The many reincarnations that MTV has gone through over the last two decades or so—a span of time aligned perfectly with the premiere of the network’s flagship program, The Real World—has had less of an effect on Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-head than one might have expected. The return of Judge’s animated program, featuring the network’s most iconic characters prior to the premiere of Jersey Shore, comes at a time when the show’s key facet (music videos) seem especially irrelevant, seeing as they are watched almost entirely online and are all but extinct on MTV’s schedule. Not only does it make the network’s new form of music promotion (seemingly endless credit rolls of songs used in reality programs running mid-broadcast) look all the more overbearing, dry, and cheap, it makes the still-running annual Video Music Awards an act of absurdist marketing and promotion worthy of Frank Tashlin.
As perfect as Beavis and Butt-head was as a showcase for music videos, the essential use of the videos was as a jumping-off point for Judge to implement a meta-cynical dissection of a generation in terms of their thoughts, their use of time, and their heroes. Where once we watched Judge’s dynamic duo worship at the alter of Metallica, Anthrax, and that guy running at top speed while engulfed in flames in the video for Wax’s “California,” they now, in the series’s very funny eighth season, are unable to stop watching reruns of Jersey Shore, Teen Mom, and 18 and Pregnant (Parental Control, The Challenge, Silent Library are curiously absent).
Certain videos—most memorably, MGMT’s “Kids” and T-Baby’s “It’s So Cold in the D”—produce transcendental buffoonery similar to the highs of the show’s initial four-year, seven-season run, but the use of clips featuring teenaged parents, Snooki, Dina, and the Situation allows the show to pick up exactly where it left off. Beavis and Butt-head remains, at its core, a satire of media consumption: two TV-obsessed morons criticizing the lowest of low art forms while continuously exemplifying what makes reality television, its ilk, and the behavior encouraged and endorsed in said programming so watchable. When Beavis and Butt-head fall asleep during a rare instance on Jersey Shore when no one is fighting or, er, smooshing, it strikes at an inherent problem television has faced in the 30-plus years following FCC v. Pacifica Foundation: TV trash will never be quite trashy enough for its target demographic.
As for the cartoon’s proper mini-narratives, it remains a mixed bag of bargain-bin satire of the au courant and creative, inspired bits of low comedy. The season starts with a double-barrel blast of both, at once lampooning the overcooked romanticism of the Twilight series and brilliantly mapping out the lack of growth in humor and taste in our heroes in “Werewolves of Highland” and “Crying,” respectively. Judge’s recent bold embrace of the middle class over those in poverty or the lower middle-class in the underrated Extract reverberates here, most effectively in “Bathroom Break,” while his empathy for the alienated working man can be felt in “Tech Support” and “Used Car.” Ultimately, however, timeliness is not on Judge’s side, as mediocre episodes such as “Supersize Me,” “Drones,” “Whorehouse,” and “Spill” attest.
No matter the changes in popular culture, getting laid, getting rich, and getting nachos still represent key base instincts that Judge allows his creations to embrace and exploit consistently. And if the new season doesn’t develop the community of Highland as much as the series originally did, the heightened focus and perspective of the show has not corrupted the ostensible mystery of Beavis and Butt-head. We still have no idea how Beavis or Butt-head are enrolled in school, have a roof over their head, or receive any money; their parents remain unseen and at large. More importantly, we still can’t be certain of the depths of Beavis and Butt-head’s stupidity, permitting an endless line of failures to attain any of their goals even when salvation and solutions are right at their fingertips. You could say they are human cockroaches, but even that gives them too much credit: Even cockroaches get laid on a fairly routine basis.
Paramount's transfer looks quite excellent, and as is true of a great deal of animation, the colors pop beautifully. Reds, blues, and mustard yellows look particularly good, and the little detailing the show employs comes out solid. The animation during the video segments looks cruddy and old, but this is obviously on purpose and, to be perfectly frank, even those segments could have come out looking a lot worse. The audio comes out very strong as well, with the dialogue and constant chuckling out front, crisp and clean. Music and sound effects are nicely balanced in back, though not without a few dulled moments. Regardless, this is a very nice package.
There's only one thing really worth a look here, and that's the 2011 Comic-Con Panel featurette. Mike Judge and Johnny Knoxville, two radical comedic minds, discuss the history of the show, voice acting, and Judge's use of short narratives. They barely dig in, but what's here is worth a look and a listen. The set of "interruption" pranks that the duo pull on the Jersey Shore crew are joyless throwaways. A short "silence your phone" intro is also included.
Highland High's chief underachievers make an easy transition back into the limelight and onto a sharp-looking DVD, 15 years after their last full season.