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TV REVIEW: South Park "The Return of Chef"

November 18, 2005  Al Barger

"TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET" IMAGES  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30

"Trapped in the Closet" Photo Notes

FIRST AIRED MARCH 22, 2006 Chef wasn't himself in this episode, created in the week after Isaac Hayes quit the show and denounced his longtime friends and partners Parker and Stone. But then, the show wasn't quite itself either.

It's been a lot of fun watching the brouhaha over the last few days since he quit, then the dust up over the cancellation of the rerun of the Scientology show that started the controversy, and the servants-of-Xenu response. Man, it must be great to have the world by the sack like Parker and Stone.

It hadn't occurred to me that they would have personal feelings about this. But Isaac Hayes has been there with them since the beginning. He was their partner in crime and mentor of cool. It's clear from this episode that Parker and Stone feel abandoned, and care more about the loss of their friend than another little round of publicity.

In his eulogy for Chef, Kyle says "Some of us feel hurt and confused that he seemed to turn his back on us." That's quite a public admission of vulnerability coming from these macho pirates. After all, like L Ron Hubbard, Parker and Stone have many enemies.

On the surface, this episode looks normal, but it's not a typical South Park. The style of their animation is the same as ever. The narrative structure is customary. Like the returned Chef, it looks standard.

But the whole tone of the show was different. Generally, South Park is really good natured. They don't suffer fools gladly, and they gleefully slice up the buncombe of the day and serve the fools up like Chef's Salisbury steak, but like HL Mencken there's nothing hateful or malicious in it. When they mocked the beliefs of Scientologists in the "Trapped in the Closet" episode that set all this off, it was just business.

But the attacks in "The Return of Chef" are absolutely malicious. The brainwashing Super Adventure Club is an organization dedicated to traveling the world molesting children. This was pretty funny. They were particularly witty in classical South Park manner in the explanation of the beliefs of the club's founder. See, he believed that he had achieved immortality by molesting children, with a pseudo-scientific explanation dissolving into religious gibberish that sounded like L Ron Hubbard.

I have not the stomach or interest to study L Ron Hubbard's sordid personal history to know the facts, but it would seem that Parker and Stone mean for this pedophilic characterization to play off of allegations only gently hinted at in their Scientology episode.

South Park characters explain about L Ron Hubbard  

The voicing of Chef was surprisingly creatively effective. They simply cut up bits of Isaac Hayes lines from previous episodes. This sounds like it would be disjointed and not sound right - but that was exactly the effect they wanted. They used that brilliantly. It sounded like his voice asking the children if they wanted to "sodomize my black ass" and even cruder and more inappropriate suggestions regarding their grade school behinds - but that wasn't really Chef.

But none of this is really any attack on the beliefs of Scientology. "Trapped in the Closet" already did that, addressing the group frontally by name and mocking the specific writings of Hubbard. This episode isn't really even trying to do such a thing. It's not about that. They may have had it coming, but this was more like a gratuitous punch in the nuts to the bastards who took Chef away from them rather than an intellectual examination. They meant it just that way.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this was the way in which Parker and Stone grapple with the blame and responsibility. They really, really WANT to absolve their old buddy of blame. Stan says specifically that we shouldn't be mad at Chef, but at the cult that lured him in and brainwashed him. They hypnotized him with this spinning thingy and messed up his mind.

But Parker and Stone are too scrupulously honest and too true to what THEY believe to let themselves or Hayes off the hook that way. The children busted in and rescued Chef. They escaped the Super Adventure Club, and crossed the bridge to safety. Chef made a clear and conscious decision to turn his back. "But we love you." Then Chef says -- now clearly sounding like himself -- "I'm sorry children" and heads back across that bridge of his own free will.

Chef quickly meets a bad end, impaled on a tree stump and mauled by a lion AND a bear. Note that after all this, they seem to one more time absolve him of the wrongdoings of the group, apparently killed before actually doing anything bad. "He would have made an excellent child molester."

They had a funeral service for closure, with this truly touching eulogy from Kyle

A lot of us don't agree with the choices Chef has made in the past few days. Some of us feel hurt and confused that he seemed to turn his back on us. But we can't let the events of the last week take away the memories of how much Chef made us smile. I'm going to remember Chef as the jolly old guy who always broke into song. I'm going to remember Chef as the guy who gave us advice to live by.
Chef is gone, dead to the children. But for Parker and Stone, there's really no closure. Their friend is gone from them, but remains in the clutches of the evil ones. The Super Adventure Club scraped up Chef's remains, and put him in some kind of bionic suit, reborn as essentially Chef Vader. In theory, that's Chef in there, but there's not much of him left. Doesn't sound like him, or talk like him - an evil monstrosity that used to be a friend.

It's the saddest South Park ever.


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