginning, commercial-free, you’ll sit there and watch it on cable, right to the end.
This might not be a universal experience, but it’s the best equivalent I can come up with for the South Park marathon — because every single episode being streamed as a part of it is available to watch right now on southparkstudios.com. Every episode has been available, in fact, since the site’s launch in 2008.
Of course, that presumes you feel the need to watch a specific episode of South Park, as opposed to just sinking into the experience of reconnecting with the animated hijinks of .
I’ve never been a huge fan of the series, but South Park is an impressive comedic achievement, and at the very least it’s hard not to admire something that has lasted for as long as it has. The ability to pop in and out on the show’s remarkable legacy over the next couple of days is perhaps the best way to celebrate that.