Review Roundup: Is ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ Irrelevant in 2011?

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Prepare to step into a time warp, children of the ’90s, because tonight our favorite music-video critics — Beavis and Butt-Head — return to MTV. If the reviews we’ve read, and the preview clip we posted a few months ago, are any indication, the show looks and feels almost exactly like the original. The big difference, of course, is that the chuckling protagonists will be mocking reality TV shows (along with some music videos), due to both licensing and relevance concerns. So, does the new focus work? After the jump, we’ve picked out the highlights from a number of reviews that find critics debating whether a Beavis and Butt-Head who make fun of Jersey Shore are necessary in 2011.

At Salon, Matt Zoller Seitz observes that “[w]atching a ’90s pop culture-dependent show try to revive itself after 14 years is a weird and vaguely depressing experience, like revisiting your old high school as an adult and failing to feel nostalgic,” and imagines the Beavis and Butt-Head reboot he’d actually want to watch:

Think of how unsettling it would have been for fans to turn on the new ‘Beavis and Butt-head’ and see the duo still sitting on that same couch in their mid-’30s, 20 pounds heavier, considerably balder and still incapable of having meaningful relationships with anyone except each other.

LA Times critic Robert Lloyd is more forgiving, calling the show an “American classic” and reminiscing about its lasting impact on those of us who were teenagers in the ’90s. Lloyd makes an especially insightful point about the difference between Beavis and Butt-Head 15 years ago and Beavis and Butt-Head now:

What’s odd is how nearly they resemble some of their new targets — ‘This guy looks like he might be stupider than us’ — and how with the passing years they’ve come to sound less like snarky kids and more like grumbling old men: the Statler and Waldorf of their generation.

Mark A. Perigard at the Boston Herald makes a similar point (and uses the same quote, which has also popped up in several other reviews), while opining that the show “now seems about as cutting edge and relevant as ‘Alf’ or ‘Suddenly Susan.'” But it’s John Caramanica of The New York Times who actually hits on what this irrelevance is all about, and why there’s something missing from the revival:

[B]y the old measurements, the premiere episode is tepid and distant. Believing that Beavis and Butt-Head were coming from the same stink as the things they were criticizing was a key to the original’s appeal; they were outsiders in outsider culture, but still of the same generation. But the new jokes mostly feel slow and hands-off, less disdainful than uninterested.

One of the clearest defenders of the new Beavis and Butt-Head is TIME ‘s James Poniewozik, who feels even more strongly than Lloyd about the show’s timelessness:

And the animated vignettes show that, even if the world a generation later is choked with new kinds of stupidity, Beavis and Butt-Head are endlessly adaptable to them. In one, the Twilight phenomenon convinces them that chicks find monsters irresistible, so they pay a homeless man to bite them, thinking that he’s a werewolf. In the second, Butt-Head torments Beavis when he tears up while watching an episode of The Bachelor. They’re updated pop culture references, but the targets are really more timeless: the endlessly malleable stupidity of horny teenage boys, the idea that genuine feeling is uncool.

Still, Poniewozik admits, there’s no way for the series to be as fresh as it was in the ’90s. He concludes that, “having seen the new Beavis I think of it less as a revival of a franchise for a new era, and more like the latter years of a long-running cartoon satire, like The Simpsons or South Park – one that just happened to be temporarily interrupted for 14 years. It’s not essential anymore, but it’s still welcome.”

So, readers, do you intend to settle for (at best) a latter-day shadow of Beavis and Butt-Head‘s glory days? Or is this one ’90s revival that you’ll be sitting out?