Five Things You Must Understand About Beavis And Butt-Head
Few things lately have felt so nostalgically comforting as knowing that new "Beavis and Butt-Head" episodes once more light up TV screens every Thursday.
Sure, we all accepted pretty easily 14 years ago that the little dumb-asses' reign as symbols of the height of MTV's powers had come and gone, and that creator Mike Judge suddenly had bigger fish to fry - namely, a prime-time network show on Fox with a familiar look but more subdued tone called "King Of The Hill."
Nevertheless, if you grew up with these two decidedly mature-audience-oriented bastions of pubescent idiocy, you can't tell me it wasn't just a little bit exciting in 2010 when Judge and MTV struck a deal at least one more short run of brand new episodes.
If one didn't grow up with this memorable animated series . . . . well, one really might not understand the big fuss. It's a polarizing show that was actually fairly controversial when it originally aired - well, at least it was for the first few seasons, before the mainstream viewers and pundits at large accepted the two (if grudgingly) as really speaking for a generation.
It just wasn't necessarily their generation.
Still, there are some things about this unlikely enduring pop-culture phenomenon's joke that some just aren't in on. So without necessarily giving a hard-sell or trying to necessarily change anyone's mind, consider these five important things about "Beavis and Butt-Head."
1. Without Them, There Is No "South Park."
"So, what, he's saying 'Beavis and Butt-Head' is better than 'South Park'?"
Better? No. They're too different. But one couldn't have happened without the other breaking first ground.
When "Beavis and Butt-Head" made their 1993, prime-time debut on MTV, successful prime-time animation began and ended with "The Simpsons." And while George H.W. and Barbara Bush and Bill Cosby openly tore into inappropriate little Bart Simpson as American family values' Public Enemy Number One, he was a choir boy compared with two teenage morons swatting a flying frog with a baseball bat.
So not only did the show join in breaking ground for animation to be a draw in prime time, but they stood alone as the only prime-time animated series -- network or cable -- that was directed toward a teenaged, Generation-X audience with mature, crude content.
It's true that by this time, Trey Parker and Matt Stone had already made their first 1992 short together starring what would eventually become Cartman, Kenny, Stan and Kyle. By the time they were making their second independent short featuring the characters, it was 1995 and "Beavis and Butt-Head" was an established hit. Hell, by that time, "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America" was only about a year away from hitting theaters.
But between that time and the 1997 debut of "South Park" on Comedy Central, Beavis and Butt-Head had already kicked down a door and ushered in a style of satire through the eyes of simple-minded delinquents. Sure, Parker and Stone honed and evolved that formula into something more intelligent, layered and sometimes subtle, to the point we now have Cartman being overweight and holding back South Park Elementary's test scores standing in as a symbol for Parker and Stone to comment on the "Occupy Wall Street" movement.
They wouldn't have had that platform had Judge not first had Beavis and Butt-Head taking pot-shots at some of the perceived absurdities of militant feminism and even shots across the bow at people who insisted the likes of Howard Stern would bring about the Apocalypse.
2. There's Also No "King Of The Hill" Or "Daria."
For obvious reasons, these are two shows vastly more easily accepted and embraced than "Beavis and Butt-Head."
First and foremost, let's address "King Of The Hill." it debuted the same year as "South Park," about four seasons into "Beavis and Butt-Head." Like it or not, does it ever show it, too.
The line work positively can’t be mistaken. It’s virtually a Mike Judge signature. The Hill family aren’t as oddly proportioned as Beavis and Butt-Head, but in fact have the more subtle look of non-descript “Beavis and Butt-Head” background characters that aren’t meant to stand out at all. It’s what gives the show it’s more “Earthy,” relatable feel that helped it capture a broad audience.
Besides, watch any episode of “Beavis and Butt-Head” where the boys encounter their suburbanite, Army-veteran retiree neighbor Tom Anderson. You don’t have to listen that closely to Judge’s voice to hear what sounds like him ultimately just working the kinks out of what would eventually become Hank Hill.
