“Beavis and Butt-head” (9 p.m. Central Thursdays on MTV) jumped right into its eighth-season premiere on Thursday with Butt-head’s trademark “Uhhhhh-huh-huh” and Beavis’ iconic “Heh-heh-yeah-yeah-heh.” Fourteen years after the show’s original run ended, MTV skipped over the awkward introductory “Don’t try this at home, kids” (which I assume was mandated by the network back in the day) and cut right to the idiot duo’s chuckles and the theme song.
Although I certainly knew who they were and I even sat through 1996’s “Beavis and Butt-head Do America,” I wasn’t a big follower of the 1993-97 run of Mike Judge’s cartoon. I found the formula to be a bit padded, since the already-short plots were interrupted by Beavis and Butt-head commenting on music videos. This was the weakest part of the show, in part because the videos were old and partly because it felt like cost-saving filler. Those videos, along with the long commercial breaks MTV was (and still is) known for, made “B&B” a bit of a chore to watch.
The advent of DVRs make those commercials much more tolerable today, and in the new version, we get reality-show clips in addition to videos. The asides now feel less like padding and more like an opportunity to say something.
Following the formula of “The Simpsons,” where the calendar keeps turning but the characters stay the same age, B&B pop up in the eighth-season premiere still as teenagers at Highland High School. And they’re looking quite good considering they died the last time we saw them, in “Beavis and Butt-head are Dead” on Nov. 28, 1997.
The premiere’s two 15-minute installments follow another format initiated by Homer Simpson: Butt-head is smart and perceptive when the joke requires it, and stupid and immature when it doesn’t. In “Werewolves of Highland,” which parodies the vampire craze, Butt-head wonders “Is Bella a zombie?” as he and Beavis sit in a theater screening “Twilight.” Granted, Butt-head probably really did think she was a zombie, but it was still a clever jab. And besides, he still looks like Einstein next to Beavis.
(On the other hand, Beavis is definitely the nicer guy. When the girls in the theater tell the boys to shut up, Beavis says “Sorry about that.” Beavis seems to have a conscience whereas Butt-head is oblivious to the existence of other people. But Beavis has more of a need to be liked, so he goes along with Butt-head’s schemes because he’s too lazy or stupid to find a better best friend.)
Conversely, in “Crying,” Butt-head catches Beavis “crying” (actually, it’s effects of a large slice of onion in his chili dog) while they watch “The Bachelor,” and proceeds to remind him of it throughout the episode — in gym class, in the lunch room, and in an “80 years later” flash-forward. Even when the elderly Butt-head drops dead, Beavis insists he wasn’t crying, and adds “I’m not crying now, either” as he rams Butt-head’s corpse with his wheelchair.
In this opening half-hour, Judge — who wisely doesn’t change anything about the voice work or the animation style — shows that this is the same ol’ “B&B.” It can take smart jabs at pop culture one minute and then revel in the extremes of these teens’ immaturity the next. Much more of the latter, to be honest; even the vampire-craze parody ends with a joke about how the comatose Butt-head giggles every time the nurse changes his catheter.
Although there are certainly bigger “B&B” fans out there than me, I do have a soft spot for the show, in part because they are of my generation — the original run corresponds almost exactly with my high school years — and in part because it delivers fairly reliable laughs. I think “B&B” is more in Judge’s comfort zone than “King of the Hill” and “The Goode Family,” both of which I found to be tame and mainstream.
As with Matt Groening keeping “The Simpsons” around, Trey Parker and Matt Stone churning out more “South Parks” and Seth MacFarlane cranking out “Family Guys,” it feels right that Judge should go back to “B&B.” He can use these characters to comment on society or to laugh at how stupid some people are (Beavis and Butt-head are essentially a pair of John Q. Stupids). Those two pastimes don’t have an expiration date.
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