SOUTH PARK has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. It was always edgy, rude, and grossly entertaining, even if I didn’t get some of the more sexual jokes as a kid. However, at about twelve years of age, I saw an episode that will haunt me forever.
Now, all fans of the series know that Kenny dies fairly regularly. At twelve years old, it was an accepted fact of life: Kenny was made to make muffled sounds, wear a pimpin’ orange, white trash hoodie, and die. However, it was always O.K. when he died, because it was usually in some silly, comedic way, followed by the famous line
“OH MY GOD! YOU KILLED KENNY! YOU BASTARD!“. Kenny would be back next week, and we all knew it. He was like Freddy or Jason; no matter what you did, you could never kill him for real… until the second to last episode of Season Five.
After much protesting from my mother, who hated me watching the show, I went into my room and tuned in. The episode started off innocently enough, with Cartman coming into possession of thirty-something aborted fetuses. Kenny had a little cold at that point, but nothing that would really worry anybody. Just white trash Kenny being himself. Then the episode took a hard left turn: Kenny had a terminal illness. From then on, it was nothing but sad music, Lifetime-esque drama, and a sad, dieing 8-year-old cartoon boy. There were no jokes, no funny little lines, just a lot of crying characters. Even Cartman, who was trying to be strong, broke down and confessed to Kenny that he’d always thought of him as his best friend in a touching, Kleenex moment.
The one part in that episode that really did me in though is when Stan decided that it was too painful to see Kenny so sick, and stopped visiting. When he does decide to see his friend again, he brings a present to Kenny’s hospital room, and is told that Kenny died. The way little Kyle says, “His heart just stopped” is enough to bring a tear to anybody’s eye. And even more tragic was when Kyle tells Stan that the last thing Kenny did before he died was ask where Stan was. Even the ending’s sad attempt at comedy just stung my wounded heart. There was no “YOU KILLED KENNY!”, no laughing, just a sad, sad memorial. And to make matters worse, KENNY STAYED DEAD FOR AN ENTIRE SEASON! They even took him out of the theme song, replacing him with the handi-capable Timmy.
Through Season 6, there were a few episodes that were a lasting reminder that Kenny was gone for good, including an episode where Kenny’s ghost possesses Cartman, and another one where the boys try to build a staircase to heaven to see their friend, failing. At the beginning of the Staircase episode, they actually go to Kenny’s house, where his grieving family tries to make small talk and say how sad they’ve been since he died. I was so traumatized that I stopped watching until I was fifteen. I love it now, but I can never watch anything from the Kenny death episode until his mysterious resurrection at the end of Season 6.