Watching “King Of The Hill” raises questions about what would have happened if maybe someone had given Anderson his own spin-off, instead of Daria Morgendorffer. And had Judge not first received that initial “Beavis and Butt-Head” exposure, who’s to say Fox would’ve given “King Of The Hill” a second look when the network probably felt it was doing just fine with “The Simpsons” alone?
Ah, and speaking Daria . . .
From “Beavis and Butt-Head,” a show emerged that actually gained at least as rabid a cult following, and yet, took years longer to get an official DVD release. Crazy world, huh?
OK, so “Daria” wasn’t a Mike Judge project. In fact, she was a throwaway recurring character, until Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis Lynn took a stab at taking her in her own direction. On Dec. 29, 1996, Daria Morgendorffer moved from Highland to Lawndale and began her own five-season legacy.
“Beavis and Butt-Head” was alternately appealing to both the real-life morons who mirrored the pair and those of us who knew at least a dozen chuckleheads like this in high school and enjoyed symbolically laughing both at and with them. “Daria,” on the other hand? This was the show for the high-school disenfranchised.
A background character was given some depth by having her not only often navigate her new school with about the same wit with which she dealt with Beavis and Butt-Head daily, but occasionally also expressed the pangs of conflict of embracing being a blunt, sometimes too-honest individual versus sometimes just wanting a single moment of feeling accepted an anonymous.
Oh, need further proof of this show having an enduring legacy? In 2004, Eichler officially announced that MTV wanted to bring the show to DVD but snagged constantly on licensing issues because the show often incorporated snippets of licensed music for incidental moments, from LL Cool J and Will Smith, to Garbage.
In the intervening five years between that 2004 comment and MTV officially announcing the complete series hitting DVD, literally tens of thousands of fans petitioned online for MTV to release the show. In the meantime, the nine-disc, three-volume “Beavis and Butt-Head: The Mike Judge Collection” hit shelves in three separate installments encompassing Judge’s favorite episodes from the 200-plus episode original run.
3. Keep expectations where they belong: low.
Look, this show was never for everybody. Quite frankly, everyone has either loved it or hated it.
If you hate it, it’s probably because you’re after something more substantive. You like clever. You like witty. You like . . . well, you like smart. There’s nothing wrong with liking “smart.”
If you loved it, though, it was because you were in on the joke. Yes, it’s “dumb” humor. Nobody ever said it wasn’t. Is there some clever pop-culture commentary thrown in occasionally? Sure. But you must read between the lines. Sometimes, smart people and stupid people find the same things to be dumb. Sometimes, the so-called “smart” people – you know, the educated ones – make things endlessly more complicated than they must be and two idiots overwhelm them accidentally with a simple approach.
And really, how is that concept that different sometimes from some Looney Tunes bits that have been revered through the ages and will probably be our age’s equivalent one day to the cave drawings our archaeologists unearth?
Yes, it’s “dumb” humor. Sometimes, our culture is just that: dumb. Why not laugh at it?
4. If you don’t like it, don’t watch.
Does this require that much more explanation?
This isn’t a show necessarily meant for broad appeal. This isn’t “How I Met Your Mother.” It’s not “Two And A Half Men.” Mercifully, given how far downhill it’s tumbled, it’s damn-sure not “The Simpsons.” As said above, it’s for the people who are in on the joke. Twi-hards, if you don’t want your Stephanie Meyer-sired sacred cow of ridiculousness spit-roasted over a bonfire, don’t look down your noses at something that dares be honest about the world just because it’s about morons that can somehow point out how stupid some other things are. At least our show isn’t pretending to be something it’s not. It knows it’s stupid. It just embraces it.
5. Remember, MTV needed this.
These two couldn’t have returned with better timing.
Their home had become everything they once mocked. Music videos are virtually non-existent. “Jersey Shore,” “16 And Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” are practically shows these two would watch on the couch and actively rip on – and now, they actually do! The network needs Judge to actually point out “These two are symbols of this network’s glory days. Look what they think of what’s become of their home.” That’s right, it finally had to be said: even Beavis and Butt-Head think the “Jersey Shore” cast is a bunch of collective jack-holes.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but here’s hoping these two capture an audience again, and remind MTV just what the Hell it really is.