"Pinkeye" is the seventh episode in the first season of the American animated television series South Park. It originally aired on Comedy Central in the United States on October 29, 1997. In "Pinkeye", Kenny is killed and, through a freak accident, he is brought back to life as a zombie and starts terrorizing South Park residents, who believe the rise of the living dead is an epidemic of "pinkeye".
The episode was written by series co-founders Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with writer Philip Stark. The episode was the first of a new slate of South Park episodes Parker and Stone made after Comedy Central agreed to permanently pick up the show. The duo were not happy with the episode, particularly the ending, and were surprised by the positive response it received from fans. Parker said he also wanted the episode to convey, in part, that Halloween is a positive holiday for children.
"Pinkeye" received generally positive reviews and has been described as one of the classic episodes of South Park. It was viewed by 1.75 million households the week it aired, an unusually high amount for Comedy Central at the time. The episode introduced the recurring character Principal Victoria when Cartman dresses as Adolf Hitler. Victoria removes Cartman's costume and attempts to dress him as a ghost, but inadvertently makes Cartman resemble a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The costumes initially worried Comedy Central executives, but the negative feedback received was minimal.
Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny are waiting for the school bus as usual when the Mir Space Station lands and kills Kenny. Kenny's body is taken to the local morgue. One of the men at the morgue accidentally leaves a bottle of Worcestershire sauce open and its contents mix with the embalming fluid, turning Kenny into a zombie. Kenny bites the two men and leaves in the middle of the night.
The next day Kenny rejoins his friends, who are dressed up for a Halloween costume contest. Stan is dressed as Raggedy Andy (since Wendy would be going as Raggedy Ann, thus making a pair), Kyle wears a Chewbacca mask, and Cartman is dressed as Adolf Hitler, much to the fury of Kyle, who is Jewish. A zombified Kenny joins the boys, but they fail to notice that he is a zombie. At school, Kyle gets more annoyed after discovering that the other students (as well as Mr. Hat) are also dressed as Chewbacca, while Mr. Garrison is dressed as Marilyn Monroe. Worst of all, Wendy is dressed as Chewbacca; she explains that she changed costumes because they would have looked stupid as the Raggedy couple and she figured Stan would realize it too. A stubborn Kyle decides to make a new costume so he can win the prize, two tons of candy. Both Chef (dressed as Evel Knievel) and Principal Victoria are annoyed to see Cartman dressed as Hitler. Victoria makes him a "ghost" costume but he ends up looking more like a Ku Klux Klan member, which annoys Chef even more. At the contest, which is judged by Tina Yothers, Wendy (despite wearing the same costume as the other students) wins the candy, much to the fury of Kyle, who is now dressed as the Solar System. Stan wins the worst costume and everyone laughs at him, leaving him humiliated.
Meanwhile, thanks to Kenny, the two men are mistakenly diagnosed to have "pinkeye", but they turn into zombies and go around biting other people, turning them into zombies. Back home, Chef, who sees the outbreak on TV, tries to warn both the doctor and Mayor McDaniels (who is having sex with Officer Barbrady), but his pleas are ignored. The boys go trick-or-treating (Kyle now dressed as a vampire), not noticing the outbreak, and abandon Kenny, who continues to eat people. They arrive at Chef's home, and Chef tells them what is really going on before taking them to the morgue to stop the outbreak. After discovering the hotline number on the Worcestershire sauce bottle, the boys and Chef are attacked by the zombies with Chef becoming the next victim and dancing with other zombies. Stan and Cartman kill the other zombies with chainsaws and Stan hesitates to kill a zombified Wendy. After Kyle discovers he has to kill the original zombie (after being told complicatedly by the hotline lady), he slices Kenny in half, killing him. The spell is broken and all the zombies turn back to normal. Stan makes up with Wendy and they are about to kiss but he ends up puking on her, leaving her disgusted.
The episode ends with the boys mourning at Kenny's grave and deciding to go home to eat candy as well as look at photos of Liane Cartman, who is on the cover of a porn magazine, much to the fury of Cartman claiming she was young and needed the money; Stan says the photos were taken a month ago, infuriating Cartman even more. Kenny returns as a zombie again, but a statue lands on him, followed by an airplane.
Comedy Central originally ordered only six episodes of South Park for the first season's initial run. However, when the show proved to be a success, they requested an additional seven, the first ones of which creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone had to produce quickly. "Pinkeye" was the first of those new seven episodes to be produced. It was also the first South Park Halloween episode. The script was written by Parker, Stone and writer Philip Stark, and was directed by Parker and Stone, who made the pinkeye a major element of the plot because they associate the illness with the elementary school experience. Parker said, "Pinkeye is just such a huge part of your life when you're in third grade. Pinkeye is the thing every third grader gets and it's just such a bizarre thing." In writing the episode, Parker said he wanted to convey his belief that Halloween is a positive holiday, especially for children: "Halloween's a great thing. That was part of what we wanted (to say). I think kids having this kind of mythology is great."
"Pinkeye" was the first South Park episode to feature a cold open, or an opening scene jumping right into the story before the opening credits are shown. In all previous episodes, and the majority of those following it, the episode starts after the opening credits and follows a three-act model, more in the style of a short film than a traditional television episode. "Pinkeye" was the first episode in which Kenny's death was a key element of the episode and a catalyst of the plot, rather than a throwaway gag. It was also the first time Kenny died multiple times: once in the beginning, once as a zombie and once at the end when he is resurrected a second time. The blood featured in the episode was deliberately designed to look primitive as a reference to The Spirit of Christmas, the 1995 animated short film by Parker and Stone that served as a precursor to South Park, in which the blood was literally drawn with a Sharpie marker. For the final scene when Kenny comes back to life a second time, the dramatic music was inserted at the last moment by Parker with a synthesizer.
