Television review: ‘Beavis and Butt-Head,’ ‘Good Vibes’ and ‘Allen Gregory’
Thursday marks the return of Mike Judge’s “Beavis and Butt-Head” to MTV, after 14 years — enough time for a baby to have grown up to be Beavis or Butt-Head.
The cartoon, which began in part as an ironic, idiotic but not inaccurate commentary on the network’s original bread and butter — the music video — will now include among its targets movies, viral videos and the kind of shows that have come to represent MTV in the duo’s absence, series like “Jersey Shore” and “16 and Pregnant.” (“This would be a better show if they showed them actually getting pregnant.”) What’s odd is how nearly they resemble some of their new targets — “This guy looks like he might be stupider than us” — and how with the passing years they’ve come to sound less like snarky kids and more like grumbling old men: the Statler and Waldorf of their generation.
Nevertheless, this is a kind of American classic that goes right against the grain of what cartoons are supposed to be. Handmade and homely, slow and awkward, it evokes the awesome inertia of the bored teenager for whom life seems not endlessly promising, but merely endless. It is dumb stuff — in the opening episode, the pair, having seen a bit of “Twilight,” look for something undead to bite them, in order to “score chicks” — yet grown men of my acquaintance once would imitate their idiotic snickering and repeat, in something like their voices, any statement that could be remotely misconstrued as sexual.
Thursday is also the premiere of another MTV cartoon, “Good Vibes,” set in a Southern California beach town. Josh Gad (“The Book of Mormon”) plays short, round Mondo, whose hot-stuff mother Babs (Debi Mazar) has brought him west from New Jersey to start a new life in fictional Playa del Toro, where he is befriended by bushy-blond-haired surfer dude Woodie (Adam Brody). (The cast also includes Danny McBride as an obese female sex-ed teacher and Tony Hale as an aggressive nerd.) The visual style is “Family Guy” by way of “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers,” with the younger female characters designed as if by a 12-year-old boy.
Created by David Gordon Green (“Pineapple Express”), it is a kind of cartoon version of Nickelodeon’s surf-culture kid-com “Bucket and Skinner’s Epic Adventures,” with masturbation and marijuana jokes laid in. Though “Beavis” and “Good Vibes” both flog what might be called “adult” subject matter, they are, of course, aimed straight at 13-year-old boys, whose noggins pulse with the stuff. (This is decidedly a young male fantasy.) None of the characters — including the usual smart hot girl, mean hot girl and mean hot guy — range beyond well-established types, and the show would have to stand on a chair to aim any lower. But it is mostly sweet-tempered and oddly moral, and, as I write these words, I do not hate it.
More “sophisticated” is “Allen Gregory,” a new series beginning Sunday on Fox, which trusts in cartoons. The story of a super-precocious, over-entitled 7-year-old cast into an ordinary elementary school, it was co-created by and stars Jonah Hill, the movie actor. Given the current good health of his film career, Hill is no one you should expect to see any time soon on live-action TV; but a cartoon doesn’t require him to show his face, or even shave, and, of course, this is his baby.
Allen has two dads. Pampering alpha dad Richard (French Stewart) is rich and controlling and too awful to care about, though apparently less rich than just before the series begins: He is after life partner Jeremy (Nat Faxon), too nice to be here, to get a job. This is why Allen has to go to school — he was home-schooled before that by Jeremy, whom he hates, as he does his adopted, ignored Cambodian sister (Joy Osmanski). And a public school, to boot, the better to contrast his pompous pretentiousness with the more ordinary concerns of his second-grade classmates.
He is also, in some explicitly sexual way, drawn to his large and ancient principal, voiced by Renée Taylor with an appropriate tone of disgust. I know the scenes that Allen Gregory imagines between them are supposed to be hilarious, but they are nothing I need to see. These are the sort of jokes that make you wonder not so much whether you are too old for them but whether you have simply lived too long.
Still, Hill is consistently funny doing what sounds to me like an impression of a Hollywood executive: He calls his teacher “sweetheart” (Leslie Mann, in what I take as an homage to “Freaks and Geeks”), talks over anyone he considers his inferior and views his own struggles with an exasperating world as somehow brave and moving and poetic. And once in a while, he sounds like a little boy. This much works, but whether it can sustain a series is a fair question.
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