But can they survive cancel culture?
The idiocy of adolescence may have been a nightmare for many of us, but to pop culture it’s a sacred panacaea for the disappointment of modern adult reality. Americans love their bonehead burnouts, from Jughead to Bender to Spicoli–and even better in echo-chamber pairs like Cheech & Chong, Wayne & Garth, Harry & Lloyd. Entertainment services are trying to court cynical Gen-Zers with wasted-youth reboots from a simpler time: fresh on the heels of the upcoming Bill & Ted movie, and with Daria herself returning to MTV, Comedy Central is bringing back another slacker duo with two new seasons of Beavis & Butthead, helmed by creator Mike Judge.
When I was a teen during the series’ popularity, my parents didn’t allow me to watch MTV for religious reasons. Watching it at friends’ houses felt like sneaking liquor, and Beavis & Butthead was a quick shot of crass, pointless rebellion for its own sake: two hapless wastoids who aspire to eat nachos, get chicks and shred social conventions with bad decisions and catatonic chuckles.
In 1993 the culture was slogging through the aftermath of the LA riots, Waco, the end of Apartheid, the first World Trade Center bombing, and wars in Bosnia and Northern Ireland. We were so traumatized we were primed for dumb adolescent distractions: Bart Simpson was doing ollies all over Fox, music videos stomped across the land, and the national laugh-o-meter was set at Pauly Shore and nut shots on “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”
So when MTV got wind of some bizarre animated shorts by anonymous weirdo Mike Judge, test audiences gobbled it up and Judge went on to cram seven seasons of unhinged dumbassery into four frenetic years. As slapdash as it appeared, the show was meticulously produced and written as two back-to-back episodes that skewered fin de siècle military, education and employment structures with what was basically caveman dialogue. (The boys took a break between episodes to roast a range of music videos.) And nihilistic as it seemed, its creators say there was “no malice, just stupidity” behind the pair’s destructiveness. Beavis & Butthead never really faded from television, as it spawned spin-off shows King of the Hill and Daria, directly influenced South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and arguably helped launch the adult tv animation industry itself.
So here we are 25 years later, facing down another string of global catastrophes and psyche-gripping social upheaval. Like the 3 Stooges during the Great Depression, Bob Hope during World War 2, and Gallagher during the Bush years, it makes sense to turn to our jesters in uncertain times. But can the show’s keystone humor hold the heavy load of 2020’s cancel culture?
The animal death (Frog Baseball, Cow Tipping), gay bashing (Spanish Fly) and sexual manipulation (Crisis Line, Massage) don’t age well. And its 2011 revival fizzled after a single season, panned as a shameless nostalgia grab. But if newer cartoons like Metalocalypse, Rick & Morty and Bojack Horseman can balance dark humor and edgy content, a veteran like Mike Judge can surely bury the powerlines for the sake of cable. Only time and social media will tell; meanwhile, here’s the kind of classic content from the original run we hope to see in the reboot.
Beavis gets a nosebleed and Butthead tries to “help.” The scene builds to a ridiculous bloodbath with Nurse Butthead’s treatments.
Hopped up on sugar and caffeine, Beavis becomes the Great Cornholio and goes on a holy rampage for toilet paper.
Werewolves of Highland
Mistaking a homeless man for a werewolf, the boys ask him to bite them so they can transform and pick up chicks a la Twilight – and end up with several diseases instead.
Be All you Can Be
An army recruiter regrets targeting Beavis & Butthead for cannon fodder.
Buff n Stuff
Coach Buzzcut tries to bulk up the boys’ wimpy bods with an after-class fitness regimen.
The school shrink forces the boys to go on a disastrous forest retreat with hippie teacher Mr. Van Driessen and the dorky Stewart.
Beavis & Butthead Do America
In the 1996 film, the intrepid slackers accidentally meet their fathers.