I’ve often said that there’s about a third of Beavis and Butt-head that I think is great and I’m really proud of, another third that is okay, and then another third that’s really awful and embarrassing.
— Mike Judge, Note enclosed in Beavis & Butt-head, Vol. 1 – The Mike Judge Collection
In the TV-on-DVD explosion, it’s rare that a release deviates from the “complete season” or “complete series” format. But Beavis & Butt-head, the ’90s cartoon about a pair of grunting teenagers, arrives on DVD not only truncated, but announcing its own truncation. The three-disc Mike Judge Collection includes a note from creator Judge, who says that he and MTV have agreed to release the “two-thirds” of the series that “didn’t suck” to DVD. The resulting collection bears his name.
There are unmentioned logistical problems as well. B&B originally aired in half-hour episodes featuring two short cartoons, and shorter bumper bits with the boys watching and critiquing music videos (in the mid-’90s, MTV’s rejection of music content was in full swing, and in fact the countless videos aired on B&B include many gems rarely seen elsewhere). Any full season collections, then, would have to include those videos, which would involve securing the rights to hundreds of music clips, perhaps one of the few effective ways to insure not making a bundle of cash on these DVDs.
Volume One of The Mike Judge Collection does include 11 music videos on its third disc as “bonus” material, a few from name bands like the Beastie Boys and Wilco, but mostly from flash-in-the-pan acts like Monster Magnet. Presumably these bands were cooperative, or Judge found these particular Beavis and Butthead interactions somehow essential. Most are pretty hilarious, especially one in which Butt-head orders Beavis to get off the couch and go make pancakes.
But the first two discs simply contain 40 Beavis and Butt-head shorts, purportedly from the earlier part of the show’s run, but not in any immediately discernible order. The approach is not unlike that of the recent Looney Tunes: Golden Collection (2003-2005) compilations put out by Warner Brothers: comprehensive but incomplete.
This method, however, works well for Beavis and Butt-Head. Although it’s most often placed alongside animated comedies like The Simpsons, South Park, and Judge’s gentler creation King of the Hill, B&B finds surprising kinship in classic animated short subjects. As with Looney Tunes, there are recurring characters, situations, and themes, but not ongoing plot developments or cast changes.
The typical B&B short will employ the simplicity of a Looney Tune plot — for example, Butt-head getting stuck in a drainage pipe in “Pipe of Doom” — and infuse it with a broken-down backwater sensibility. Rather than, say, attempting to blast him out with dynamite, Beavis is pretty much helpless and suggests that Butt-head just live in the pipe.
When the series first aired, it was frequently assailed for its crudeness. It is certainly vulgar, especially in terms of the duo’s realistically limited teenage vocabulary (mostly variations on “butt” and “ass”), but the earliest episodes here — presented uncut, in some cases for the first time in more than a decade — are by far coarser in both rough visuals and more disturbing content. Whether it was network pressure or creative development that led the makers to jettison the early, paint-and-gas-huffing versions of Beavis and Butt-head (“Don’t bogart it, dude”), the decision was a good one. The miscreants’ idiocy in later episodes is almost innocent, or, at least, blissfully optimistic (“Hey, Butt-head, I dreamt I was at school last night. Does that, like, count as attendance?”).
The most noticeable omission in this set is not actually a result of the cherry-picked episodes and videos, but appears in one of the extras. The 30-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, “Taint of Greatness” (billed as “Part One,” with “Part Two” to come on a future DVD set), includes Judge’s observations regarding the real-life inspirations for his various characters. But “Taint” also glosses over some of the murkier aspects of its first, controversial years. There are references, for example, to the fact that MTV disallowed the boys’ pyromania, even verbal references to “fire,” but not to the specific tragedy that led to this ban: a child was killed after his sibling (allegedly a Beavis and Butt-head fan) set fire to their trailer.
The obvious rejoinder is that a young child should not have been watching the show, but lack of any mention of the incident hints of corporate whitewashing. That the other primary extras are mostly MTV promo fodder — Video Music Award appearances, an amusing but inessential Kurt Loder interview — speaks to the motivations behind this project: Paramount’s hope for a cash-in on Beavis and Butt-head nostalgia. Fortunately, the cartoons also speak for themselves. With this DVD collection, curated through a combination of Judge’s humility and Paramount’s monetary concerns, Beavis and Butt-head may emerge better equipped to claim a spot in animation history.