In the pantheon of the great comedy writers for movies and television, Mike Judge is among the best of the past three decades. His movies “Office Space” and “Idiocracy” were classics that satirize the stupidity of the workplace and American pop culture.
His television series “King of the Hill” is a regionalist masterpiece, capturing the quirks, diversity, and naive conservatism of Texas suburbia, and his more recent series “Silicon Valley” is both a hilarious and surprisingly accurate analysis of the technology industry and startup culture. In all these efforts, Judge’s humor combines wit and intelligence with raunchiness and humility.
However, despite this impressive catalog of comedies, Judge is best known for his first and worst creation, the MTV animated series “Beavis and Butt-head.” The show was about two hopeless, stupid teenagers who spent their days commenting on random music videos and continually giggling. When they weren’t doing this, they would make a mess of things in a variety of situations, usually due to their incompetence and their never-ending quest to “score.”
If any show could be blamed for ruining a generation, “Beavis and Butt-head” would certainly qualify. Even fans of the show would have to concede that they lost more than a few brain cells and developed eerily similar habits to the show’s protagonists. I know I did, bringing grief and confusion to my poor parents.
However, to the show’s great credit, beyond all the scatological gags and innuendo, it had a certain irresistible realism. This was how many teenagers really acted — they were giggling, bumbling fools who watched a lot of television and were ruled by their hormones. All too often, older adults were largely absent — MTV raised these kids, not their parents or teachers — and thus completely out of touch with this younger generation.
After seven seasons and a feature-length film, “Beavis and Butt-head” had played itself out and was essentially done, quickly replaced by even cruder comedies like “South Park” and “Family Guy.” Once the ’90s passed into the ’00s, it was hard to see how “Beavis and Butt-head” could retain its appeal among audiences raised by the internet and YouTube. Yet Judge decided to do just this, bringing back the two delinquents in a new full-length film “Beavis and Butt-head Do the Universe,”now streaming on Paramount Plus.
The story begins in 1998, when the two protagonists accidentally set the school on fire and are “punished” by a lefty judge by being sent to NASA space camp. While there, they are recruited to be astronauts to help with a mission to collect information on a black hole.
They predictably make a mess of things on the ship, leading to them being shot off into space, where they fall into the black hole that sends them back to Earth 24 years later. As they try to make their way back home and attempt to “score” with the astronaut who shot them into space, they are being chased by secret agencies and another astronaut.
The plot offers many opportunities for satire, and there are a couple of funny moments in the movie. The slapstick and innuendo in the first ten minutes as Beavis and Butt-head are starting a fire and being trained as astronauts are classic.
Beavis and Butt-head walking into a gender studies class and learning about white male privilege is the other funny moment. In both cases, the show exposes the wide gulf between what young people are actually like and what adults think about them. This is not the smartest, most progressive generation, and no amount of technology and indoctrination will change that fact.
Unfortunately, beyond this, so many of the gags fall flat and make little to no reference to the way the world has changed in 24 years. So much is just fan service: Beavis and Butt-head eat lots of nachos, Butt-head bullies Beavis, Beavis reprises his alter-ego of Cornholio, both of them continually dream and joke about sex, and their quintessential adolescent giggling is constant. The rest of the movie is building up a nonsensical plot and developing uninteresting characters who mainly serve to advance this nonsensical plot.
Put another way, the social commentary, that contrast between earthy reality and idealistic smugness, is nowhere to be found. Like Judge’s other comedies, so much of the humor behind Beavis and Butt-head depends on context.
On their own, Beavis and Butt-head aren’t all that funny — they’re actually pretty annoying. But when they’re completing a task that requires them to interact with other characters like their hippie teacher, dopey neighbor, uptight principal, dorky classmate, or a Chinese exchange student, then there’s a hilarious bigger point being made about hippies, school, neighbors, peer pressure, and American culture.
Unfortunately, there’s no such point being made here. One might almost suspect Judge and his fellow writers of recycling an old, rejected screenplay. There’s very little that’s new, and this makes the whole thing seem irrelevant.
Both the world outside and inside the movie have long moved on, yet Beavis and Butt-head are doing the same things they did a quarter-century ago. Even for fans of the show who have grown up and seen other, better comedies — many of which were heavily influenced by “Beavis and Butt-head” — it’s just not that funny or interesting anymore.