Butt-head, We Hardly Knew Ye

And you say television is predictable?

Who would have guessed a few years ago that one of TV's rages of the '90s would be two homely, repulsive, eternally flatulent, irredeemably moronic teenagers who can barely read, have reached the apex of their lives working in a greasy burger joint and spend most of their time rapt before a set watching rock videos and fantasizing about "scoring"? As in having rip-roaring sex 'round the clock.

Mike Judge could have titled his animated MTV creations "Incredibly Dumb and Even Dumber," in giving seed to a pair of weaselly, self-mutilating dips who would become at once the antichrists of mainstream television and pop culture's reigning icons of boorishness.

Instead he named them Beavis and Butt-head.

He fastened these squinty human zits to their ratty couch in front of a rabbit-eared TV in their crummy digs. He gave them reptilian faces beneath their pompadours, and also pea brains and things to say like "cool," "this sucks" and "heh-heh-heh" and "huh-huh-huh," in strident voices that he supplied himself.

There's always been profit in vulgarity. It's taken Judge to find such profit--and praise from those of us who admire his twisted wit and affection for the absurd--in vulgarity that is often hilarious.

Alas, though, all good things must end. As regularly scheduled first-run fare on MTV, at least--for Friday's "Beavis and Butt-head Are Dead" is the finale in that category, following Thursday's live special, "Beavis and Butt-head Do Thanksgiving With Kurt Loder," whose title is spun from Judge's 1996 theatrical movie, "Beavis and Butt-head Do America." Loder is the MTV personality known for his music tidbits and interviews with rock stars.

It turns out Friday that Beavis and Butt-head are not actually dead, of course. They just create that impression after playing hooky from Highland High for three weeks, prompting a joyful Principal McVicker to celebrate their absence with a faculty bash featuring such warm, teary Beavis and Butt-head anecdotes as the time Beavis said, "That was cool," when their guitar-strumming, folk-singing hippie teacher was hurled through the windshield of their school bus over a mountainside.

No, not dead at all, for Judge is planning another "Beavis and Butt-head" movie, and the pair also will endure in reruns and resurface in occasional new specials on MTV, including another "Butt-Bowl" break that will run midway through the coming Super Bowl as an alternative to the usual stereophonically over-the-top televised halftime pomp.

But no more bread-and-butter B&B.; Why abort the regular "Beavis and Butt-head" now, just as crudeness is gaining such credibility?

"I actually wanted to stop a little sooner," Judge said recently from his office in Austin, Texas, where he lives with his wife and two daughters, ages 3 and 6. "We've done over 200 episodes [since 1993]. After the second season, I thought, 'How are we gonna do this anymore?' I was completely burnt out. I got a second wind in season three, and again in season five. But I don't know, you do it as fast as you can, get it on the air as fast as you can, and there's never a break. I felt, like, why not retire before it gets too stale or whatever?"

That's a bold, exotic concept for television, where retirement almost always follows staleness.

More from Judge later, after this brief detour down memory lane, one of the highlights being a 1995 Christmas special that found Beavis entranced by a Yule porn video, "Ebenezer Screw," featuring Bob Scratchit. Part 2 of the special was "It's a Miserable Life," in which Charlie the kindly angel, after being asked by Butt-head, "Can you help us score?," urges Beavis and Butt-head to jump into the river "for the good of mankind."

How dumb are Beavis and Butt-head?

* So dumb that when Butt-head once had a terrible nose bleed, Beavis dialed 411 instead of 911.

* So dumb that when Butt-head answered the doorbell on Halloween and saw a little kid standing there with a bag of candy, he took a piece and shut the door on him. Beavis: "Who was that?" Butt-head: "Just some dude handing out free samples."

* So dumb that you were reminded of childlike Lenny begging George to retell him their plans for getting a spread of their own in "Of Mice and Men" when Beavis implored Butt-head to tell again him about Frankenstein.

Beavis: "What happens with Frankenstein? I can't remember."

Butt-head: "There was, like, this dude with the big head and, uh, he's a doctor and he like invents a way to operate on dead people, but he uses lightning, and he, like, puts some screws into his head."

Beavis: "Heh-heh."

Butt-head: "And then he's got this hunchback little sidekick that does everything he says."

Beavis: "Heh-heh."

Butt-head: "Kinda like you."

* So dumb that one of their shrewder schemes had Beavis allowing Butt-head to beat him to smithereens on the job so that they could draw workers' compensation. When their boss informed them, "It has to be an accident," Beavis replied: "You mean like poop in our pants?"

Detractors believe that Judge is the one who has pooped with each new rendering of "Beavis and Butt-head." Of course, he has other interests now, including "King of the Hill," the animated sitcom that has emerged as a big hit in its second season on Fox. Judge is an executive producer and the voice of Hank Hill, the blue-collar patriarch who is the series' protagonist. It's the same voice he gives B&B;'s besieged neighbor, Tom Anderson.

But "Beavis and Butt-head" and the laid-back "King of the Hill" are unalike, the former a minimalist operation in which Judge has supplied much of the writing and all of the voices.

"In 'Beavis and Butt-head,' " Judge said, "I was sitting in a booth striving to come up with something, and it was a real drag on my schedule. I'd say, 'All right, this script really sucks, but I wanna get home and see my kids, so I'll just do it.' "

In contrast, "King of the Hill" is a bigger, more collaborative undertaking with a full staff of writers, Judge said, "and Greg Daniels [an executive producer who co-created the series with Judge] runs the show."

What he enjoys about "King of the Hill," said Judge, are its high Nielsens. "I didn't think I would be so obsessed with watching the ratings. Now, I'm like on Monday, going, 'How did we do against "Touched by an Angel"?' "

It was "The Simpsons," the Fox series preceding "King of the Hill" on Sunday nights, that first touched prime time with luminous animation in the 1990s. And while "The Ren & Stimpy Show," Nickelodeon's generally obscene series about a Chihuahua and a cat, beat Judge to the cartoon litterbox by two years, it was surely the higher-profile Beavis and Butt-head who encouraged Comedy Central to move forward this season with its animated "South Park," raising the bar still higher when it comes to exquisitely sick humor.

Not that Judge necessarily agrees that Beavis and Butt-head are sick comedy. He said: "They never really beat anybody up or deliberately hurt anybody." But, he added, "There's been some episodes, like the fire stuff, that I just cringe when I see." That would be the earlier tendency of Beavis to burn things and say, "Fire is cool," which was blamed in 1993 for a handful of blazes set by kids, including one by a 5-year-old in Ohio that killed his toddler sister. As a result, MTV deleted all fire references in "Beavis and Butt-head" with a speed that Judge believes implied culpability in the little girl's death, something he has disputed.

The irony of this comedy is that if you met a Beavis and Butt-head in real life, you'd cage them, not laugh at them.

"We had this kid who lived next door to us who was 12," Judge said. "And he called himself Iron Butt, because you could kick him in the butt as hard as you want and it wouldn't hurt." Very funny. "Then he set fire to a tree in his yard," added Judge, "and it wasn't funny."

Is there a line he wouldn't have Beavis and Butt-head cross? "Having them scoring would be inappropriate," said Judge. Eternal virginity, a fittingly uncool fate for these dudes.

*

* "Beavis and Butt-head Do Thanksgiving With Kurt Loder" airs at 11 a.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. Thursday on MTV. "Beavis and Butt-head Are Dead" airs at 10 p.m. Friday and at 7 p.m. Saturday on MTV.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
65°