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.

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