For those who missed last night’s South Park scandal du jour: Following a “warning” from a radical Muslim group who were out to “raise awareness” of the fact that South Park creators might, you know, possibly be brutally murdered for poking fun at Muhammad—they’re just sayin’, is all—Comedy Central aired a heavily censored version of last night’s “201” episode with all instances of the word “Muhammad” (and there were a lot) bleeped out. You can read all about it in our review, in which we (okay, I) pondered at the time whether it was a network decision or a creative one, perhaps meant as some sort of satirical commentary on the ridiculousness of censorship. The climactic scene, where the show’s usual “I learned something today” speech was itself covered up by protracted bleeps, certainly seemed to suggest the latter. However, not 15 minutes after the review was posted, we received word that the episode had been pulled from its usual midnight rerun slot, an unusual circumstance quickly followed by this message appearing on South Park Studios, in place of where the streaming episode would normally go:
We apologize that South Park Studios cannot stream episode 201 at this time. After we delivered the show, and prior to broadcast, Comedy Central placed numerous additional audio bleeps throughout the episode. We do not have network approval to stream our original version of the show. We will bring you a version of 201 as soon as we can.
This morning, a spokesperson for Comedy Central confirmed with the New York Times that the network had, in fact, added “more bleeps to the episode than were in the cut delivered by South Park Studios, and that it was not giving permission for the episode to run on the studio’s Web site.” We’re still not clear on which bleeps were already in the cut: I’m still of the cautious opinion that the bleeping of the final speech was deliberate on South Park’s part, but it’s also possible that the network is referring to the usual bleeps used to cover up profanity. Hopefully sometime soon we’ll have word from the South Park camp itself.
UPDATE: We reached out with our own request for information and received the following from another Comedy Central spokesperson: "We’re not commenting, but I can tell you that we were responsible for the bleeps and not showing Muhammad in last night’s episode. Matt and Trey are not doing any press at this time, but I’ll let you know if that changes."
Which gives us another question to ponder: Could this possibly all be a publicity stunt, with the network and South Park working together to generate even more controversy? After all, if Comedy Central really had a problem with the episode, why not just pull it, rather than covering half of it up with bleeps? Does the fact that there's only one episode left in the season seem convenient to anyone else, like maybe next week will be some sort of commentary on this whole mess? Looks like we'll be thinking about this for a while—which might be exactly what they wanted all along.