Beavis And Butt-Head: “The Rat”/“Spill”, “Doomsday”/“Dumb Design”
B+

Beavis And Butt-Head: “The Rat”/“Spill”, “Doomsday”/“Dumb Design”

After a week’s hiatus for the holiday, a lot happens during tonight’s opening sketch, “The Rat”—especially for such a simple premise. As you can probably surmise from its title, Beavis and Butt-Head have a rat problem, on account of their house being littered with convenience-store refuse and not much else. What’s more surprising is that they haven’t had a rodent issue in episodes past. Nothing like making up for lost punchlines though. Thanks to the boys’ domestic vermin situation, we get an extended slapstick bit in their kitchen, hilarious encounter with a creepily intrusive hardware-store employee, lots of Beavis screaming girlishly, and their first brush with domestic caretaking since healing a wounded bird in “A Very Special Episode.” 

“The Rat” is almost Seinfeld-ian, or at least in its later, looser years. The aforementioned hardware worker could have just as easily been any of Jerry’s random, uncomfortable season-nine foils. And the old-timey, Vaudevillian montage of B and B’s mouse-trapping antics—and even Beavis’ awareness of how a Battles video could have been funnier with silent-film ragtime piano—shares Seinfeld’s itch for getting in a Three Stooges state of mind. Even their constant state of anguish over the rat—from that horrifying clicking sound when it gets caught in the trap to their initial grief that it was eating their nachos—has a warped realism, and is a nearly perfect little vignette about nothing. 

Contrarily, “Spill” takes its concept from the headlines, and continues Mike Judge’s pattern of softening audiences up before sneaking in some timelier messaging. The technique’s generated mixed results (“Drones” still sticks out as a comparatively joyless B And B ’toon), but “Spill” gets pretty silly from the get-go. The guys participate in a field trip to help clean and salvage wildlife injured in an oil spill, and wind up getting mentored by Maya, a note-perfect, tattooed stereotype of 21st-century eco-activism. 

There are some huge laughs when the boys once again mistake instruction for innuendo (Maya: “Once you’re ready, you can start rubbing and stroking.” Butt-Head: “Okay, whenever you put that bird down”) particularly during the final minutes. As Maya laments the hopelessness of their cause, her spiel doubles as an inadvertent metaphor for Beavis and Butt-Head, who are grappling in the background for supreme griminess, under the impression that their foxy guide likes it dirty. “Spill” walks a funny tightrope, mocking neo-hippie cause-itis while sympathizing with Maya’s dilemma, and without getting preachy.

Then right off the bat in the next half-hour’s opener, “Doomsday,” the joke’s on hysterical media and panic mongers. In the midst of a city-wide evacuation, a newscaster in a Hazmat suit preposterously declares it to be “utter, apocalyptic devastation.” The news doesn’t so much instill fear in Beavis as it does confuse him about the meaning of apocalyptic. In other words, “devastation” would have done just fine. It’s even funnier the second time around, after the commercial break, when Butt-Head runs into a female government worker and commends her on surviving the “acopablypse” and asks if she’d like to “re-copulate.” Plant the seed for a one-liner, let it breathe, hit it again and then stack it. Now that’s good comedy. 

“Doomsday” is also one of the re-launched series’ most super-timely satires. The whole thing is basically a big goof on the glut of morbid dramas about vampires and the end of the world (i.e. The Walking Dead et al.), and a great little “What if?” scenario pitching these two idiots as Earth’s last remaining humans. It also sets up the night’s single wittiest moment. Plopped on a redneck neighbor’s couch, snacking on chips and believing the world to be their toilet, Beavis mutters, “It’s cool that there’s still TV after the end of the world.” 

“Doomsday” also makes a brief, sarcastic allusion to President Bush, but in “Dumb Design,” like-minded fundamentalists are ostensibly portrayed as Beavis and Butt-Head’s intellectual equals—which is a scary thought. After a run-in with students protesting teachings of evolution, our impressionable antagonists avow their commitment to intelligent design as an excuse to get out of class. Or as Butt-Head interprets their new friends’ selective reasoning, “If something’s too complicated to understand, then we shouldn’t have to learn it?” 

“Dumb Design” is the season’s best synthesis of nonsense and grounded social commentary thus far. And a la “Bathroom Break” and other skits, Judge is ultimately non-partisan, making the liberal teachers out to look like fools for allowing Beavis and Butt-Head to rile them up. And Principal McVicker too! Now that’s just bonus.

Tonight’s biggest revelation, however, was the debut of what we can only hope and assume will be a staple feature: Beavis and Butt-Head hosting a faux-At The Movies discussion about a recent film. In this case, it’s The Human Centipede. Naturally. There’s all sorts of room to grow this idea and make it a breakout viral phenomenon outside of Thursday broadcasts. But for the time being, hearing Beavis’ concept for a crossover sequel between Centipede and Sex And The City, highlighted by the mad scientist demanding, “Feed her Charlotte, feed her Carrie, feed her Samantha,” delivers plenty of gut-busting to be thankful for.

Stray observations:

  • Okay, favorite lines, in no specific order: “He must be like a metrosexual or something.” “I’ll use all the bathrooms.” “This is one of those commercials where you don’t know what it’s for.”  “Ask your doctor if Levitan is for you.” “Have another drink and continue.” “You’re making a difference… in my pants.” “You know, I’ve always wanted to live there.” “I never could understand that crap.” “Oh, and, uh, you’re going to hell.” “To each his own.” “They’ll be comfortable in hell. Sorry about that.” “The charred walls of the damned.” And my favorite: “Oh, boy.” (At the end of the Oh Land clip.)
  • There was some good riffing at the expense of Plain White T’s and Jersey Shore (“Jersey Shore, how can I help you?”), but these aren’t the best overall couple episodes for the TV breaks. Although the Battles video did feel reminiscent of the harder-edged clips Beavis And Butt-Head showed years ago.
  • Butt-Head mocking the way other people talk has suddenly become weekly gold, especially when in small does like tonight.
  • Who wouldn't use their freedom to pee and poo in every remaining toilet?
  • It’s nearly impossible to grade back-to-back episodes with two sketches each, so take the B+ with a grain salt and feel free to curve it to your liking. That’s what she said.

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