What happens when the ’90s slacker characters time-travel to the present? (Settle down, Beavis!) We explore their enduring popularity, unique brand of idiocy, and what’s ahead.
By Kelly Ohannessian
Before the cringe-humor of shows like The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, a pair of ’90s teenagers made people laugh with their moronic antics. After a decade off of television, Beavis and Butt-Head are back in Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe, premiering on Paramount+ June 23rd.
How did a pair of idiots become darlings to a whole generation? Let’s take a look.
Settle in, Beavis: Mike Judge’s iconic animated twosome in their usual spot—sitting on the couch watching TV
You may not know the name Mike Judge, but you probably know his work—films like Office Space and Idiocracy, as well as the series King of the Hill and Silicon Valley. Judge got his start making animated short films in the ’90s, including a few about a pair of rock-music loving, destruction-causing, intelligence-lacking teenagers named Butt-Head and Beavis.
At the time, MTV was a cultural mainstay and shaper of the ’90s zeitgeist. The network had a show called Liquid Television that ran a variety of mature shorts. The first Beavis and Butt-Head short, “Frog Baseball”, aired in September 1992. Judge’s two teens, which he voiced himself, grew a following from their appearances on that show.
They were distinctly of their time, edgy and silly and obsessed with ‘90s music. An episode of the show would kick off with the signature heavy-metal guitar riff. There would be a short or two, but also sequences where the pair would watch music videos and crack jokes about the content. Even the simple action of the two characters watching videos felt very much like they were engaging in a favorite pastime of that decade. The series ran for 200 episodes on MTV (and now streams on Paramount+).
So who are the titular characters and the people who surround them? Let’s review.
Beavis and Butt-Head wearing their usual heavy metal T shirts and clueless expressions
The quieter of the pair, Butt-Head is often the one who hatches a crazy (and always futile) plan to “score chicks.” His misplaced confidence often gets him and his friend into messy situations. His trademark look is brown hair, an overbite with braces, and an AC/DC shirt. His favorite exclamations include, “This is cool”, “I got at idea”, and “Dumb-ass.”
Butt-Head stares straight ahead with a glazed look while Beavis watches him.
The louder, chaotic counterpart to the relatively level-headed Butt-Head, Beavis is often the one who turns situations into anarchy. He has blond hair, an underbite, and a Metallica T-shirt. His catchphrases in particular left a mark on the popular lexicon of the time: “I am the Great Cornholio”, “Fire, Fire”, etc.
Beavis and Butt-Head tear themselves away from the couch long enough for another misguided adventure.
Photo Cr: Paramount+
To contrast our pair of protagonists, there are a variety of other characters:
• The hapless neighbor, Tom Anderson
• The older, cooler Todd, who inspires them
• Stewart, a nerdy kid from the neighborhood who wears a Winger shirt (way less cool than the band logos Beavis and Butt-Head sport on their shirts)
• Various teachers and authoritative adults from school (These people usually end up as antagonists.)
• And don’t forget the teens’ angry parents, justifiably enraged or at least annoyed by their antics.
Daria giving her usual snarky look
Photo Cr: MTV
One recurring character, Daria, proved so popular that she got her own series on MTV too. The smart and sarcastic teen girl was the perfect foil for the two ridiculous and ridiculously stupid teens. (Her series—Daria—ran for five seasons as well.)
Beavis and Butt-Head behind the wheel in their new movie
With the amount of attention the show garnered, a jump to the big screen seemed inevitable. In 1996, the film Beavis and Butt-Head Do America was released. It features the pair on a cross-country trip to recover their missing television. Due to repeated misunderstandings, the duo get mixed up in a variety of sticky situations, involving a hired hitman, biological weapons, and the White House. The movie was irreverent and ridiculous—and felt like a precursor to the outrageous plots of later shows like South Park.
Over the years, Beavis and Butt-Head have proved a merch and marketing bonanza. Besides the usual cups and shirts, there have been video games and music albums. For a long time, rumors persisted that a live-action film was in the works, but it never happened. A one season revival came out in 2011, but fans have been clamoring for more.
Signs of not-so-intelligent life: A promotional poster for Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe
It has taken Mike Judge more than 15 years, but a second film is finally coming. In Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe, the teens somehow find themselves sent on a space mission. They end up going through a black hole to the present day.
What will these inane preteens think of our times and culture? Will they be strangers in a strange land or will they fit right in? And will they finally “score with some chicks”? We will see for ourselves June 23rd on Paramount+.