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Test Pattern: Chef returns to ‘South Park’

Hayes’ character makes a bloody, disturbing exit from show

Chef’s disturbing farewell

Warning: Spoilers for the season premiere of “South Park,” which aired Wednesday night, abound.

Wednesday night on “South Park,” as promised, the creators the character that Scientologist Isaac Hayes will no longer be voicing due to an episode mocking his religion. Brought him back and then set him on fire, impaled him, shot him, and had him attacked by both a mountain lion and a bear. Gee, you don’t think there are any hard feelings, do you?

If anyone had tuned in to the show for the first time because of the Hayes controversy, they likely thought that the show lived up to every horrendous thing ever said about it. That was one foul-mouthed episode. How extreme was it? Prisoners in HBO’s “Oz” were covering their dainty little ears and fainting away in horror, it was so explicit. But if you knew the story behind the episode and were somewhat inured to the “South Park” style, it was also laugh-out-loud, horrified-that-I’m-laughing-at-this funny.

The show started with an inspired “previously on ‘South Park’ ” flashing back to an episode that never existed, in which Chef left town to join something called the Super Adventure Club. He did return to town, but the character was noticeably different. Chef was only able to speak pre-recorded lines Hayes had recorded for other episodes, so this resulted in scenes where another character would talk for about five minutes, offering up a ton of exposition so Chef could reply with a few basic pre-recorded words. “Did Chef seem a little trippy to you?” a bewildered Cartman asks.

Then Chef’s vocabulary changes, and the words now being put into his mouth are from Chef’s many love songs and sexual come-ons. It appears that the Super Adventure Club has brainwashed the once fine and decent man into becoming a wannabe child molester. Eventually, the boys learn the bizarre beliefs and secrets of the Super Adventure Club, which are introduced in a format similar to that in which some of the Scientology beliefs were presented in the episode that so upset Hayes. The Super Adventure Club's beliefs involve weird things that live inside human bodies and a dragon monster thing and a belief in immortality and — oh, never mind, it doesn’t matter. The Super Adventure Club leader, when confronted by the kids, gets defensive and asks if his group's beliefs are "any more retarded" than some of the more dramatic beliefs of Christianity or other religions. Sensible little Stan isn't buying it. "Yeah. It's way, way, more retarded," he announces.

When Chef is eventually killed off, Rasputin-like, he’s honored with a large funeral, where the town buries his spatula since they don’t have a body. It turns out the Super Adventure Club has dragged his grotesque remains back to their mansion, where in an homage to the final scene in “Revenge of the Sith,” he’s fitted with Darth Vader-like armor and breathing apparatus. Genius: Because now, should the creators want to write Chef back into the show, they won’t have to explain why his voice is different. Meanwhile, at the funeral, the boys honored him with words that were less about Chef than about the Hayes situation. “We shouldn’t be mad at Chef for leaving us,” says little Kyle. “We should be mad at that fruity little club for scrambling his brains.”

Scientology, the ball’s in your court.

Chef returns to ‘South Park’

I wrote last week about and the war of words that ensued between Hayes and "South Park's" creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. At the time, the episode that likely irked Hayes, the "Trapped in the Closet" episode which mocked Scientology, was scheduled to air last Wednesday. It didn't. Comedy Central apparently yanked it in favor of a Chef-centric episode.

But they won't be able to try any such shenanigans tonight, when the tenth season of "South Park" premieres with an episode called "The Return of Chef." You can watch a tiny teaser clip of that episode on the (scroll to the March 20 episode, and be warned, it's really quite short).

In the clip, Chef can be seen racing behind Cartman and pals and yelling for them to run, in Isaac Hayes' voice. that indeed all of Chef's dialogue in this episode is taken from pre-recorded clips. The site quotes Hayes' spokesperson as saying that Hayes is aware of this, and can't do anything about it, since the show paid for the vocals and has the right to use them however they like.

So this episode will be not just entertainment, but also a bit of a game, in which loyal fans listen for the Chef lines and try and remember which episode they might have originally come from. As Cartman might say: Hella cool! I love you guys!

They’ve got spirit

I've written before about how MTV's "Real World" has , featuring the worst examples of today's college-age kids. The show would have no plot if it weren't for binge drinking, random hookups and hot tub makeout sessions. Those who hate all reality TV are snorting "What did you expect?" but then again, I'm one of those who remembers the first few seasons, back when "Real World" was more of a documentary, featuring thoughtful kids with goals, jobs, and a sense of decency.

While "Real World" has returned again, airing its eight millionth season, this time in Key West, those of us who long for the old days when the show really held viewers' interest will want to switch off of MTV and turn to Lifetime for No, really. "Cheerleader Nation" (Sundays, 10 p.m. ET) has all the good parts of the old "Real World" seasons and, after its first few episodes, has shown no signs of catching whatever social disease has infected the recent seasons of that show.

"Cheerleader Nation" follows the uber-competitive cheerleading squad at Dunbar High School in Kentucky. If you've read James T. McElroy's wonderful "We've Got Spirit," an engrossing nonfiction book tracking Kentucky's Greenup County High, you'll remember Dunbar as one of Greenup's main rivals. Both schools feature cheerleading squads that are more about back handsprings than hairspray, where if you can't do a standing back tuck (back flip from a standing position) there's no point in even trying out for the squad.

On "Cheerleader Nation," one father who'd expected a football-playing son finds himself surprised to be just as caught up in his cheerleader daughter's competitions as he would have been a son's games. One cheerleader is the daughter of the coach, with all the extra plusses and pressures that brings her. And yes, one girl stands for what seems like hours on the tumbling mats, hands clenched at her sides, willing herself to get over whatever mental block stops her from doing a back tuck, knowing that she won't make the squad without it.

I've only seen two episodes, but unlike the "Real Worlders," these kids have goals and are willing to work towards them. Some of us still carry bad stereotypes of cheerleaders as the "mean girls" from high school, but so far, these kids are less the lords of the school and more true athletes, giving their all in hopes of winning a national championship for their school. It's fascinating and inspiring, and after season after season of the drunken whiners of "Real World," it's nice to see kids on TV who give you hope again.

Multi-link Monday: ‘Snakes’ to sketches

Let's start off the week with another quintet of random linkage, shall we?

• No one has forgotten we're still waiting for the summer release of (warning: audio) right? There have been fake trailers already, but (warning: audio/video) appears to be the real thing. At least there are a whole heck of a lot of snakes, and a plane seems to be involved. I'm a little unhappy that the lists a puppeteer so highly. they're PUPPET snakes? Rip-off!

• If you're like me, your NCAA March Madness bracket isn't looking so good about now (damn North Carolina!). Comfort yourself with jelly beans in your favorite team's colors. Jelly Belly has its outlining which flavors match up with each team.

• Remember last week's ? tells you what goofy holiday matches up with your birthday or other special day. My birthday is apparently Lemon Cupcake Day. (Another great link from co-worker Mark!)

• Remember the scene in "The Doors" movie where "Light My Fire" is used in a Buick commercial? I thought of that while watching (warning: audio/video). Way to snap, crackle and pop there, Mick.

• Reader-submitted link: Ginger sends in , in which you draw an online picture and exchange it with an unknown someone (sketches are checked for content before being exchanged). I'm not nearly a good enough artist to attempt this, but it sounds fun anyway. Send in your own link suggestions for next Monday!