This fall, we’ve got so many writers who’ve seen these pilots that we thought getting two takes on each show would be helpful to you. The first review is the “official” TV Club review, and the grade applies to it. But we’ve also found another reviewer to offer their own take on the program. Today, Kenny Herzog, who’ll review the show week to week, and Erik Adams talk about Beavis And Butt-Head.
Kenny: In recent months and years, we’ve seen Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth return to 90210, Julianne Moore reprise her role on As The World Turns, The Rock step back in a WWE ring, and beloved TV characters like Michael Knight get rebooted for a whole new generation. But none of that can compare to the wave of joy that will surely be felt among millions of 20-, 30-, and even 40-somethings when Stewart first walks on screen midway through Beavis And Butt-Head’s anticipated première this evening. Granted, the opening titles definitely sent some shivers, and seeing our titular (heh, I said “titular”) heroes parked on their couch, adorned in trusty AC/DC and Metallica tees, was incredibly satisfying, even momentous. But when Stewart, the guys’ Winger-loving admirer and classmate, approaches them in the Highland High School cafeteria, eager for the day’s gossip (in this case, that Butt-Head caught Beavis crying), it’s as if nearly 15 years has come and gone without anything changing. And it is good.
In the case of Mike Judge’s re-launched Beavis And Butthead, that dependability also applies to hilarity. As always, tonight’s episode was segmented into two separate shorts, and broken up with Beavis and Butt-Head’s peanut-gallery commentary on the latest MTV programming—which, in an obvious concession to the time that passed since the duo last appeared on the network, now includes reality TV. “Werewolves Of Highland” is the outright funnier vignette, though “Crying” is probably a bit slyer and more satirical. Surprisingly, even though the original Beavis And Butt-Head generally derived its storylines from within the boys’ fictional world, Judge gets most of his comic mojo for “Werewolves” from contemporary pop culture, notably the Twilight franchise and MTV’s own Jersey Shore. Had either been around in 1993, he surely would have targeted the tween favorites then, too.
Naturally, Beavis and Butt-Head take their cues from Twilight and lycanthrope myth, assuming getting bitten by werewolves will transform them into a regular Edward and Jacob. Next, they mistake a deranged homeless man for their night-prowling leader, and offer the guy a stick of gum if he’ll sink his teeth into their flesh and infect them with awesomeness. Hearing Beavis explain to Mr. Van Driessen in his classic, droll delivery that he and Butt-Head are leaving class to become a “denizen of the night” is one of several belly laughs to come. Most of them arrive at instances of similarly affected dialogue (Butt-Head, after being bitten: “Let the transformation begin”), but Judge also sneaks plenty of wry contempt for the hand that feeds in there. During “Crying,” the pair watches MTV’s True Life: I’m Addicted To Porn, when Beavis observes with disquieting irony, “I don’t know why he needs to get a job. He’s got a car and a place to live and he’s fat.” That’s vintage Judge right there, even if it’s not necessarily laugh out loud silliness.
Plenty of that comes by way of video breaks, the first of which features MGMT’s demented clip for "Kids.” What’s so funny about Beavis and Butt-Head's reaction is their atypical indifference to the grotesquerie on display. Instead, Beavis focuses on the mundane, pointing out to Butt-Head that the starring infant “has the exact same shorts and shoes that you do.” The boys also get their Abbott and Costello moment as Butt-Head asks, “Is this 16 & Pregnant?” and Beavis inquires, “Is this Florida?”
The reality bits are lackluster in comparison, and suffer from dead air without music to fill the silence between witticisms. But when the Jersey Shore guys crack on Snooki for liking “the hard salami” and Butt-Head intones a phony Italian accent and quips, “You think she’s a slut. It’s good to know, now let’s get back to making a-pizza,” it’s the funniest punchline of the episode. In fact, the runner-up might have arrived during the aforementioned True Life footage in “Crying,” when Beavis muses, “What’s pornography?” and Butt-Head suggests that it’s “like, the study of porn?” How has no one else ever thought of that?
But that’s the subtle triumph of Judge’s humor, and it underscores what’s so essential about Beavis And Butt-Head’s re-emergence. Few comic storytellers are better at being funny and smart on TV without essentially pulling a Pauly D salami moment and overstating the obvious. “Werewolves Of Highland” and “Crying” aren’t totally consistent, and it’s gonna take a while to get used to Beavis And Butt-Head 2.0’s admittedly slight modifications, but the show is still finding profundity through stupidity, and that’s something primetime television sorely needs.
- I love that none of the main characters’ attires changed a lick. Couldn’t have blamed Judge if he stuck a Tokio Hotel insignia on Stewart’s shirt or something.
- The fact that we can still anticipate appearances down the road from Mr. Anderson, Principal McVicker, and possibly even Daria is reason alone to be excited week to week. The fact that it’s funny as ever is pure icing.
- How many people have ever done this kind of reboot this right, any small quibbles about the intrusion of outside youth culture references aside?
- As I do for other shows, I'll be grading Beavis from week to week on its own unique curve, and have a feeling (especially when some of the above-mentioned supporting characters get in the mix) that the best is yet to come.
Erik: I agree the contemporary television landscape lacks for “profundity through stupidity.” But in considering the Beavis And Butt-Head revival—and now having watched two separate cuts of the pilot—the question that I always raise is “Why?” as in “Why now?” and “Why Beavis And Butt-Head again?” A lot of people (The A.V. Club’s own Steve Heisler included) have asked Mike Judge that question, and his answer appears to be “Why not?” Also, an implied “Because Hollywood treated me like shit, that’s why—so I’m stamping my name all over the property that brought me the most immediate and wide-spread notoriety.” Beavis and Butt-Head may not have changed T-shirts in the last 15 years, but Judge did manage to place his name where the MTV logo used to sit in the show’s title card.
But it’s hard to begrudge someone as talented and seemingly well-adjusted as Judge a sure thing like the new Beavis And Butt-Head—even harder considering that the series hasn’t shed any of its innate funniness during its extended leave. As Kenny noted, a lot of the laughs in the pilot come between the margins, and for all its purposely sophomoric charms, the episode does allow for one moment of staggering philosophical introspection from Beavis: During the I’m Addicted To Porn segment, he asks Butt-Head “How come we were born as us?” It’s undercut by the fact that the character is wishing he was as well-off as the champagne-spraying Motown progeny in LMFAO, but it’s still surprisingly deep. It’s probably a question Judge asked himself as the box-office receipts for Office Space, Idiocracy, and Extract rolled in—luckily, he’s always had his most dependable creation to fall back on. Here’s hoping his choice to do so doesn’t leave him questioning why he made it. (It was probably the money. Though they apparently couldn’t be bothered to pony up the cash to reanimate the TV-watching interstitials.)