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South Park: "201"

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Last week’s episode of South Park left us with several pressing questions: Who is Cartman’s real father? Would the assembly of pissed-off celebrities succeed in kidnapping Muhammad so they could steal his “goo,” which makes him impervious to mockery? Would the gingers get there first? Could anyone find a way to defeat Mecha-Streisand, since Robert Smith was apparently too busy to do a cameo? Why does The A.V. Club continue reviewing this show, when week after week they just don’t get it?


Then, in the last 24 hours a far more pressing question came up: Would South Park continue making relatively light fun of the idea that even making relatively light fun of Muhammad is verboten, especially now that they’ve received death “warnings” from radical Muslims? And wouldn’t you know it, the answer to that question spawned its own question: Did the creators of South Park intentionally bleep out all occurrences of the name “Muhammad” tonight as a way of satirically commenting on the controversy? Or was it Comedy Central’s own fears over stoking the flames even further that caused them to chicken out? And by doing so, did America give in to terrorism?

Unfortunately I don’t have an ironclad answer for you on whether the bleeping was meant to be there all along—though I expect we’ll find out soon enough. On the one hand, yes, it seems like could it have been hastily added after the fact, owing to some combination of wanting to point out how ridiculous the whole thing is while also covering their own asses. (After all, the name “Muhammad” was bandied about freely last week, before anyone brought Theo Van Gogh into this.) On the other, it definitely would appear that the long bleeps covering up the de rigueur “I learned something today” speeches at the end were an extended “fuck you” to censorship, and as such they simply had to have been planned. It seems too crucial to the “message”—that if you let censorship have its way, art loses all its meaning (or something hifalutin like that)—for it to be a late addition, so I’m going to err toward the “it was planned all along” argument, while keeping the idea in reserve that Parker and Stone decided to just be really, really annoying about it once Comedy Central forced their hand. (After all, the network hasn't exactly been smiles and sunshine about this before.)

But whatever the reasoning, it’s sure to become one of, if not the most talked-about episode of South Park ever by this time tomorrow—which is sort of funny, considering it was once again less of a cohesive episode than a grab bag of balls-out crazy scenes and cameos only loyal fans would really appreciate. Like I said last week (though I think it was lost under the looming shadow of that “C+”), that’s not necessarily a bad thing. South Park has established an insanely complex backstory and cast of tertiary characters, and there’s a certain thrill in seeing it try and cram as many of those as possible into one place, storytelling logic be damned, just so we can see the return of favorites like Mr. Hankey, Dr. Mephisto, Mr. Slave, Big Gay Al, and Pip (who finally returned from his mysterious three-year absence, only to be crushed to death). But it is funny to think what sort of impression this episode will have on anyone coming to South Park for the first time, just because they read about it in the ensuing press.

Also funny: the welcome surprise of Scott Tenorman’s Killing Joke-inspired revenge on Cartman, where we got the answer to the question Cartman insisted “way more” of us cared about than the Muhammad thing. Actually, finding out that Cartman’s dad was one of the Denver Broncos—who also happened to be Scott Tenorman’s father, whom Cartman had killed and then fed to his half-brother back during what is arguably the show’s finest hour—was a suitably fantastical, completely illogical contrivance that answered a question we didn’t really need answering in the first place, but it certainly fit right in with the rest of the crazy. (Also in that category: Mitch Connor’s Vietnam flashback. That guy has a pretty rich history for a left hand.)


Anyway, I would still prefer watching a regular South Park episode with a single plot to the crazy cartoon cavalcade that was “200” and “201,” but I suppose taking issue with South Park for indulging itself over its milestone would be like getting mad at a toddler for making a mess of his birthday cake. And while I did, in fact, take some issue last week with the show rehashing jokes that were—say it with me—funnier the first time, tonight took all of those rehashes and spun them off into newer, deliberately ridiculous places. Hey, it even found room for a throwaway riff on white liberal guilt in the Obama age, something the show may have built an entire episode around on a week where it didn’t have bigger things to concern itself with. And really, it was worth any number of crammed-in callbacks for the stinger of having Tom Cruise end up on the moon next to Willzyx; that silent shot of a decaying killer whale on the moon just never stops being funny.

But of course, all anyone will want to talk about is the bleeping, and whether it’s worth making such an extreme point about censorship at the expense of some potentially irritated viewers—and boy, there were a lot of them. So I’ll shut up now so we can all do that. First, even though I’m tempted to skip trying to assess a grade, I think I’ll just arbitrarily tack on some points to last week’s for a nice, safe, non-controversial “B,” which is sort of the equivalent of making some big statement about how silly it is that you can’t make fun of Muhammad, while also going out of your way to make sure that no one can ever accuse you of actually making fun of Muhammad. Thematic!


UPDATE: Well, that was fast. Not 15 minutes after I posted this article, South Park Studios replaced its page for "201" with the following message: "We apologize that South Park Studios cannot stream episode 201 at this time. After we delivered the show, and prior to broadcast, Comedy Central placed numerous additional audio bleeps throughout the episode. We do not have network approval to stream our original version of the show. We will bring you a version of 201 as soon as we can." So there you have it, I guess. The bleeps were added after the fact and against the show's wishes—which really makes you wonder what was being said in that last scene. Hopefully we'll have more clarification on this later.

UPDATED AGAIN: Comedy Central confirms that it censored the episode.


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