‘Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head’ Keeps Its Sense of Humor Grounded in the Present Without Missing a Beat
Beavis and Butt-Head’s perennially favorite band, the metal horror ensemble Gwar, doesn’t make an appearance in “Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head,” but the reboot keeps everything else. It also has a little bit more than the iconic MTV original series. It is smarter, but don’t be worry, Beavis and Butt-Head are as stupid as ever.
This is not nostalgia. While it could be considered “Beavis and Butt-Head” season 9, the new Paramount+ series works as a standalone, and the teenagers on the couch in the same AC/DC and Metallic T-shirts are no throwbacks. When Butt-Head responds to his first ASMR video by enthusing “I think I’m going to talk like this for the rest of my life,” he is in the now.
“Beavis and Butt-Head” began as a 1992 animated short film broadcast on Liquid Television before it was picked up by MTV for its classic 1993 to 1997 series run. The 2011 MTV revival almost taught them tech. This summer’s Paramount+ feature “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe” transported the duo into modern satire. The satire was direct and pointed, getting updated on white privilege and prison rights. The teenage slackers retain the core humor when adapting to a new audience.
Creator Mike Judge is also responsible for the series “King of The Hill” and “Silicon Valley,” and the films “Office Space” and “Idiocracy.” He voices both lead characters, and their hippie teacher Mr. Van Driessen, as he did in the original, and successfully adapts to 2022 seamlessly. The environment in Highland, Texas, hasn’t changed much, because there is very little actual adaptation inflicted. Animation studio Titmouse, which also did “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe,” recreates the original look, with slightly more sophisticated equipment. “Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head” retains the original format of four shorts and assorted reaction bits, but the Laurel and Hardy for Millennials are not just watching music videos.
Like the one-season 2011 revival of the series, the reboot additionally takes on TikTok, YouTube, and viral content. The series retains the free-associative brilliance, and all of the new video segments work. Some work a little too hard, but it gives us an excuse to use the word hard, which is always hilarious on the series. Beavis and Butt-Head were seminal to the live-blogging, trolling culture which defines the Twitter and Instagram generations. Their takes on music videos felt live, even though animating live feeds are taxing on the animators.
In all instances, Beavis and Butt-Head continue to provide spot on, savagely offhand, satire. Their take on a TikTok clip of a teenage girl on the verge of opening her college acceptance letters is as classic a comedy bit as could be found in “Get Smart,” “Seinfeld,” or “Magilla Gorilla.” They drain the cred from a YouTube clip on how to make prison tattoo ink through a blow-dryer of dry wit. The music videos remain comic high points, and provide subliminal self-referential riffs. The problems Beavis and Butt-Head have with trees and leaves in a boy band music video are reminiscent of the relative ease found in Sunday mornings over evenings in the 1990s series commentary. Beavis’ response to BTS’s “Dynamite” shows a surprisingly strong knowledge of a K-pop army.
Much like Paramount+ movie, “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe,” it appears Beavis has a little more going on than meets the eye. He is more sensitive. Butt-Head has a little less, as Beavis also gets a solo segment. He is the title character in “The Special One,” where he fulfills his special relationship with fire, voiced by Piotr Michael, an obsession which caused controversy during the original series. The fire which burns in the dumpster behind the fast-food place is a harsh master, commanding Beavis to exercise, recycle, and generally better himself to be fire-worthy. But when he commands the slacking teen to read “Call of The Wild” and write a two-page report, the romance is effectively extinguished, only to be rekindled when Beavis finds a lighter while walking away.
There are subtly thematic running gags throughout the first two episodes which present foreshadowing and set limits. There is no safe space for Beavis and Butt-Head. They can find an escape room in a cardboard box or unleash the power of a hornet’s nest from it. The simple comedic flaws found by getting caught in any box can be read as an allegory for trapping the show inside a modern overhaul. The Egyptian tomb may not have been possible as a concept in the 90s series, but the rejection of conceptual interpretation is steadfast.
“You guys are smart, right?” asks an older teen who wants to break the code which freed the ancients. “That’s why you asked us, m’lady,” Butt-Head assures her. In the chronic and desperate belief this will all lead to scoring, the two heroes don’t even bother to pay the price of admission. And, the wood on these guys. Slapstick doesn’t only mean physical comedy. Butt-Head finds excuses to assault Beavis for very effective, Slip-and-Satch-from-the-Bowery-Boys giggles. The series evokes haphazardly violent kid’s fare like the Three Stooges or some of the greatest Looney Tunes. The biggest laughs, however, come through vast and shallow misunderstandings. Clueless teens doing stupid shit will always be funny.
“Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head” hits ridiculous heights in the depths of intellectual comprehension. It doesn’t matter whether Beavis or Butt-Head know left from right, or how to read simple directions like push or pull. They give it no thought because there is no thought to be had. Even the most brilliant minds can identify with it.
“Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head” begins streaming Aug. 4 on Paramount+.