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The Real Reason These South Park Episodes Were Kept Off HBO Max

Five episodes of South Park have disappeared from streaming.

In the wake of the launch of HBO Max, the brand-new streaming service that includes HBO's entire library as well as huge hits like Friends and The Big Bang Theory, five episodes of South Park have been omitted, for one very specific reason: the portrayal of a religious figure.

According to a report by The Hollywood Reporter, five installments of the Comedy Central cartoon — season 5's "Super Best Friends," season 10's "Cartoon Wars (Parts I and II)," and season 14's "200" and "201" — have been axed from the lineup due to one line HBO wasn't willing to cross. Each episode depicts an image of the Prophet Muhammad, one of the most important figures in the Islamic religion.

However, this absence really shouldn't surprise loyal South Park viewers, as these specific episodes have been censored or removed in the past due to the depictions of the sacred Prophet Muhammad. Hulu also kept them out of the South Park oeuvre, and Comedy Central censored some and removed others for re-airing. Back in 2016, then-head of Comedy Central Doug Herzog told THR that — particularly where "200" and "201" were concerned — the episodes were pulled due to dangerous threats. "We were protecting everyone who works here. That was the decision we needed to make," Herzog explained. "That was the hardest we've ever pushed back [over the show's content]."

After forming a deal that was rumored to cost $500 million for the rights to South Park's entire library, it's certainly HBO's call to remove those episodes, especially since they've proven so controversial.

Other TV episodes have been disappearing from streaming

2020 has proven to be an overwhelming moment in civil rights, not just in the United States, but throughout the world. Television and film has been re-examining certain pieces of their past and putting some out to pasture, even beyond these five South Park episodes.

HBO also temporarily removed the Civil War epic Gone With the Wind to add a disclaimer about the film's overt glorification of the era of slavery (the movie has now returned to the service with an important prologue attached). Meanwhile, shows like 30 Rock, Scrubs, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia have permanently pulled episodes from streaming that feature blackface, an offensive tradition based on Jim Crow-era minstrel shows. Despite the fact that the creators of these shows definitely meant to make fun of people who would think using blackface is acceptable, showrunners like Tina Fey have admitted that the mere depiction is hurtful, and the episodes are now gone from the streaming landscape.

As more creatives grapple with their own pasts, some performers are choosing to vacate roles to make room for more diversity. Actresses Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell have left their animated showsBig Mouth and Central Park, respectively — with the full support of their respective creative teams. Both were voicing Black characters, and have acknowledged that a Black actress should fill those roles going forward.

As the television landscape changes, creators must react and respectfully engage their pasts as best as possible, and clearly, South Park isn't the only show looking closely at its own legacy. The rest of South Park is streaming on HBO Max now.