I’ve never heard a louder controversy over a cartoon in my life than when MTV’s Beavis and Butthead started airing in 1993. It was regarded as the absolute low point of television, the bottom of the barrel, the worst thing you could possibly be watching. It was TV for horrible people who actually would throw a frog around to play baseball, and no one else. I didn’t have cable TV, but if I’d had it, there’s no way I would’ve been allowed to watch this one.
I remember my teacher timidly asking the class for confirmation of her worst fears. “Do you–do you think Beavis and Butthead are role models?” she asked nervously. “Do you look up to them? Would you invite them into your house?” We stared back at her like she was from space. “Dude, they’d wreck my house!” some kid replied.
Eventually, when the show had been on for several years and the number of teenage delinquents hadn’t spiked as anticipated, most people shut up and let it do its thing….except for one infamous night when a kid burned down his mother’s house and claimed Beavis gave him the inspiration to (It was later revealed that the kid’s family did not own a TV).
Until recently, I hadn’t seen much of the show. But I’d seen enough King of the Hill, Office Space and even The Goode Family to know I loved Mike Judge stuff. My favorite kind of humor is the satirical type, and Judge is a master of that. So when he announced in 2010 that the show was returning, some were skeptical the idea could work in this century. But he usually knows what he’s doing and I thought “If you say the time is right, I trust you, Mike.”
When the show came back last fall, it not only met my expectations, it surpassed them. Judge has used the experience in cartoons he gained over the last 14 years and applied it wonderfully. These are some of the funniest B&B episodes ever made.
The setup for each cartoon hasn’t changed and is extremely simple: Beavis and Butthead go somewhere, they do and say dumb things, they drive other people crazy, and then it ends. It’s humor distilled into its simplest form — stupidity and violence — a similar formula to The Three Stooges, but with a difference. I can’t relate to Larry, Moe or Curly at all; I’ve never met anyone like them. However, throughout my schooling trek and into college, I had to deal with no less than fifty pairs of Beavis and Buttheads. I knew plenty of people that were this ugly, this perverted and this stupid. I had to sit next to them, I had to hear their sophomoric banter, I had to somehow coordinate group projects with them. I doubt I’m alone in this, and to see their type mocked so savagely is just delicious. When you add relatability to a basic concept, it makes it funnier.
I also doubt that the number of teenage burnouts has decreased, or their intelligence has shot up in any way, between the 1990s and now. Some accommodations have been made to Highland, Texas to update it for
the ’10s. Beavis and Butthead no longer proclaim their love of heavy
metal, at least on camera (though they keep their “AC/DC” and
“Metallica” shirts). We can also no longer assume their teacher Mr.
VanDriessen is a member of the Baby Boomer workforce, as that would make
him way wrinklier than he is. But very little is different overall; the show is almost exactly the way it was in 1997. The grunge culture that embraced the show twenty years ago may have retreated back into Seattle, but B&B remain just as relevant as they ever were, because stupidity is eternal. Now I wish I’d been able to watch this show back then, because man, I needed the schadenfreude badly.
In “School Test”, thanks to No Child Left Behind, Beavis and Butthead are single-handedly bringing down the entire school and threatening its funding. As a result, the faculty of Highland High MUST successfully educate the duo within one week, or they’ll fail their state test and the teachers could be fired. Of course, it can’t be done — B&B spend the entire test time trying to write their own names. It’s a completely expected scene, but somehow it’s hilarious. You won’t find the element of surprise in too many episodes, but this is the rare show that doesn’t need it to make its humor work. The joke is the anticipation of the inevitable, and Judge tells it better than anyone.
But the show is more than that. What people enjoyed most in the original run were the moments in between the cartoon shorts where B&B riffed on other media, usually music videos. Obviously, the content of MTV has changed, but what exists now deserves to be made fun of even more than the crappy videos of yesterdecade. Nowadays B&B’s entertainment of choice is reality TV (it makes sense; what else would people their level watch?) and they mock episodes of MTV True Life, 16 & Pregnant and Jersey Shore….the latter one a few too many times. This is material I would otherwise never watch if it wasn’t mixed into the show, and some of the real people that appear are so jaw-droppingly stupid they’re even worse than our title characters (Butthead makes this exact remark during a 16 & Preggers episode). Keeping to tradition, though, there are also a few videos that go under the duo’s knife, like Katy Perry’s “Firework” and an incredibly bizarre MGMT video. Plus there’s one new concept, an “At the Movies” segment where they profess their admiration for The Human Centipede.
If there’s any downside to this season, it’s the complete absence of Daria, who spun off into a cartoon superstar herself. Mike Judge promised a Daria cameo would happen at some point, but the only time she is even mentioned is during a video commentary where Butthead says “she moved away.” The final season of B&B coincided with the first season of Daria, and she appeared on both shows, so it’s not like an alternate universe couldn’t be accepted, or more episodes that took place BEFORE the move, or even a moment in “Drones” where a drone flew over Lawndale and Daria looked up at it….I would have even taken that and cheered. Come on, this was our one chance to see her again! Where is she?
Oh, there she is. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised she’d turn up there.
I hope this becomes a trend: the DVD and the Blu-Ray of Beavis and Butthead Vol. 4 are almost exactly the same price, and both those prices are cheap. It helps that the whole season fits on one Blu-Ray, as opposed to two DVDs. Both releases are in the 4:3 ratio, and the inside leaflet exists only to shout out this fact so everybody understands the season was made and broadcast that way. The picture is much sharper thanks to modern digital animation techniques, yet unfortunately the old “white lines around black lines” problem is everywhere.
This is a Paramount release, which usually means next to nothing in the way of extras…but we do get some. Three, in fact, but the only one of any worth is the 19-minute Comic-Con panel where Mike Judge discusses the origin of B&B, the revival and other questions. It’s pretty informative and makes up for the lack of a commentary track, as it’s the same kind of info we’d get in one. The story regarding the origin of VanDriessen is particularly hilarious. There are also four one-minute shorts where footage of Snooki calling somebody is dubbed over with Beavis and Butthead’s voices (because there wasn’t enough Jersey Shore as it was…) and a really brief policy trailer for theaters where they tell the audience to silence their cell phones the only way they can. “Hey. Shut up,” Butthead says, and that’s it. I don’t know where it would have played, but it works.
There are rumors of another 24-episode season having been greenlit, which I hope are true. No matter how highbrow you consider yourself, no matter how sophisticated your tastes are, you’re going to catch yourself giggling at these two morons at some point. It’s unavoidable.
One last thing. I thought the original design for the cover, shown upon announcement of the set, looked a lot more interesting than the finalized version….so here it is: