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‘South Park’ celebrates 200th episode with controversy

Published: April 23, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.


“South Park,” a show whose earliest origins stem from a college project of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, celebrated its 200th episode last week. Topics covered so far this season include sex addiction, banned literature, medicinal marijuana and Facebook.

Episode 200 and its follow-up do not fail to entertain as the denizens of South Park endure a class action lawsuit filed by every celebrity they have ever mocked in the past 199 episodes. Returning targets include Mel Gibson, previously portrayed as certifiably crazy; Rob Reiner, shown to be an over eating activist; and Barbara Streisand or, rather, Mecha Streisand, a mechanical Godzilla-type monster.

The episode begins innocuously enough as the children tour a chocolate factory. Stan, a character based on Parker, sees Tom Cruise packaging fudge and calls him a “fudge packer.” Cruise responds with a class action lawsuit, a situation reminiscent of Kanye West’s response to being called a gay fish in the episode “Fishsticks,” one of last year’s funniest episodes

The town attempts to convince Cruise to drop the lawsuit, and Cruise offers them a compromise: South Park’s residents must convince the prophet Muhammad to come to town. This sparks an intense debate—as one citizen puts it, “if Muhammad comes to town, we all get bombed.”

As this seemingly random story unfolds, the episodes’ main theme becomes apparent. Returning to one of the show’s more common topics, the episode becomes a dissertation on how Muhammad is considered the only religious figure that is off-limits when it comes to comedy. Through the citizens of South Park, the creators debate with Comedy Central about the inherent hypocrisy of marking a topic as taboo.

To me, it makes no sense that Muhammad cannot even be displayed, or, in the case of part 2, even mentioned by name—yet it is acceptable that they show Jesus watching porn and Buddha doing drugs. The show’s creators have allegedly received death threats based on the first of the two episodes, in which no likeness of Muhammad was ever shown. I think it is outright lunacy that one religious figure is off-limits. Either they are all off-limits—tantamount to restricting our free speech—or they are all fair game. By making Muhammad off-limits, it creates a barrier within the global community. It seems much better to be an equal member of the global community than to be asked to be treated differently.

Controversy aside, never before has “South Park” referenced its characters’ past escapades on such an immense scale. Classic episodes like “Trapped in the Closet,” “Fishsticks,” “The Super Best Friends,” “Cartoon Wars” and “Ginger Kids” are all referenced. With the onslaught of celebrity reappearances (the show itself counts them at 201), references are made to “The China Problem,” “Mecha Striesand,” and “The Passion of the Jew.” In the first part of story alone, “South Park” has referenced approximately 10 percent of all its previous episodes.

Having watched both parts of this story arc, it’s clear to me that this is an episode that dedicated fans will thoroughly enjoy. Occasional fans will likely find the episode good but miss some of the more subtle references. Unfortunately, this is an episode that would likely not be nearly as entertaining for someone not already interested in “South Park.”

Additionally, Comedy Central extensively censored the episode, completely silencing the concluding moral of the story, which was delivered in a speech given by Kyle, Jesus and Santa. As a result of the combined inaccessibility to new fans and the damage inflicted by Comedy Central via editing, I give this milestone episode four stars out of five.