Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe (2022)


It seemed for the longest time that Beavis and Butt-Head were best confined to '90s nostalgia.  While Mike Judge himself barely starts nudging into Generation X territory the show resonated most with my generation as most of us were not too far out of high school when it first appeared on MTV.  I admit I hated the idea of it at first until I actually watched it and realized that Judge's humor went way beyond to idiots laughing every time they heard something slightly risqué.  Instead there were so many subversive elements, and so much satire of the 1990s, that it went beyond crudely-drawn teenagers playing frog baseball. 

Judge eventually went onto bigger things - the cult movies Office Space and Idiocracy, as well as the long-running Fox animated show King of the Hill - but it was inevitable at some point the boys would be back.  In 2011 they returned for a season and, even though the magic was still there and the episodes were great, they were stuck watching MTV's current lineup of terrible reality shows instead of the music videos the station had largely abandoned by the end of the 1990s.  For the show's intended audience it was awkward pushing 40 and watching something on a station geared toward 16-year-old girls with severe brain damage. 

The upside of streaming platforms is that much of the awkwardness of watching old shows and being reminded how old one is disappears.  The second attempt to revive the show is coming up, and hopefully without feeling like bad reality television, modern music videos or YouTube stuff has to be shoehorned in.  While watching the duo make fun of music videos was enjoyable 25-plus years ago, much of my enjoyment was in the weird humor that also made the first handful of seasons of King of the Hill work as well.  Happily, whether the new show will continue from where we left off in Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe, the new season is prefaced with an hilarious return to form. 

It is 1998, and Beavis and Butt-Head are once again somewhere they should never be - a science fair - when they decide to try to do an experiment and win it.  Predictably, things go wrong, and they find themselves in front of a judge.  Instead of finally placing them in juvenile detention he decides to have pity and award them the prize they would have received if they had actually won - a trip to NASA space camp.  While at the camp they become enamored of a docking simulation, leading astronaut Serena Ryan (Andrea Savage) and her superiors to believe they have found surprise geniuses.  After passing the tests to become astronauts, Beavis and Butt-Head join the crew of the space shuttle Endeavor to dock with the Mir space station and deliver a telescope to examine a black hole that has come near Earth's orbit.  

Again, things go about as well as expected, leading to a chain of events that results in them being transported into 2022 - where Serena is now governor of Texas, with her former co-captain John Hartson (Nat Faxon) as lieutenant governor.  Serena has believed for years that she killed Beavis and Butt-Head, and now thinks they are back to get revenge, while the temporal event gets noticed by government agent Mattison (Gary Cole).  He gathers his own team to capture and dissect them, thinking they are alien invaders.  To add more confusion, smart versions of Beavis and Butt-Head arrive from an alternate universe, telling our heroes to seek a portal and go back through in order to save all reality.  This all pales in comparison to the boys' real goal, which is to score with Serena. 

This is not the first time Beavis and Butt-Head have been in a movie, although Beavis and Butt-Head Do America got theatrical release.  In that one they were searching for their stolen television and were mistaken for terrorists, meeting their real fathers along the way as well as going on an extended peyote trip.  Robert Stack was the heavy in that one, constantly ordering cavity searches for everyone.  Mattison's obsession with dissection is quite similar and, once again, we have another road movie, so in some ways Mike Judge and company are revisiting well-worn ground.

Despite that it still works.  Cornholio returns in a wonderful sequence, the constant misunderstandings the boys have that Serena's passion for exploration is actually to score with them work throughout.  Smart Beavis and Smart Butt-Head - with tips of the hat to the Watchers from Marvel as well as Rick and Morty - turn out to be more than one-note joke as well.  There are also situations of Beavis and Butt-Head completely not getting modern concepts such as iPhones and white privilege.  Despite the modernization Judge has not toned down either of them, as they are just still as mean-spirited to each other and others as they are oblivious to anything decent in society, and their carelessness (and single-mindedness when it comes to scoring) leads to property destruction and death in some cases.

What Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe also does is clear up some messy continuity.  With a multiverse concept introduced, it means the 2011 season can now easily fit in a separate universe from the ones that came before it; Beavis and Butt-Head in that one would be teenagers in the early 2010s rather than the 1990s.  It also doesn't contradict the previous movie or the final few episodes of the original show, as this story continues from that original universe.  It remains to be seen if the new season is going to remain with them in 2022 or go back to showing their antics in the late 1990s, but either way this provides a lot of great entertainment, wisely doesn't spend its time leaning on nostalgia and opens it up for Judge and his writers to do whatever they want with the series going forward.  

Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe (2022)
Time: 87 minutes
Starring: Mike Judge, Andrea Savage, Gary Cole, Nat Faxon
Directors: Albert Calleros, John Rice

 

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