So in the wake of the events of the past few weeks during which South Park" grew to become the center of the entertainment universe, let's try to get a handle on just what we've learned from all of this.
The first thing we've learned is that Tom Cruise is the best thing ever to happen to Comedy Central. He allegedly demanded that a rerun of the "South Park" episode "Trapped in the Closet" be pulled from the schedule or he'd beg off publicizing "Mission: Impossible III." If true, this would seem even more self-destructive than his gymnastics routine on "Oprah."
The second thing is that the Church of Scientology really is the most controlling force in our galaxy, capable not only of putting seemingly half the celebrities on the planet under spiritual contract but also of allegedly convincing voice performers who have suffered recent strokes (say, Isaac Hayes) to suddenly and inexplicably decide that their religious convictions trumped a well-paying gig. This is to say nothing of the catatonic trance in which church operatives seem to hold poor Katie Holmes.
Scientology is perpetually embroiled in enough conspiracy theories to fill a grassy knoll or two. Its image isn't of a religion so much as an Orwellian shadow society carrying out its deceased leader's will via mind control while zealously protecting the brand.
But the most valuable piece of knowledge that's been reinforced of late has to be that "South Park" creator-producer-director-writer-voices Matt Stone and Trey Parker remain positively fearless, which in their industry places them in an elite group of, oh, two. And in these guys, Scientology has obviously met its match.
The key advantage enjoyed by Stone and Parker involves something so rare as to be essentially nonexistent: They don't seem to care about anything apart from the quality of their savage satire. The things that drive their contemporaries -- money, fame, power, A-list parties, relationships and the need to remain politically correct -- don't even show up on their radar. If the joke is funny, it doesn't matter to them whom they offend; the boys are all over it like ants at a picnic.
Despite being the creative forces behind a show that just launched its 10th season, Stone and Parker look to have little interest in moving on to the proverbial bigger and better. No other job would permit men in their mid-30s to treat the world as their personal frat house. And they know it. So while they'll do the occasional movie ("Team America: World Police"), their hearts remain with a show that's essentially a weekly spoof of whatever happens to amuse them or piss them off.
The arch sensibility of Parker/Stone makes "South Park" the perfect vehicle to vent their rage at the hypocrisy in their midst. As Scientology discovered the hard way last week, these dudes are able to consistently churn out episodes in under a week that take dead aim at something raging in our psyches. Last Wednesday's 10th season premiere used patched-together dialogue to transform Hayes' character, Chef, into a brainwashed pedophile while pummeling Scientology in thinly veiled metaphor.
You might say the boys got their revenge, and then some. But then, they always do. They appear to have near-total creative license and use it to smash to bits all that Americans hold dear, scorching the earth and paying little attention to where the ashes happen to fall.
It's downright refreshing to encounter a couple of showbiz mega-successes who have remained true to their transcendently warped principals and already have so much money that there's no motivation to sell out. Yet even more than that, Parker and Stone have embraced the understanding that Hollywood looks a whole lot better from the outside.
Ray Richmond writes for The Hollywood Reporter.
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