Comedy Central’s “South Park” finally managed to offend me last Wednesday. Mind you, it wasn’t my conscience that was offended. The show offended my sensibilities as a “South Park” fan.
During the show’s 14 seasons, I have watched with bemused shock (and awe) at its ability to shrug off the shackles of political correctness. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have never had to issue public apologies for including the prophet Muhammad in the show or for playing off Michael Richards in the “n—– guy” episode.
But they crossed the line on Wednesday — they made Kenny speak.
Kenny is one of the core characters of the show and has been since it first aired in 1997. He would inevitably die during every episode, leading his friends to proclaim “Oh my God! They killed Kenny!” The phrase was the first of the show’s many breaches into pop-culture relevance.
Another key aspect of Kenny’s character was his inability to be understood by the viewer. He could talk, but his tight orange hoodie muffled his voice so that only the show’s characters could understand it. On Wednesday, viewers discovered that Mysterion, one of the fully conversational members of the faux-superhero group on the show, was actually Kenny.
That transgression trampled on one of the more sacrosanct elements on television today. Kenny has spent nearly 14 years being unintelligible, and fans are all right with that. Sure, it was a mystery what his voice actually sounded like. But it was a mystery that no one needed (or wanted) solved.
More often than not, no one wants to know the answers to the questions television shows hold from them. Who did shoot J.R. during the series finale of “Dallas?” Everyone asks, but it would erase the questions “Who shot J.R.?” from the pop-culture landscape if we knew, so it’s best that we don’t.
The closing episodes of two of the last decade’s most acclaimed shows have generated complaints for being too open-ended. “The Sopranos” ended with the family sitting at a restaurant, and “Lost” ended in a fashion that was far from answering many of the show’s mysteries. I would argue that these endings were actually ideal. A clear-cut ending to “Lost” would have angered the show’s legions of fans in one way or another.
A perfect example of what not to do with a series is the final chapter of the Harry Potter series. I understand J.K. Rowling’s thought process. She spent many years and pages writing one of the best and most popular literary franchises in history. She felt the need to add an epilogue detailing who married who, et cetera. Not only was it predictable, it was poorly written. Rowling was in such a rush to tie every loose end that she ended the series with a chapter that answered all the questions so bluntly that it almost mocked the creative genius present in the rest of the series.
“South Park” on the other hand is far from being complete. As long as there are celebrities being boneheads, I imagine Parker and Stone will continue to generate new episodes. And, as long as there are celebrities being boneheads (which is always), “South Park” shouldn’t need to turn to gimmicks such as revealing who Cartman’s father is.
I don’t want to see “South Park” jumping the shark, unless that shark eats Kenny.