Beavis and Butt-head make a comeback
MTV pairs duo with second crass cartoon series
‘Beavis and Butt-head’’ was just right for early 1990s MTV. It was a youth-market take on “Mystery Science Theater 3000,’’ with a pair of dimwits in AC/DC and Metallica T-shirts watching and making fun of MTV videos. At the time, kids were becoming “media-savvy,’’ as the pop psychologists were phrasing it, which was another way of noting that kids were growing cynical and ironic; “Beavis and Butt-head’’ perfectly captured that punchy tone. It invited viewers to rip on MTV - while simultaneously bringing ratings to MTV. Nice trick, that.
Now, some 20 years later, “Beavis and Butt-head’’ is returning to MTV, this time as “Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-head.’’ And it’s not a bad idea, to put the two aggressively stupid dudes back to work, this time judging reality TV shows as well as videos. Once again, MTV is owning its own ridiculousness; the network has thrived almost solely on reality soaps in the past decade, and now it’s dissecting their absurdities. We can have our “Jersey Shore’’ and mock it too, the MTV programmers seem to be saying. Let’s throw idiocy at idiocy and make a positive.
Does it work? The new series, which premieres tonight at 10, works just OK. The problem is, there actually isn’t much of a need for the two dopes and their anti-wisdom anymore. Reality TV, not including all the contests shows, is a largely self-ironic genre. Everything from “The Real Housewives’’ franchise to “The Bachelor’’ has parody built into its core being, so that all the characters and situations are heightened to the point of spoofery. Most viewers are laughing at reality cast members like Snooki and the Situation - heh, heh - while simultaneously following them.
Plus, we still have “South Park,’’ which was partly inspired by “Beavis and Butt-head’’ and yet puts it to shame in the snark department. “South Park’’ skewers pop culture almost to the point where no further skewering is possible. And then there are the countless websites on the order of Television Without Pity, which have become masters of the TV takedown.
So the new “Beavis and Butt-head’’ isn’t as essential as it once was. It doesn’t have any subversive bite. It’s still got a little bit of joy left in it, but only as a nostalgic experience. The pair are exactly as they were in the 1990s, only now they’re suffering through the likes of “Twilight’’ and “16 and Pregnant.’’ They watch “The Bachelor’’ in the premiere, and Butt-head accuses Beavis of crying, an accusation that lasts, as we see in a flash forward, for decades. They watch an MTV documentary about an addiction to porn, muttering, “porn, porn, porn’’ throughout. It’s just like old times.
“Good Vibes,’’ which premieres at 10:30, is a fitting timeslot neighbor to “Beavis and Butt-head.’’ The two shows are similar in a few ways. “Good Vibes’’ is a crude, animated sitcom that makes fun of, well, everything, including surf culture, nerds, jocks, breasts, fat men, frizzy hair, homeless people, stoners, hookers, pop culture, and video games. It revolves around two sex-obsessed dumdums, Mondo (Josh Gad) and Woodie (Adam Brody). And it’s completely stupid, although somehow, on top of it all, it manages to pull out a laugh or two if you’re willing to channel your inner juvenile.
The setup has Mondo, a chubby kid whose mother, Babs (the unmistakable Debi Mazar), is a hooker looking for legitimate work. They’ve just moved from New Jersey to a honky-tonk California surfing town, where Mondo feels completely out of place because, as he says, “even the bums are ripped.’’ At one point, a school mean girl calls him “White Precious’’ because of his weight. Mondo and the geeky Woodie quickly become best buds, and spend their time dodging bullies and spying on hot chicks at the beach.
There’s nothing new here at all, just a pile of raunchy gags with a few hits and a lot of misses. The voice talent is good, though, including Danny McBride as a repulsive teacher in a wheelchair. And the beach town atmosphere is fresh. It’s “Beach Blanket Bingo’’ gone terribly wrong.