There is a certain sort of reactive discourse that Beavis and Butt-Head didn’t exactly invent, but one they definitely pushed into widespread popularity along with perhaps more erudite offerings like Mystery Science Theater 3000.
From their suburban couch, the fire-loving Texas teens were live-blogging and live-tweeting their TV-addicted existences long before there were blogs and Twitter, long before it became a socially — or social-media-ly — acceptable conversational style to leap into a virtual conversation with an intentionally and aggressively stupid response or just an immature meme. I don’t want to say that Beavis and Butt-Head’s influence is comparable to, hypothetically, Shakespeare or the other progenitors of language, but there’s a template for 21st-century trolling that would not exist without Mike Judge.
The Bottom Line
They may not score, but the show mostly does.
So it isn’t the least bit surprising that these characters, birthed in a 1992 short film and then popularized in a 1993-1997 TV series, would be fully adaptable to new generations of media literacy with almost no alterations at all. Their 2011 MTV revival was solid if unremarkable, more a toe’s dip in the new millennium’s cultural waters than a full immersion. This summer’s Paramount+ feature Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe was a more effective positioning of the characters within our modern context, as they had to learn about white privilege and carceral injustice and did so in their own inimitable fashion.
One thing the movie didn’t do, however, was delve into Beavis and Butt-Head’s 2022 viewing diet. It was a straight-ahead story that left no room for the ageless chums to kibitz about the latest music videos (as the original series did), MTV reality shows (as the 2011 reboot did) or whatever it is the kids watch today.
That, then, is probably the most important thing to mention or discuss in a review of what Paramount+ is formally calling Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head, as if there were motley random Beavises and Butt-Heads traversing the digital realm finding mirth in mentions of wood. So what are Beavis and Butt-Head watching in the new series, and is it funny?
Through the two half-hour episodes sent to critics, the answer is that Beavis and Butt-Head are predictably watching a lot of TikTok and they’re rather hilarious doing so. Their shock and horror at a TikTok clip of a teenage girl emotionally opening college acceptance letters drew an explosion of laughter from me and their response to an ex-convict’s prison tattoo tutorial illustrated Judge’s impeccable ability to do bad Southern accents in the guise of both characters. And if the idea of Beavis and Butt-Head learning about ASMR amuses you, the result is roughly what you’re expecting.
Plus, apparently, music videos still exist in some capacity. Beavis and Butt-Head take a surprisingly enlightened approach to the creepy narrative of a country song by Cale Dodds. Best of all and possibly the justification for the entire series’ return is their character-specific and character-appropriate reaction to BTS’ “Dynamite.”
As for the rest of the series, the new Beavis and Butt-Head adventures — two standalone installments per half-hour — are solidly amusing, if rarely remarkable. Attempting to capitalize on the artisanal honey marketplace, they confuse wasps with bees, leading to escalating and repetitive pain, a Beavis and Butt-Head episodic subgenre that I’m sure had devoted fans. In another story, they confuse a restroom with an Egyptian tomb escape room. A Beavis-centric segment offers something of an origin story for Beavis’ love of fire and proves to be reasonably sweet. After the movie concentrated mostly on the protagonists and several new characters, these episodes begin the process of bringing back other pieces of the show’s ensemble, which is a positive.
The first two episodes are not as dedicated to positioning Beavis and Butt-Head in a “modern” context as the movie was. The escape room incident is probably the only one that couldn’t have been conceived in 1995. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it was basically what the movie concentrated on. I don’t need a weekly dose of “Here’s how Beavis and Butt-Head would be impacted by cancel culture” or “What did Beavis and Butt-Head think of the Trump presidency?”
I’m sure some viewers will be actively relieved that that’s not the direction Judge and the show’s writing team have decided to go. After all, sometimes Judge likes his satire to be direct and pointed, and sometimes he just likes to giggle about fire or guffaw at a teenager getting kicked in the nads over and over and over again. My own preference would probably be right between “pervasive commentary and satire” and “no commentary or satire,” and if the rest of the season is comparably lacking in substance, I’m sure disappointment will quickly set in.
In the short-term, though, it’s another step in Beavis and Butt-Head’s smooth return to TV screens. In a world in which the percentages of Beavises and Butt-Heads relative to the overall population is only rising, they fit in perfectly.
And who didn’t think they would?
Heh. Heh. “Wood.”