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‘This sucks – again’: did anyone need the return of Beavis and Butt-Head?

Mike Judge’s animated antiheroes are now ridiculing TikTok influencers rather than bands. But this Paramount+ reboot feels like a very strange choice

Selfie-shtick? Beavis and Butt-Head reinvented.
Selfie-shtick? Beavis and Butt-Head reinvented. Photograph: Paramount+
Selfie-shtick? Beavis and Butt-Head reinvented. Photograph: Paramount+

The tragedy of the Great Intellectual Property Plundering is that they will come for us all at some point. Everyone who has ever even briefly appeared in a Star Wars movie is now doomed to spend their days quivering nervously at home, awaiting the inevitable phone call informing them that their character has been given its own joylessly identikit Disney+ spin-off series. As the streaming era continues to rapaciously cannibalise the past for new content, no IP is safe.

As such, there is a new Beavis and Butt-Head series. Even though its creator, Mike Judge, has proved himself again and again to be astute enough to reinvent himself in brand-new forms whenever the need arises (King of the Hill, Office Space, Idiocracy, Silicon Valley), the commercial demands of the newly launched Paramount+ mean that even he has found himself going over old ground.

And Beavis and Butt-Head is such a weird choice for a reboot. It was a product defiantly of its age – that age being the 1990s, when MTV was in its untouchable prime and all manner of shambolic indie bands had found themselves in such a position of authority that they could be mocked on television by a couple of horny, sniggering cartoon characters. This is where Beavis and Butt-Head made their name, in segments where they got to ridicule entire careers by mocking music videos. “If you play this backwards, it says: ‘This sucks’”, they sneered at INXS. “They should have someone come out and start kicking these guys”, they giggled during New Kids on the Block’s Hangin’ Tough. It was fun, and God knows it was popular, but it was 30 years ago.

Beavis and Butt-Head creator Mike Judge at ComicCon, San Diego, last month.
Beavis and Butt-Head creator Mike Judge at ComicCon, San Diego, last month. Photograph: Rob Latour/Rex/Shutterstock for Paramount+

Things could not be more different now. The music industry has entered such a state of stasis that the biggest hit of the summer is a 37-year-old Kate Bush song that was shown in a Netflix programme about a girl running away from a monster. Without the material provided to them by self-regarding pop stars, what could Beavis and Butt-Head possibly mock in 2022?

The answer, inevitably, is TikToks. And, in fairness to Judge, this makes a lot of sense. The people who most urgently need deflating are pompous and preening and utterly self-regarding. Three decades ago, those people joined bands. Now they have become influencers. And so this version of Beavis and Butt-Head comes studded with segments where the pair watch viral videos about, say, making your own prison tattoos, and breezily mock the accent of the idiot telling the internet how to do it. They lay into a woman who makes ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response videos). And, as with the original, the mockery is so gleeful that you find yourself cheering them on a little.

Watch a trailer for Beavis and Butt-Head

In fairness, the occasional music video does crop up, but it’s clear that their hearts aren’t really in it. In episode two, the pair watch a BTS video. However, stripped of juvenile wisecracks, the commentary ends up being about how much Beavis enjoys the music of BTS. If you were wondering, he likes it enough to start humping his couch. Music videos no longer have the currency they once did, so Beavis and Butt-Head no longer seem particularly interested in wasting their energy on them.

Of course, the Mystery Science Theater segments were never the only parts of Beavis and Butt-Head. There were also animated skits about them wandering through suburbia annoying people. These are also present and correct in the reboot, with the pair messing up an escape room and causing mayhem with a box of bees. They’re diverting, but their nature is weird and uncanny. Everything about Beavis and Butt-Head, from the voices to the animation style to the costumes, are firmly stuck in the 90s. Did escape rooms exist in the 90s? Did TikTok? When is this meant to be set?

Beavis and Butt-Head was a phenomenon. The most-watched MTV show in its day, it inspired movies, spin-offs and imitators. The characters became cultural icons. They could have died at the top of the hill. But here they are, being slung out without fanfare on a streaming service no one asked for.

Paramount+ costs £7 a month. Not even the world’s most nostalgia-deprived gen Xers can justify spending that to watch a 59-year-old man voice a pair of teenagers being mean about an ASMR video. Perhaps it would have been better to leave things be.