When I sat down to watch South Park's 201st episode this week, I was a little nervous.
The episode, entitled "201", followed a week of controversy after show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker aired an episode that made multiple references to the Islam Prophet Muhammad and had him hidden in a giant bear costume.
In response, a Muslim group in New York, Revolution Muslim, wrote on its Web site that Stone and Parker "will probably end up like Theo Van Gogh," a director who was killed in 2004 after his 10-minute film "Submission" discussed the abuse of women in some Islamic societies.
Revolution Muslim said it was not directly threatening Parker and Stone, but warning them of possible repercussions (video below).
Episode 201, a continuation of last week's episode, aired Wednesday night with controversy. Although Muhammad was not in the bear costume, it turned out to be Santa Claus, the Prophet later showed up in the episode with a censor block covering the depiction.
"We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn't some meta-joke on our part," the creators said in a statement.
All verbal references to "Muhammad" were covered with a bleep, as was 35 seconds of dialogue toward the end of the episode.
"Kyle's customary final speech was about intimidation and fear. It didn't mention Muhammad at all but it got bleeped ... We'll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different and we'll see what happens to it," Parker and Stone said.
The episode has yet to appear on SouthParkStudios.com. Instead, this screen appears when the episode is accessed:
Like I said, I was a little nervous. I've watched South Park from the beginning and have loved just about everything Stone and Parker have created -- Wall-Mart, Imaginationland, Warcraft, etc.
I'm all for the freedoms of speech, thought and expression -- I work at a newspaper. But sometimes it's just not worth it. But when you're flying in the face of a small group of very radical people, the risks outweigh the rewards. Had Parker and Stone decided to scale back "201", would anyone really blame them?
I understand their stance, and I also understand Comedy Central's decision to place the edits. The safety of their employees is their responsibility.
The only thing we can hope for is water under the bridge. Stone and Parker have given millions of us countless laughs, including in "201" when Barbra Streisand sang a duet with Neil Diamond.
As they said, they'll be back next Wednesday with a whole new episode about something completely different. But will the controversy be casting a shadow over episodes to come?