“Beavis and Butt-head” came out the year that I graduated from high school. This was perfect for me since I grew up in a podunk town where you could barely tune in the major networks, let alone get cable stations. The animated duo gave me an excuse on the weekends to find a friend who lived somewhere civilized and crash at their place. Weekends meant “Beavis and Butt-head” and the “Headbanger’s Ball” on MTV. What more could a fresh-out-of-high-school young adult need?
Don’t take that introduction to imply that Beavis and Butt-head are the end-all, be-all characters of television. The two are, as the later added introduction would state, morons. There is nothing about the characters that is worthy of modeling oneself after, although sadly that didn’t keep people from doing it anyway. I mean really, what kind of people actually think it’s a good idea to set themselves on fire just because a cartoon does it? Can we really blame cartoons for people who are that out and out stupid hurting themselves? The very thought of some guy thinking a character named Butt-head was worth emulating makes me want to cringe, but still there were millions of people copying the boys’ trademarked laughter and speech patterns. A testament to their popularity, no matter how dumb it was.
Each week the show featured the two fourteen-year old idiots finding some way to express their complete and total lack of brain cells. Considering the show started with the two playing baseball using a frog, it’s no surprise to see some of the “plotlines” (and I use that term loosely) the boys would pursue in the interests of possibly scoring with women and just doing stuff that was cool. Most of the time what the two ended up doing wasn’t anywhere close to cool, and the only women that came near them usually were trying to take advantage of the boys’ stupidity, but damn if it wasn’t fun to watch.
Of course, Beavis and Butt-head weren’t the only characters worth watching. Every comedic star has to have his foil, and the show offered plenty for these two. The perpetually nervous Principal McVicker and contrasting hippie and military style teachers Mr. Van Driessen and Mr. Buzzcut were some of the best characters ever created to torment people like Beavis and Butt-head. Not because they were superior to the main morons, but because they too had their own blatantly obvious failures. Most of the characters who came into contact with Beavis and Butt-head really deserved someone like them in their lives - idiots to frustrate them to no end. Lets not forget the “King of the Hill” predecessor Tom Anderson, who not only resembled Hank Hill vocally, but also was subject to some of the exact same gags later used for Hank on “King of the Hill”.
Between acts of the cartoon shorts came my favorite part of “Beavis and Butt-head” - the music videos. Yes, this was back when MTV still actually showed music videos, although this show may have been the beginning of the end for that. In search of cool, hardcore metal, Beavis and Butt-head would lend their commentary as videos, usually extremely poorly done videos, would play. Think of it as a predecessor to today’s DVDs, only with the commentary actually pointing out how bad the movie is. I’m sure creator Mike Judge made his share of enemies as he belittled the visual and musical accomplishments of aspiring Spike Jonzes and wannabe Metallicas. No wonder Office Space wasn’t an instant success.
I suppose I can’t finish without pointing out the legacy of “Beavis and Butt-head”. Shows like “South Park” and “Family Guy” probably have a lot to thank the MTV cartoon for. “Beavis and Butt-head” dropped television standards to an all new low, paving the way for the bathroom humor of modern day cartoons. Thankfully most shows of the same type these days at least use that bathroom humor as they offer up satire or social commentary - something Beavis and Butthead would never attempt. Thinking about the evolution of cartoons on TV that way sort of redeems the low brow humor Beavis and Butt-head brought to the small screen. Although it never could have been done by the two themselves, at least eventually their witless chuckles and clueless entendres led to something good.
The insert that comes with “Beavis and Butt-head”: The Mike Judge Collection, Volume 1 features a great comment from Judge: “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 embarrassing. A while back, I talked with the folks at MTV and we agreed to put out a DVD set that would contain the two thirds that didn’t suck and call it ‘The Mike Judge Collection’”. That comment may very well be the best explanation for a less then complete DVD set I’ve ever heard.
Volume 1 of The Mike Judge Collection is a three disc set that includes forty episodes of “Beavis and Butt-head”. Before I go any further then that, let’s explore that whole concept of “an episode”. In the collection an episode isn’t the half-hour segment that ran on MTV. Instead an episode is one of the short cartoons, usually ten to twelve minutes in length. Typically the half-hour show was made up of two episodes with music videos in between the three acts. Unfortunately those music videos aren’t here though, most likely because bands and studios don’t graciously give permission to people who mock them as badly as Judge did. So what you end up with is forty single plot stories, ten to twelve minutes long. When the episodes are displayed this way suddenly it becomes very apparent just how simplistic the plots are, and just how stupid the characters are. Despite that, after four or five episodes I found myself chuckling at all of the stupid jokes. These really are some of the best episodes and a good reminder that even stupid humor has a place in the universe.
Since forty episodes only take up two discs, the third disc is full of bonus material. The centerpiece of the disc is a great featurette: Taint of Greatness: The Journey of Beavis and Butt-head, Part 1. The half-hour featurette explores the origins and history of the show and Judge’s inspirations for many of the reoccurring characters. It’s slightly odd to see Judge, who speaks in an extremely subdued manner, suddenly break into character voices during the featurette. It just doesn’t sound right, and it almost hurts my brain trying to comprehend the voice coming from Judge’s mouth. I felt the same way when I once saw Dan Castellaneta voice Homer Simpson on camera. It’s one of those odd side effects of cartoons - you get so used to the voice coming from the animated character it’s hard to reconcile the voice coming from anyone else.
The other great thing about the featurette is how honest Judge is about his work. At one point he refers to not wanting to do a Cornholio episode every week because he didn’t want the magic to disappear - “if you can call it magic” Judge says with great candor. Judge realizes “Beavis and Butt-head” isn’t exactly Emmy material, but at the same time it has bankrolled several other projects for the creator as well as quite a few years of his life, so he can’t quite renounce his creation.
Also on the bonus disc are eleven videos done up “Beavis and Butt-head” style, which means some of them are shown in their entirety while others may only be a couple of seconds long (long enough for the two idiots to change the channel). Since the videos were my favorite part of the show it’s great to see a few brave souls who allowed their videos to be used. It’s really a bummer there weren’t more willing to take the humiliation in exchange for my personal entertainment.
During the height of their popularity the boys made several appearances on other MTV programs which are also included here. You have to wonder how celebrities like Kurt Loder and David Letterman took to running skits with the animated duo, particularly Loder who co-hosted a Thanksgiving special with Beavis and Butthead during the height of his MTV News career. Of course neither Letterman or Loder reached Carson Daly status on the MTV scale, and you don’t see him on here interacting with animated creations, so maybe that says just who the popular ones in those skits were.
The one thing that is noticeably missing from the set is any kind of commentary from Judge. Considering the set is put together based on what episodes he thinks are great or mediocre, it would be nice to get his impressions on why these episodes deserve a spot here. I know why I think “The Great Cornholio” is one of the best “Beavis and Butt-head” episodes around, but why does Mike Judge? Minus that commentary though, this is a well assembled set for a television show, especially considering it’s not a “complete season” type set. Some people had to actually put some thought into these episodes. I just wish Judge had shared some of those thoughts with us. However, considering Beavis and Butt-head’s previous DVD exposure has been extremely lacking, I’ll take this set happily even with its small flaws.