For many years the most popular and most controversial of MTV's original cartoon series, Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head began life as "Frog Baseball," a brief 1992 vignette seen on the network's animation anthology Liquid Television. The title characters were a pair of acne-ridden, moronic preteens. Beavis was the blond one with the glassy-eyed stare and the Metallica T-shirt, while Butt-head had dark hair, crooked teeth with braces, and wore an AC/DC shirt. Forever insulting each other and everyone else with such loving epithets as "you suck" and "look at his butt," Beavis and Butt-head were best known for their unison dirty giggle, which went something like "Huhhuh-huh-huh-huhuh-huhuh" and which was heard whenever someone uttered a word with even the slightest sexual connection. Sometimes Beavis and Butt-head were making their teachers' lives miserable at school, sometimes they were wreaking havoc while on the job at the local Burger World, but most of the time they sat on a ratty couch in a dingy basement, watching music videos on a television that flickered.
In its earliest seasons, the cartoon portion of Beavis and Butt-Head served principally as a wraparound for these videos, with Beavis and Butt-head making lewd and inane comments throughout the songs. Slated to debut on March 8, 1993, the half-hour series was test run for four episodes, but production problems delayed the "official" premiere until May 17 of that year. Almost immediately, Beavis and Butt-Head was under fire from the "clean-up TV" brigades, who regarded the show as obscene or worthless or both. Things became even more heated when a five-year-old boy set fire to his trailer home, purportedly after seeing a Beavis and Butt-Head installment in which our heroes chortled, "Fire is cool...huh huh..." Though MTV refused to buckle under pressure to drop the show (pointing out that each episode began with a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer that clearly labeled the show as adults-only fare), the network did agree to move it to a later hour. Ultimately, viewers and critics came to realize that creator Mike Judge (who also provided the voices of both protagonists) was using the series to cast a satirical light on the foibles and hang-ups of modern society -- beginning with the fact that Beavis and Butt-head were themselves merciless lampoons of the average "demographic group" of MTV viewers, and extending to scattershot attacks at self-righteous adults, religious zealots, racial bigots, and all forms of hypocrisy. Moreover, the series' crude, amateurish animation was a deliberate stylistic choice, as if Beavis and Butt-head didn't deserve to be any better animated (indeed, Judge was known to reject cartoon work from his artists if it came out looking too good). Lasting nearly 200 episodes, Beavis and Butt-Head not only posted spectacular ratings for MTV, but also spawned a number of well-received spin-off specials, not to mention the hit theatrical cartoon feature Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. The series ended on November 8, 1997, with the appropriately titled episode Beavis and Butt-Head are Dead. Unfortunately, neither the series' rerun package nor its VHS and DVD home versions include the vintage live-action music videos that were included during the original MTV run. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi