Somehow, some way, by making Chef into a brainwashed pedophile mauled to death by animals, Trey Parker and Matt Stone gave Isaac Hayes an unexpectedly moving, fantastically heartfelt sendoff. The 10th-season premiere of South Park on Comedy Central Wednesday night, called “The Return of Chef,” was an extraordinary half-hour of television, and all the proof one needs that when Parker and Stone have something to say — about issues big or intimate — their snowsuited, foulmouthed, cutout children are all the alter egos a couple of passionate sacred-cow killers could need.
It all started weeks ago with the press release that announced Hayes’ departure from the show, citing its “intolerance and bigotry” toward religion, a few days before the now-infamous Tom Cruise-in-a-closet episode’s re-airing was nixed, purportedly after pressure from Cruise. But Wednesday night Parker and Stone, using previous episodes to patch together Chef’s dialogue, showed that their beef was not with their friend, and took the fight to Hayes’ monolithic spiritual overseers by portraying them as a group of globe-trotting pederasts, called the Super Adventure Club, who have turned the beloved Chef into an automaton whose rhythmic declarations of sweet, sweet lovemaking are now directed toward children instead of women. (The none-too-subtle idea is that Parker and Stone don’t believe those are Hayes’ words in the press release.)
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What was so crazily heartbreaking was seeing the usual Parker-Stone taboo blasts — namely, a heaping dollop of crude jokes about sex with kiddies as a metaphor for religious zealotry and indoctrination — in the service of a story that was incredibly personal for the creators. Watching Cartman and the gang try to help Chef escape from the clutches of his captors was so weirdly touching it started to feel like a very real nightmare of lost friendship. But don’t get me wrong, it was still hilarious; they’re still not done with their church nemeses. And whether that was James Earl Jones’ voice or not in their knockout of an ending, I can only say, may the force be with you, Trey and Matt.