Chef's Back, Even If Hayes Isn't
'South Park' premiere trumpets character's returnLOS ANGELES --
The series, which has been the focus of much media speculation in the past week over Hayes leaving and Comedy Central's pulling of a Scientology-mocking episode, begins its 10th season Wednesday night with an episode called "The Return of Chef!" -- while making no mention of Hayes.
In the episode, Chef makes a "triumphant homecoming" to South Park (even prior to the "Trapped in the Closet" episode that apparently sparked Hayes' departure, the character hadn't been seen much for a while). The boys are glad to have their friend back, but "they notice that something about Chef seems different."
Where most animated shows need months to complete an episode, "South Park" is often able to turn out a completed show in a matter of days. Therefore, Parker and Stone, who also do much of the voice work, can poke fun current events faster than pretty much any other show in primetime (last spring's "Best Friends Forever," which commented on the Terri Schiavo case, is a good example).
Hayes, who's voiced Chef since "South Park" debuted in 1997, released a statement last week saying he wanted out of the show after deciding he no longer could take the show's frequent mocking of religion. The series has targeted Christianity, Islam and Judaism as well as Scientology. In his own statement, Stone challenged Hayes' stated reasons for leaving, noting he'd never objected to religious satire until after the "Trapped in the Closet" episode aired.
A few days after that, Comedy Central pulled a scheduled repeat of "Trapped in the Closet," which led to rumors that Tom Cruise -- also a target of the episode -- had threatened to pull out of promoting "Mission: Impossible 3" if the episode aired again. Paramount, which is releasing the movie, and Comedy Central are both owned by Viacom.
Cruise's reps denied the rumor, and Comedy Central said it wanted to give Hayes a nice sendoff by showing two Chef-centric episodes instead.
We're thinking all this might spark a little interest in the season premiere.