Oh, Beavis and Butthead.
It’s strange to think that in 2017 this idiotic duo is still drifting aimlessly right outside of our zeitgeist. It’s even stranger to think that only a mere twenty years ago they were smack dab in the center of it. Yet here we are, twenty years after their (first) cancellation with the closest thing we’ll ever come to a “complete” set of their misadventures on DvD.
The early 90’s was a bit of a renaissance period when it came to animation on television, particularly when it came to more adult oriented fare. While most tried their best to ape the success of The Simpsons with their “family oriented sitcom” approach (often to mixed results) Beavis and Butthead carved their own niche with their more pointed humor and subversive commentary… but more on that later.
In some ways, like many classic animated mischief makers, the two are as hilarious and off-putting today as they ever were. Some of the concepts are relatively timeless and watching the two get under anyone and everyone’s skin still provides a plethora of laughs (depending on your wavelength) and cautionary tales abound; despite all the hoopla back in the day these two are never once positioned as role models. The show actively cheers for the two to never truly succeed (or score) at anything they attempt. While, yes, almost anyone who ever encounters them is usually worse off for it, it’s not as if Beavis and Butthead ever end up on top. That’s fundamental to good comic writing- it’d be tougher to laugh at some of the material on display if that balance was off.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have some problems. I can’t help but wonder if I’d feel differently about some of these critiques if I was writing this review back during the original run (1993-1997). Point blank- some of this stuff hasn’t aged too well.
There’s one episode that springs to mind that involves the boys learning about sexual harassment only to sue a few girls from their school that have given them erections in the past. Ya know, because they felt sexual harassed. It’s only mildly offensive at best, but imagine the backlash if you tried that episode in 2017.
Speaking of mildly offensive, the shock value that the show was once so popular for has all but faded in comparison to its more modern contemporaries. After South Park and Family Guy, it’s hard to really tell what all the fuss was about. It’s worth mentioning here that most of the edgier material has been completely dropped from this collection. Episodes like “Give Blood”, “Door-to-Door”, and “Down Mexico Way” are nowhere to be found here. As a matter of fact, there’s roughly 60 shorts missing (and 95% of the music videos they did commentary for are gone… gotta love those legal entanglements.) That’s a lot of missing content, and it’s worth noting if you’re a completionist looking for everything this show has ever spawned. (If that’s the case Google The King Turd Collection… you’re welcome.)
I understand this is almost entirely subjective, but the missing shorts didn’t bother me quite like the missing videos. With the shorts I could at least understand Mike Judge’s reasoning for wanting to pretend they didn’t happen, most of them have atrocious animation and Beavis and Butthead are a little too easy to hate in these early shows. Thankfully as the show progressed they were dumbed down and mostly harmless, but in the early stuff… well, go seek it out. If animal torture and cruel mistreatment of others is your bag you’ll probably get a chuckle.
The videos are a point of contention for me simply because I can’t help but feel like the show was always structured around a certain formula. It never felt like a drag because regardless of whether the storied short felt like it was going anywhere, there were always hilarious bits of insight from Judge’s improv that helped ape some of the most ridiculous elements of pop-culture at the time. That’s where the shows best shined- there were true gems laced throughout those commentaries, and without it there is a sense of aimlessness throughout the straightforward episodes. It’s just watching one idiotic thing happen after another.
That’s fine in smaller doses, that’s why it helped having those interstitials become such a part of the format. Without them… well, the flaws present in some of the writing becomes a bit more obvious. Episodes rarely end, they just “teeter” off the edge at some point while others just blatantly end before you even realize what was supposed to make you laugh to begin with.
The movie and revival series are also included in this set as well, and since I won’t be reviewing them separately I need to at least point out that the film is still one of the finer TV-to-film adaptations floating around and the revival series held up remarkably well considering how much time had passed since the duo’s last outings. These episodes also include their video commentaries and nothing has been chopped out- thankfully, because they play much better for it.
I feel like I may be a little harsh on this series, but I assure you I adore this show and most of what came from it. It’s just become obvious with time that certain aspects haven’t fared well and much of the series has been restructured for this release- not always for the better.
I mean, guys, this 16 (!) disc set was only $25 and for that price I can’t recommend it enough despite some minor quibbles here and there. Just don’t walk into it with your nostalgia glasses on and you should be fine.