Technology with attitude

Blu-ray Roundup: BEAVIS AND BUTTHEAD – VOLUME 4, or: Is It 1997 Again?

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Meet the new boss: same as the old boss.

The best possible compliment I can give to Mike Judge and MTV’s revamped “Beavis and Butthead” is that it doesn’t seem like a revamp.  From the boxy, widescreen-TV-unfriendly 1.33:1 frame, to the MTV programming interludes (featuring, as always, in-character improvisations from Judge), to the seven-or-so-minute main storylines that find Beavis and Butthead drawing a one-joke premise to ever-more hilarious extremes, this new “Beavis and Butthead” feels like Judge and Co. picked up exactly where they left off following the series’ cancellation in 1997.

Save for a slight roughness in Judge’s Beavis voice, a Twilight reference or two, and the presence of such reality TV non-entities such as The Situation and Snooki in the MTV channel surfing segments, you could show a new episode to a visitor from 1995, and they’d be none the wiser (provided, of course, that you first had the time-manipulation technology possible to make such a meeting possible, and that you figured out a solution to acclimate this time traveler to the strange and unfamiliar world of Earth: 2012.  But I digress).

Bottom line: if you hated the show back in the day, then move along, but fans should find a lot to love in this eighth season (confusingly called “Volume 4” on the Blu-ray box).  The great satirical obsession guiding Mike Judge’s career has focused on an American culture that always acts without its best interests in mind, whether that’s holding on to a painfully outdated conception of the American masculinity (the great “King of the Hill”) or choosing to venerate corporate interests and the dregs of popular culture simply because all the advertising says so (Judge’s frighteningly prescient Idiocracy).

What gave “Beavis and Butthead” its queasy charge fifteen years ago was Judge’s contrast between his moronic leads and the world around them.  Yes, Beavis and Butthead may have been masturbation-crazy nincompoops averse to washing their hands and not above a light-hearted round of “Throw the Trash Can at the Other Person’s Head as Hard as Possible,” but Judge saved his real ire for their co-stars.

“Who’s more foolish,” Judge asked, “the worthless, brain dead idiots, or the (ostensibly) normal folks who let Beavis and Butthead get the best of them,” a question that allowed him to skewer both the ineffectual liberalism that thought it could save Beavis and Butthead (best embodied by the boys’ long-ways-away-from-Woodstock teacher Mr. Van Driessen) and the raging hyper-conservatism that devoted itself to destroying them (the aptly-named gym teacher Mr. Buzzcut).

The irony was, of course, that “Beavis and Butthead” quickly made Judge infamous because no one got the joke: teenage viewers wanted to emulate the Moron Twins, and angry parents started condemning Judge’s satirical conceit.

This current season comes minus that rich controversy (in an era where the whoring, insipid Jersey Shore cast members have become international celebrities, it’s safe to say that no one cares about the Youth of America), making it easier to concentrate on the show’s comedic structure.  As good as his feature-length films have been (Office Space, Idiocracy, Extract), Judge truly excels in the short-form subject; he wrings maximum hilarity from a micro-length runtime.

Sometimes his premise is enough to keep you laughing; note the “Spill” short, which finds Beavis and Butthead unwittingly helping to clean up the Gulf Coast oil spill in an effort to meet “dirty chicks.”  Then there are his shock enders, like “Tech Support” or “Werewolves Of Highland,” which watch as a fairly simple setup (our heroes stumble into a tech support job; they try to become vampires after watching Robert Pattinson score with Kristen Stewart in Twilight) degenerates into over-the-top calamity.  Better still are Judge’s quieter shorts, such as “Crying” or “School Test,” which find him using Beavis and Butthead to slyly poke holes in endemic American problems (that sacred masculinity cow; the public school system).

Mike Judge has never drawn attention to his social aims.  That’s what got him in trouble in the 1990’s (he didn’t let anyone know he was in on the joke), and that’s what makes “Beavis and Butthead” such a tonic today.  In an age of crass, blaring pseudo-satire (Exhibit A: any bad episode of “South Park” or “Family Guy”), there’s something deeply soothing about Judge simply presenting behavior—his brain-damaged youths—and nestling in reams of socio-political insight.

It’s good to have you back, Beavis and Butthead.  Stay awhile.

Paramount Home Entertainment Blu-ray package offers up all twelve Season Eight episodes.  Video transfers are clean but more-than-a-little scruffy, and that’s the point: this “Beavis and Butthead” looks as ragged as the old “Beavis and Butthead.”  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track follows along the same lines.  It’s clear but limited.

Same goes for the bonus features.  We’ve got two jokey bits (the seconds-long “Silence Your Cell Phone,” which has the boys admonishing people for talking in movie theaters, and the multi-part “Beavis and Butthead Interruptions,” where the two speak directly to the “Jersey Shore” cast) and one keeper, an informative Comic-Con panel between Mike Judge and Johnny Knoxville.

Seriously, though?  I’m just glad to watch new “Beavis and Butthead” episodes.  Twelve great programs and so-so features?  I can live with that.

“Beavis and Butthead: Volume 4” streets on February 14th.  Click HERE for Amazon’s page listing.