With the third volumne of Beavis & Butthead, the DVD routine has been established by now. Several dozen of the show’s better 10-minute cartoon segments are collected on two discs, with music videos and promos rounding out a third disc, along with an installment of the “Taint of Greatness” documentary providing a loose, reasonably candid history of the show (in lieu of episode-specific commentary tracks).
This ongoing chronicle has not been heavy on specific chronology, nor are the episodes on any of the DVD sets. But it’s clear on the third and final installment of “Taint of Greatness” that we are nearing the end of the Beavis and Butthead era. Series creator Mike Judge reveals that he was initially leaning toward ending the show after two or three seasons, only to find that doing so would create a legal mess. Eventually, he renegotiated to end the show at seven seasons, with the provision that he would make a feature film version for Paramount. Much of the set points the way towards the movie and, with it, that series’ end.
The accompanying episodes — culled mostly from the later (and generally superior) seasons — are rarely less than amusing and often outright hilarious, but here the charming simplicity of 10-minute cartoons begin to undermine the show’s potential. Brevity is one of Beavis & Butthead‘s many virtues, but it doesn’t allow for much beyond setup, execution, and fade out. And so hilarious high concepts like the boys as unwitting vigilantes (“Citizens Arrest”) and the boys attending a P.T.A. meeting (“P.T.A.”) fade out too soon.
Beavis & Butthead may not seem like a concept that cries out to be stretched to feature length — indeed, the smart and plainspoken Judge frames the film’s genesis as a point of negotiation more than a creative necessity — but the boys show surprising durability. In light of the material and information provided in this boxed set, Beavis & Butthead Do America (on a bare-bones DVD now, with a special edition due momentarily) becomes the logical end point of the enterprise (though I’d certainly be there on opening night if Judge ever decided to make an animated sequel).
Once the film is re-released on DVD, comparisons will be in order; Volume III also includes the original, uncut “Frog Baseball” — the first Beavis and Butthead short, in which a cruder-drawn version of the boys abuse a small variety of animals even lower on the food chain than they are (it originally aired on MTV’s animation showcase Liquid Television). Though the characters display greater athleticism than they ever would again (albeit in the service of cretinous behavior), the distance from this short to their growth out of the 10-minute cartoon format is startling.
Even towards the end, though, Beavis and Butthead found worth in short bursts. Their video critiques, about 15 of which are included here in a sampling more representative of the show’s mid-90s heyday than the first volume, don’t require any additional fleshing out. Yes, the dudes are actually pretty good cultural critics, something you never could have guessed from “Frog Baseball”. During the video for Crowbar’s “Existence is Punishment”, they effortlessly rag on sludgy, humorless metal, calling it “slow and fat”. “He just said he gave his heart and soul to some chick,” Butthead says of the portly Crowbar singer. “That must’ve been at least fifty pounds of meat.” During Poison’s “I Want Action,” their disgust is hilariously succinct; “I can’t even begin to talk about how much this sucks,” says Beavis, speaking like a true rock critic.
“I kind of miss it now,” Judge says towards the end of “Taint of Greatness”, speaking of his decision (without regret) to end the show after seven seasons before going on to say he might return to them some day, a little bit at a time. To this end, the set also includes Beavis and Butthead’s appearances on the 2005 Video Music Awards, which are too short and insubstantial — essentially filler — to provide much of a fix for fans of the show. More than a decade after “Frog Baseball”, the characters need extra room — even if it’s just the freedom to walk around their desolate suburban town or sit on the couch and watch today’s music videos (it’s a shame we never got to hear their take on Britney Spears). If interest in these home-video incarnations of Beavis & Butthead sparks interest in a movie sequel, chalk it up to another one of Judge’s low-key negotiations gone good.