When we last left Beavis and Butt-Head, the animated teenage miscreants from Highland, Texas who dominated MTV for much of the ’90s, they were plunked down in 2022, thanks to the wormhole that powered the sci-fi plotting of June’s Paramount+ movie “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe.” “Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head,” a nominal follow-up to that movie and de facto ninth season of the TV show that inspired it, makes no specific mention of this — though based on some small technological details (and the streaming content they consume), the boys have indeed remained in our time. In the first two episodes of this new season, it doesn’t look much different from their time. Beavis and Butt-Head have a tendency to mold their environment in their image. Or are they just so timelessly American that surprisingly little adaptation is necessary? Are we in the same collective stasis as two incessantly snickering morons in the same old Metallica and AC/DC t-shirts?
It’s difficult to say for sure, at least on the basis of two network-length not-quite-half-hours of television. More or less sticking with the original format means that the first two episodes of the 2022 “Beavis” include four shorts and around half a dozen interstitial bits where the boys sit on the couch and watch TV—or rather, content. While the original series had them absorbing various music videos from throughout MTV’s then-storied history, this one imitates the one-season 2011 revival, mixing in some traditional videos with today’s streaming equivalent of channel-surfing. This means checking in on some TikToks, a college-acceptance reaction video and other digital detritus.
As with the old music-based segments, these quick bits double as a glimpse at what the kids (or at least the staffers of an animated sitcom) might stumble upon these days, a way of rooting the forever-arrested teenage boys in a particular time. Still, as prompts for series creator Mike Judge — who still voices both Beavis and Butt-Head — it’s hard to beat the free-associative quality of good, old-fashioned music videos. So far all of the new video segments, in the parlance of the boys themselves, score. Their other viewing parties require a little more elasticity of the duo’s mockery. At its best, their commentary sounds like found criticism of idiot savants, rather than the more sophisticated (and therefore slightly out-of-character) “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-style riffing that sometimes pops up when Beavis and Butt-Head watch non-music clips. Then again, the music videos offer their own surprises, having fun with moments that might seem out of character; a BTS segment leads to a hilarious revelation about our man Beavis.
Part of the central joke of Beavis and Butt-Head is their immutability in the face of the social, emotional, and cultural changes around them. Yet in the recent feature and these early episodes, there is a sense that perhaps Judge and his cohorts sense a latent sensitivity in Beavis. The biggest departure in these first four cartoons is that one of them avoids Butt-Head almost entirely, as “The Special One” follows Beavis on a slightly more whimsical solo adventure. (Well, sort of; he’s paired up with the element of fire, which he famously enthused over in the early days of the first series — until controversy about possible real-life imitations curtailed his pyromania.)
Of course, for “Beavis and Butt-Head,” ambition is relative, and delightfully so. Other sitcoms might try their hand at an inventively staged bottle episode; “Beavis” has a segment where the boys get trapped in a cardboard box for an extended period — almost as if to rebuke the notion that the show would get any kind of modern overhaul (though that episode’s frequent close-ups do represent a mild stylistic variation on the functional-yet-vivid animation style). Most of the shorts that comprise these two episodes are, as ever, minimalist “Looney Tunes”: The boys try to capture and raise bees; the boys attempt to do an escape room. Some are funnier than others, and they occasionally flirt with outright cruelty. In other words, it’s pretty similar to the last season, which was pretty similar to the season before that. “Looney Tunes” have endured for a reason.
It will be a strange and welcome development if this newest season produces more experiments like “The Special One”; for now, this two-episode premiere seems to indicate that even with a few tweaks, “Beavis and Butt-Head” can still serve as comedy comfort food — assuming you take comfort in abject stupidity laced with offhand satire. For fans, there hasn’t yet been a time when “Beavis and Butt-Head” has failed to hit the spot.
“Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butt-Head” is now streaming on Paramount+.