25 Years after Do America, Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe in Exactly the Same Way
“I poop too much… and then I get tired.” In Beavis and Butt-Head Do America—the highest grossing movie in the country the week before Christmas 1996—this is the most Beavis (voiced by creator, writer and director Mike Judge) understands about accountability. If he goes to the bathroom more than a healthy amount of times, his body will become fatigued from exerting itself so constantly, from losing large amounts of water weight too quickly. Beavis isn’t inclined to connect his diet of processed foods and lack of exercise with his pooping too much, nor the knowledge that he shouldn’t be pooping “too much” with other standards of reasonable excretion. What is “too much” in this case, anyway? Beavis has no figures of authority, no functioning social service net nor adults who care about him, to recommend appropriate pooping frequency. More than 25 years ago, Mike Judge’s vision of the U.S. was one of unmitigated sowing, absolutely no reaping whatsoever, and Beavis and Butt-Head (also Judge), teenage boys whose whole American way of life has evolved their bodies into top-heavy monstrosities where the pituitary gland stores hormones like a camel’s hump (heh) stores water, were the ageless expressions of that pioneering curse. More than 25 years later, and Judge’s vision remains pretty much the same.
As a legacy sequel, then, it’s hard (heh heh) to imagine Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe doing anything better. Written by Judge and Lew Morton (with story help from Guy and Ian Maxtone-Graham, all adult animation and/or SNL vets), little has changed for Beavis and Butt-Head, including the passage of time. Universe begins in 1998, where Beavis and Butt-Head stand in the science fair for Highland High School—an institution they attend seemingly by choice, run by teachers who hate them—not far removed from their previous adventure “doing” America, at the end of which they were named honorary ATF agents by President Bill Clinton.
At this science fair, Butt-Head tells Mr. Van Driessen (also Judge) that he is repeatedly kicking Beavis in the “nads” to determine how long it takes before Beavis passes out. The scientific method leads Beavis and Butt-Head to inevitably burn down the science fair (“Fire! Fire!” Beavis screams, syllables little more than echolocation), which puts them once again in front of the law, having no object permanence regarding the reason for their punishment.
Instead, having recently watched an especially inspirational episode of Touched by an Angel, the judge chooses to, for once, give these boys a chance at rehabilitation when they’ve only ever been rejected by a society that’s supposed to take care of them. (“Families…,” Butt-Head mutters derisively.) They’re sent to space camp (the original science fair prize), where they immediately become fixated on a spaceship docking mock-up, as it looks a lot like a penis (heh) going into (heh heh) a hole (whoa). Their obsessive focus ingratiates them with astronaut Serena Ryan (Andrea Savage), who believes their unique docking talents (they were operating the mock-up for “18 hours without food or water”) could be remarkably useful on any missions (she said “emissions”), but especially on an upcoming voyage to the International Space Station, and from there to observe a black hole during its once-in-a-lifetime proximity to Earth. Beavis and Butt-Head believe she is asking them to have sex with her in space.
And so, in exactly the same way they were once launched on a cross-country sojourn with the mistaken goal of “doing” a beautiful woman whose body only accentuates the weirdness of theirs, Beavis and Butt-Head become astronauts, and NASA creates special oversized space helmets for their bulbous melons. Very American: Don’t question it; don’t wonder why these children seem to have grown up next to a nuclear waste dump (heh) or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. Just accommodate their fluid-filled skulls. Anyway and inevitably, Beavis and Butt-Head get sucked into the wormhole (“No way, no, I don’t want to die in a butthole! I have dreams about it all the time!” Beavis squeals) and transported to the year 2022, where they continue their mission to find Serena and hopefully, finally score.
Just as in Do America, puns provide all the story motivation Judge needs to get Beavis and Butt-Head anywhere—in this case it’s space, then through time, then eventually to college and jail, all while pursued by the government (who thinks they’re aliens, even after capturing them, because they look so inhuman) and Serena and versions of themselves (“Smart Beavis” and “Smart Butt-Head”) from another reality.
Toward the end of the film, Smart Butt-Head must remind Beavis of everything they did—“You also went to college…and jail”—only reinforcing how obligatory and episodic (heh) it all is, how every legacy sequel just aimless tosses IP (heh, “I pee”) at the wall, seeing what sticks, never really attempting to forge anything new. Just rehashing the same story over and over. Even Top Gun: Maverick, a standard in 2022 for the legacy sequel done well, grafts “new” characters onto the original film’s story, and even pulls some bits from Star Wars: A New Hope, itself the first in a franchise that has since defined the legacy sequel as an expensive re-skinning of the original. Judge sarcastically bakes that lousy truth into the DNA of his own legacy sequel, making a movie that stubbornly refuses to have its characters ever change, exposing the creative dearth at the heart of most of these reboots.
Then again, Beavis and Butt-Head not changing is inherent to Beavis and Butt-Head. Were they to ever learn from their mistakes, they would not be Beavis and Butt-Head. Here, they are returned to the status quo, only this time in 2022, and only this time with a nicer TV. Nothing else is different. The key art provided by the studio only shows Beavis and Butt-Head doing regular Beavis and Butt-Head things, like standing and sitting on their couch. Even John Frizzell returns to write the score, leaning once again into his status as a Bernard Herrmann acolyte. One can only hope Judge found peace in returning to the well, too.
Still, Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe can’t be the same revelation the first film was. Do America was the work of a small group of people, the stuff of succinct creative decisions and big-screen hand-drawn animation. Watching Do Universe, you can’t help but miss that tactility. Everything else though? Everything else is like a warm blanket to a fan: A legacy sequel that does nothing to revitalize its characters, expand its canon, extend (heh) its mythos, or even really tell a new joke. I laughed through the whole thing.
Directors: John Rice, Albert Calleros
Writers: Mike Judge, Lew Morton (story by Mike Judge, Lew Morton, Guy Maxtone-Graham, Ian Maxtone-Graham)
Starring: Mike Judge, Andrea Savage, Gary Cole, Nat Faxon, Chi McBride, Tig Notaro, