Reviews

Beavis & Butt-head: The Mike Judge Collection, Volume 2 (2006) - PopMatters Film Review

Bill Gibron

In the mid-'90s, Beavis was a weird wake-up call for parents who were clueless about their children's destructive drives. Now it's a backwards glance at a demographic gone demented.


Beavis & Butt-head

Distributor: Paramount
Cast: Mike Judge, Tracy Grandstaff, Adam Welsh
Subtitle: The Mike Judge Collection, Volume 2
Network: MTV
First date: 1993
US Release Date: 2006-06-13
Last date: 1997
Amazon affiliate
Amazon

Beavis & Butt-head is not a cartoon about a couple of metalheads in a state of arrested adolescence. It is not a mix of toilet humor and sexual innuendo, a portrait of disaffected males, or an ode to wasted youth. In fact, without its music video inserts, it's not much of anything at all. When the series first appeared on MTV in the mid-'90s, it was a weird wake-up call for parents who were clueless about their children's destructive drives. Now, over a decade later, it's a backwards glance at a demographic gone demented.

Some viewers see it as history. In the documentary, "Taint of Greatness," on the second collection of Mike Judge-approved episodes, Trey Parker and Snoop Dogg discuss the shows' sentient social commentary. Parker believes it to be a window into the world of restless "teen angst," championing Judge for painting such a caustic picture. Mr. D-O-Double-G also gives the series props for offering a couple of "crazy-ass dudes" who responded to rap before the rest of the white world did.

Sadly, we'll have to take his word for it. For reasons having to do with rights clearances and longstanding feuds, Beavis & Butt-head episodes are hitting the digital domain without music video segments. This presents two major problems. First, without these peeks into the cultural landscape circa 1993-97, we lose much of the series' significance. Beavis & Butt-head was not just about two dorks discussing their nut-sacks and trying to score. Judge, who voiced both characters, regularly chastised bands for using imbecilic imagery and focused his fanboy love on classic creativity.

When Disc Three delivers a baker's dozen of the much missed music videos, presented just as they first aired, with the boys' dishing. With such something like the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" is actually made more compelling by Beavis and Butt-head's discussion (they keep waiting for the film's fake crime show to start) and they consistently let the air our of the '90s fixation with alternative rock (Six String Satellite and Helium get significant smackdowns). When Judge can make mocking Madonna or ragging on Rush seem new, you understand where his true talents lie. Deconstructing the music scene and the network that championed such chum, Judge voiced what thousands of disenchanted fans were thinking.

Indeed, Beavis & Butt-head frequently courted controversy in pursuit of socio-political insights (among its diverse targets, count Bill Clinton and the Religious Right). While shows like The Simpsons, South Park or Family Guy wear their ideologies on their hand-drawn sleeves, Judge offered subtler critiques, in his dysfunctional duo's peculiar worldview. For the most part, however, the music-video-less episodes are rough going. The 40 episodes here are a chaotic cross-section of Beavis & Butt-head's history. Lacking chronology, the episodes include several in the middle of Season Five (on the second disc, starting with "Animation Sucks" and ending 10 installments later with "Close Encounters"), and some from Season Six. As Judge hasn't organized the DVDs into single seasons, we don't see how the humor or targets change with time. Every episode must more or less stand on its own. For a concept that so cagily mirrored its context, such a scattered approach is problematic at best.

Take "Lightning Strikes." Using a simple set-up -- Beavis and Butt-head get electrocuted trying to recreate Ben Franklin's kite experiment -- Judge jumps on the anti-TV violence bandwagon by introducing a character, Ms. Weiner, who is looking into the connection between irresponsible kids and the media. It was a subject the animator knew well: when the series first hit the airwaves, numerous cases of adolescent arson were attached to the series when kids claimed they "learned" the behavior from mimicking Beavis' "Fire! FIRE! FIRE!!!" mantra. Yet without that subtext, the show's overriding message -- dumb-asses will do dumb-ass things no matter what the media present -- is given short shrift.

Or again, in the coffee-house-skewering "Buttniks," Beavis and Butt-head observe an amateur poetry reading at the local java joint. A few caffeinated beverages later, Beavis is transformed into his blithering, Hispanic alter ego Cornholio. Naturally, the crowd digs his rabid riffing. It's a funny bit, but all the ancillary humor is missing. Beavis' success suggests that slam was equal parts bravado and bullshit: if any hard-rock retard jolted on joe can so easily emulate the ersatz aesthetic, the genre is a joke. But this bit doesn't hit so hard, because most viewers won't remember the moment of its inception.

Still, some of the episodes do fine as singles. "Spanish Fly" features homoerotic and homophobic jokes, alluding to the confusions of middle school, when Butt-head spikes some milk, only to have it drunk by a guy he will wrestle later in gym class. The duo throws the most pathetic "Party" of all time (uber-nerd Stewart and his Sunday School pals show up, only to be beat down by town delinquent Todd and his badass buddies. But without the organization provided by seasons, these are isolated successes.

4

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image