Monday, March 18, 2013

Beavis and Butt-Head - Judge (TV Show & Movie)

No man should be without TP *or* PS.
What do Sir Patrick Stewart and I have in common? Well, beside looking great with shaved heads, we are both obsessed with Beavis and Butt-Head. Speaking of the titular characters, he has said, "My passion for them remains the same... I think it's one of the most original and brilliant pieces of television that we've seen in recent years. The dialogue is delightful. I simply sit and giggle and laugh all the time."

Depending on your age and upbringing, you probably fall into one of three categories: 1) You have seen the show multiple times, but don't really see what's supposed to be so funny about it; 2) You have seen it and understood it and loved it; or 3) you think it is an inappropriate and mindless program but have seen less than three minutes of any given episode. If you are of the first category here, there is nothing I can do for you beyond directing you elsewhere. If you are of the second group, let me just say welcome to Great Work Review! I think you will find yourself at home. If you are of the last category, I think it would be best for all of us if you continued reading.

Mike Judge (of King of the Hill, and Office Space fame) created the show in the mid-nineties, and has been thoroughly involved throughout the show's run. Not only has he written most of the episodes, but has also played the role of almost every recurring character. On the surface, Beavis and Butt-Head is an off-beat, somewhat slow-paced cartoon about two very unintelligent fifteen-year-old boys. On that level it is effective as a goofy comedy; however, it is also meant to be a satirical denouncement of the hedonistic TV culture in which we now live. 

Beavis and Butt-head are primarily interested in only one thing: themselves. They want to watch TV, eat nachos, and watch people get beat-up. Their future aspirations include drinking, living in filth, and--as Beavis explains to the school guidance counselor--"do[ing] it with two chicks." They live outside of humanity as uncontrollable youth with no real direction or drive and basically no redeeming qualities.

The dialogue is superbly crafted and often unexpected. The careful viewer may find themselves asking the question, "Did he really just say that?" over and over again. The animation is crude, but carries with it a weight of realism that anchors the actions of the protagonists in a world that rings true with our own. Some cartoons that display depressing or dark themes also employ dark colors, draw cracks and ooze in every building, and have auxiliary characters that are most often cynical, evil, or stupid. Beavis and Butt-head however, live in a bright, pleasant part of Texas. There are characters (like Van Dreissan and Tom Anderson) who are genuine and show friendly interest in the boys. For the most part, they are in the darkness in an otherwise normal world. 

“Hey Butt-head, I dreamed I was at school last night.
Do you think that counts for attendance?”
It can be easy to confuse the messengers with the message, but look beyond what the characters are doing and saying to see what the show is saying. In one memorable episode entitled "A Great Day", we get to see what B & B consider to be a perfect day: First, they go to school only to find it is closed for a holiday. Then, while dumpster diving, they find a crumpled-up dirty magazine. As they walk down a residential street looking at their pornography and laughing, they witness a three-car pile-up. They then find some blood on the side walk outside a run-down house. Later they also find a dead bird. The day ends with them buying nachos and being able to give some money to a bully they both admire. This is as good as it gets for Beavis and Butt-head. The message here is that when we live only for self satisfaction, that's all we get: in meaningless, small quantities, and for fleeting, insignificant things. 

If you never watched Beavis and Butt-head because your parents told you not to growing up, please keep in mind that they probably never watched the show either. Perhaps it's time to give a show with the word "Butt" in its title a chance. Might I recommend starting with the most recent season.

-MA 3.18.13 

Note of warning for Netflix users: The original run of the series was never released in seasons; instead, Judge picked his favorite episodes to be released in three chronological collections. When Netflix consolidated multiple seasons of shows into one, the second and third collections disappeared. Ergo, the only episodes available on Netflix are the oldest, which were be no means the best. The full-length B & B movie is also on Netflix; I suggest watching that over the first collection. Alternatively, you can watch the most current season directly on MTV's website if you don't mind inane commercials.

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