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March 21, 2006
South Park's Cooking Revenge For Chef

Last night I watched a rerun of South Park -- my TiVo grabs them automatically and nothing much else was on -- when I noticed that the promos for the new season included a new ad in the rotation. This commercial referenced the "return of one of the most beloved characters," and had the four main characters of the show delightedly greeting Chef at the door. This piqued my curiosity, and the First Mate wondered if Isaac Hayes had returned to the show.

Apparently not, but it looks like Trey Parker and Matt Stone plan on giving him some payback for leaving:

The tenth season of "South Park" will launch on Wednesday with a new episode titled "The Return of Chef!", marking the "triumphant homecoming" of lusty school cafeteria cook James "Chef" McElroy to the show, the network said in a statement. ...

[A] network synopsis said the fictional town of South Park, Colorado, is "jolted out of a case of the doldrums when Chef suddenly reappears," leading to new antics by the group of foul-mouthed fourth graders who are the show's stars.

"While Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman are thrilled to have their old friend back, they notice that something about Chef seems different. When Chef's strange behavior starts getting him in trouble, the boys pull out all the stops to save him."

All of this started when the series ran an episode called "Trapped In The Closet", which added Scientology to a long list of religions and lifestyles lampooned by the series. Although Parker and Stone had exempted Hayes from appearing in that episode because of Hayes' membership in the group, Hayes quit anyway afterwards, claiming that he could not participate in religious "bigotry". That would be news to the Christian and Jewish fans of the show, whose faiths regularly receive satirical lashings, but then again Scientologists have never been known for their capacity to laugh at themselves.

That lack of ability to take what one dishes out arose again when the Comedy Channel abruptly pulled a rerun of the "Trapped" episode last week. Instead of broadcasting the controversial but hilarious episode, CC ran an episode from years ago called "Chef's Chocolate Salty Balls" and claimed that it wanted to do a retrospective of Chef's best episodes. That took Parker and Stone by surprise, but many noted that Comedy Channel's parent, Viacom, also owns Paramount Pictures -- and that Paramount's latest big-budget release, Mission Impossible 3, needs Tom Cruise to market the film. People have speculated that Cruise pressured Viacom to pull the episode, although no one has confirmed it.

For fans of the show, the synopsis provided by this season's premier episode sounds like vintage Parker/Stone payback. Their tight turnaround time gives them the flexibility to respond to breaking issues in the news, such as the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003. Based on the statement, it looks like Chef may well have fallen prey to a dangerous cult ... and that should drive the Scientologists right up the wall. That will provide the wages for the hypocrisy Hayes showed in his classless exit.

UPDATE: Mitch Berg points to a Roger Friedman article that questions whether Hayes actually quit on his own or if someone did it for him:

Isaac Hayes did not quit "South Park." My sources say that someone quit it for him.

I can tell you that Hayes is in no position to have quit anything. Contrary to news reports, the great writer, singer and musician suffered a stroke on Jan. 17. At the time it was said that he was hospitalized and suffering from exhaustion. ...

Friends in Memphis tell me that Hayes did not issue any statements on his own about South Park. They are mystified.

“Isaac’s been concentrating on his recuperation for the last two and a half, three months,” a close friend told me.

Hayes did not suffer paralysis, but the mild stroke may have affected his speech and his memory. He’s been having home therapy since it happened.

That certainly begs the question of who issued the statement that Hayes was quitting "South Park" now because it mocked Scientology four months ago. If it wasn’t Hayes, then who would have done such a thing?

Perhaps that will be the plot of a later episode ... or maybe it's the plot of this episode.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 21, 2006 5:37 AM

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