South Park: The Return of Chef!
[This episode review contains spoilers]
Isaac Hayes' time spent on South Park was no accident. He was the always the first and only choice to play Chef, and creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone worked hard to convince him their silly little cartoon would be worth doing. Over the better part of a decade, Hayes seemed to really embrace both the character and the show's brutal satire.
And until a few days ago, everything remained seemingly copacetic. Suddenly, however, Hayes left the show over its jabs at religion, leading many, including the show's creators, to believe he had actually left the show over the "Trapped in the Closet" episode which made fun of Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology, of which Hayes is also a member.
Then came news that Chef would actually be making a triumphant return to the show in the season opener. Comedy Central remained wisely closed-lipped about the episode and what Chef's role would be, but that didn't stop a lot of mainstream media outlets from speculating on the new episode, even though Comedy Central ultimately gave them no real information.
I imagined they would probably just use old clips of Hayes playing Chef to provide Chef's voice, and had I actually blogged about it I'd be able to say I told you so, since that's exactly what they did. What I didn't expect was for this little "trick" to result in one of the most hysterical and bittersweet episodes of South Park I've ever seen.
When Chef returns to South Park after joining the Secret Adventure Club, an organization that travels the world molesting young children, he seems different. Cartman describes Chef as "trippy" and things get even "trippier" when he starts telling the children he wants to make sweet love to them. In one scene that made me laugh so hard I nearly fell off my couch, several of Chef's lines from previous episodes were combined to form the sentence, "I want to stick my balls in your rectum, Kyle."
Parker and Stone's humor has always been drawn from anger. Their anger this time, however, was not centered on Chef. Sure, the episode made him out to be a brainwashed freak who winds up having his face torn off by wild animals and turned into a Darth Vader-esque figure by the "fruity little club" he belongs to, but it was made clear that it was the club (read: Scientology) that did this to Chef. After Chef falls to what appears to be his death, there's a very poignant moment where Stan shakes his fists at the Super Adventure Club headquarters and screams, "You killed Chef!" to which Stan replies, "You bastards!"
Rage, to paraphrase Mel Brooks, is the ultimate fuel for satire. The guiding ethos of South Park has always been a deep-seeded anger towards people and institutions that take themselves too seriously. When someone they care about winds up hurt by these same people and institutions, the rage, and ultimately, the humor, increases ten fold. It's a shame that Hayes chose to leave South Park (or did he?) but if we can find even a small amount of good from this, it's that Chef's farewell episode will probably be remembered as one of the funniest, and most memorable, of the series.