Parker and Stone had trouble deciding how to resolve the episode and bring the zombie characters back to life. Although they ultimately settled on having Kyle kill the "main zombie" to bring back the others, Parker did not feel the resolution made sense and described it as a deus ex machina. Parker said of the ending, "This was another big one of those episodes where we were sort of (like), 'How do we get out of this one?'" Parker also described the ending of the episode as "a bloodbath, (which) is what a good zombie movie should be". "Pinkeye" was the first South Park episode Parker and Stone felt unsatisfied with once production was complete. Parker said, "We were pretty bummed out, and we kind of thought, well, we're going to have a bad episode go on the air, and hopefully it won't alienate too many people, and we'll try to get our viewers back for Thanksgiving. But we were totally wrong, people totally loved it."
Stone said he felt the episode solidified major characteristics embodied by the Chef character, particularly the fact that he is one of the only adults in South Park who always understands the truth of any given situation and believes the children almost all of the time. Stone said, "It's like the parents are all nuts that live in the town. The boys are kind of the most sane and Chef is really the only one in town who believes the kids when they say (something) is happening, when the kids are actually right and it's the town that's crazy." "Pinkeye" was also the first episode in which Liane Cartman, Eric Cartman's mother, was portrayed as a promiscuous woman who was previously a crack whore and is willing to engage in pornographic sex for money; during the episode, she is mentioned and actually featured on the cover of "Crack Whore Magazine", much to Cartman's shock and dismay.
Before its release on Comedy Central, "Pinkeye" was shown at the first annual New York Comedy Film Festival at New York Film Academy on October 26, 1997. Out of about 50 films shown in the festival, "Pinkeye" was chosen as the final exhibition to close the festival. Parker and Stone appeared on The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn on October 27, to promote the episode and the first season in general. In its original American television broadcast, "Pinkeye" received a Nielsen Rating of 3.8, meaning the episode was seen by about 1.75 million households. Television journalists said the rating was unusually high for Comedy Central standards; the network averages a 0.6 rating (276,000 households) during prime time, and prior to South Park, the channel's highest rating was a 2.7 (1.24 million households) for the second season premiere of Absolutely Fabulous. In 2000, The Museum of Television & Radio in Beverly Hills, California held a three-month horror festival called "Monster in the Box: Horror on Television", which included "Pinkeye" in its selection of classic or excellent horror-related television comedy episodes. It also included The Munsters episode "Munster Masquerade" and The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror V".
"Pinkeye" was released, along with 11 other episodes, in a three-DVD set in November 1998. It was included in the second volume, which also included the episodes "An Elephant Makes Love to a Pig", "Death" and "Damien". "Pinkeye" was also one of six episodes included on a 1998 VHS called "South Park Festival Special", which included "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo", "Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson!", "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics", "Korn's Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery", and "Starvin' Marvin". The episode, along with the other twelve from the first season, was also included in the DVD release "South Park: The Complete First Season", which was released on November 12, 2002. Parker and Stone recorded commentary tracks for each episode, but they were not included with the DVDs due to "standards" issues with some of the statements; Parker and Stone refused to allow the tracks to be edited and censored, so they were released in a CD completely separate from the DVDs.
"Pinkeye" has been described as one of the classic episodes of South Park. In "Doug Pratt's DVD-Video Guide", Pratt, a DVD reviewer and Rolling Stone contributor, calls "Pinkeye" his favorite episode of the first season of South Park: "We like it primarily because the subject – a horror satire – seems ideally suited for the show's irreverent attitude." Eric Mink of the New York Daily News complimented the episode, which he felt illustrated many of the outrageous and shocking elements that had made South Park so popular. He said the episode was particularly notable for its graphic violence: "Most sitcoms would have a problem doing an episode in which one regular character slices another regular character in half with a chainsaw. Not South Park." Mike Higgins of The Independent said this episode helped "cement (Eric Cartman's) position as one of the great, obnoxious characters of the Nineties", particularly through his Adolf Hitler Halloween costume.
Matt Roush of USA Today said of the episode, "Absurdly nihilistic and savagely derisive ... South Park's twisted take on a holiday special will delight anyone who favors SweeTarts over candy corn." Kevin M. Williams of the Chicago Sun-Times described the episode as "a Halloween-themed tour de force of crudeness, a wild romp with blood, brains and gore." Vijay Ramanavarapu of The Plain Dealer said the episode was "very offensive", particularly for its mockery of Kyle for his Judaism. The Baltimore Sun also described the episode as offensive and said of it, "Looking for sophisticated humor, finely honed satire and superior animation in your cartoons? Then stay far away from Comedy Central tonight."
RealSouthPark.com, a 1999 website that examined real-life people and places that may have inspired South Park episodes, suggested the settings in "Pinkeye" may have been inspired by a supposedly haunted hotel in Fairplay, Colorado, a Park County town that serves as the basis for the South Park location within the show. In a review of the site, however, The Australian suggested the interpretation was unlikely, since the hotel is rumored to be haunted by ghosts, not zombies.