Beavis and Butthead

MTV is going to reboot the 1990s animated series Beavis and Butthead, so it’s a good time to revisit the original. Beavis and Butthead got its start at Spike and Mike’s Festival of animation, which is no surprise; it’s weird and disgusting, and really edgy for a time when the edgiest animated series on TV was The Simpsons. The episode that aired at the festival, the pilot, was “Frog Baseball.” The episode labeled 1.01 on the DVDs now available is something different, apparently from about a year later.

The show, as it aired, interspersed short snippets of story with longer stretches of Beavis (creator Mike Judge) and Butthead just sitting on the couch commenting on music videos. The DVDs seem to contain only the in-between stories, which are pretty weak on their own, and not even that funny. (I’m guessing this is an issue with the rights to the music videos.) The couch sections were what made the show different and, dare I say, relatable, to anyone who grew up with afternoons that grew long and boring as summer vacation wore on, in the era when MTV played videos. Who doesn’t enjoy making fun of Milli Vanilli?

The “plot,” to use the term loosely, isn’t important in this pilot. It’s about, well, frog baseball, which is pretty self-explanatory. It gives us a chance to meet these two slacker kids who love blood and hard rock. They wear T-shirts emblazoned with the names AC-DC and Metallica. When the game goes well—well meaning bloody—the characters air guitar anthems like “Iron Man.” Butthead is the ersatz leader of the pair, and Beavis is even dumber than him, if that’s possible. The outdoor landscape is dried out and bleak, and knowing now that Mike Judge tends to set things in Texas… it’s probably Texas.

When they’re back home in front of the tube, nothing else in life seems to matter. There is nary a parent in sight and, in the pilot, we don’t meet any other characters at all. (Later there are various neighbors and classmates, including the inspiration for the spinoff Daria.) The slacker ethos pervades every aspect including the crappy animation. But, for all their apathy, B & B have strong opinions about music. They don’t articulate these opinions with any grace; stuff either sucks or rocks. If it really rocks it warrants lifting one’s hands in devil horns and headbanging. The animation quality actually seems to tick up a notch as the characters’ hair flies back and forth in heavy metal abandon. When, before 1992, did we see an animated character headbang? The videos alternate between terrible and what is now terrible but was then cool. If you ever liked Axl Rose, even a little, you can probably find something to like here.

Neighbors from Hell

I am always up for a new animated series, especially one that is NOT by Seth MacFarlane. (Nothing against him, he just has enough airtime.) Neighbors from Hell is being promoted by TBS as “from the studio that brought you Family Guy,” but is written by Kyle McCullouch (South Park). There is little resemblance to Family Guy. Except for the dog—I”ll get to that.

This pilot takes no time at all to introduce the premise: a demon is assigned by his boss, Satan, to transfer to Earth where he will infiltrate and bring down an oil company called Petromundo. We’ve seen the misfit-family-moves-to-new-neighborhood premise before. What makes this one a bit different is that all of the information Balthazar Hellmanneighbors from hell and his family have about Earth comes from watching television. So, we know we’re in for tons ‘o references. What I don’t get however, is why there is a 20-year delay on shows getting to Hell. I mean, it’s not England. They are watching Growing Pains, Alf, and The Cosby Show. That’s not the only thing that is out of date…

Characters are introduced with no unnecessary fanfare or backstory. The main character, Balthazar, has a wife, a son, a daughter, an uncle, and a dog that talks and seems smarter than the rest of the family, ala Brian Griffin. He winds up being the dues-ex-machina that undoes the mess the family finds itself in, and we can surmise that will be his ongoing role.

It is too perfect that this show is hitting the airwaves right now, as the villain (not Satan mind you, the real villain) is an oil company. The company is devising a giant drill that will bore to the center of the Earth, ostensibly disrupting life in Hell. Apart from that coincidence, some of these jokes seem like they have been gathering dust for a while. A demon tortures a damned man by making him listen to Britney Spears’ “Oops I Did it Again.” How old is that song? We’ve also got some jokes about Ugg boots and Criss Angle. The funnier jokes are the ones without an expiration date. Balthazar walks into the house to find bodies all over and inquires calmly, “Tina, did you kill the neighbors?”

The story seems headed for a quick resolution as Balthazar plots to destroy the engineer who is in charge of getting the drill up and running. Toward the end we find out what will give the premise an excuse to last past the first episode; the fact that Balthazar—aw, shucks— likes the guy he needs to destroy. There is also a racist neighbor how apparently practices beastiality with her poodle, and another who’s addicted to Valium. But, um, where are the TV references? The writers teased us with the possibility of Kirk Cameron jokes and there’s not a one.

The animation style is refreshing. (i.e. It doesn’t look like a Seth MacFarlane show) It’s stylized, and deceptively kid-friendly.

This pilot is all over the place. It has the feel of having been revised and rewritten to within an inch of its life. Not sure if that’s the case, but we’ll see where it goes.