The mind reels at the idea of conversations between the creatives behind (huh-huh) Beavis and Butt-head Do the Universe and the credited space flight consultants: “Thanks for talking with us. So, uh, what’s the most sexualized real-life spaceflight maneuver that two perpetually horny and dumb teenagers like Beavis and Butt-head could do? You know, something so sexual that it would occupy their attention for 18 hours straight without food or drink.”
Never mind that 26 years have passed since Beavis and Butt-head Do America, the last feature-length film to feature Mike Judge’s moronic, unintentionally monastic meatheads. Universe, which streams exclusively on Paramount+ tomorrow, still takes place in the 1990s. As well as the here and now. And features characters from a few millennia in the future. As the boys tell us up front, this is a story of sex, violence, power … and fire. Namely, it’s about how Butt-head’s desire to more effectively kick Beavis in the nads knocks down the first domino of an interstellar (huh-huh, “in”) odyssey that stops shy of three thousand years of longing.
Indeed, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Yes, Beavis and Butt-head remain sexually inexperienced. Yes, they once again cling to convictions rooted in comically misunderstanding a woman who asks if they’d like to do “it” with her “for real.” Don’t fret over an incongruously computer-animated opening sequence, either: Universe ports over all the charming crudity of the original series’ animation and aesthetic. But it does go bawdier and bloodier within primarily PG-13 parameters, given visible injuries of Butt-head’s incessant assault on Beavis, collateral damage in a car chase complicated by confusion over what the letters on a shifter mean, and how the hijinks here prompt a (small, non-horrifying) body count.
In its own little Bill & Ted Face the Music way, Universe is also sweeter. It’s no surprise Beavis is the more hopeless schmoe-mantic. The X factor is how his emotional journey engenders elements of Her, the “nobody’s perfect” stinger of Some Like It Hot, and some legitimate empathy in the inevitable appearance of his hopped-up alter, Cornholio. Still voicing both characters with no audible authenticity lost to his age, Judge finds amusing nuance in Beavis’s grunting delights over the aforementioned phallic maneuver and his nervous-tic throat-clearing on the verge of professing love. (As for Butt-head, well, he’s there to leave no entendre un-huh-huh-huhed, not even the word “end.”)
Despite less star power (no contemporary equivalents of Bruce Willis or Demi Moore here), Judge is ably assisted by his supporting cast. It includes Gary Cole and Chi McBride as a paranoid pair of G-men and Andrea Savage and Nat Faxon as antagonistic political partners. They’re all pursuing Beavis and Butt-head in a fashion that finds Judge indulging the shrewd social commentary he’s honed in projects since the original series’ heyday; the assumption is that these boys must be working for some sort of enemy, and lord, America has so many doesn’t it? Hmmm.
Universe is not the first time Judge has resurrected Beavis and Butt-head for the absurdity of modern times, but it’s easily the best. (Its premiere also coincides with catalog episodes’ availability on Paramount+ and precedes a passel of new episodes premiering sometime later this year.) Bemoan if you must how Beavis and Butt-head have become more easily revived IP grist for the streaming mill. But to paraphrase one of Universe’s very funny spins on these characters: This endeavor is humorous. Quite jocular, yes. Droll, yes. Very whimsical, yes.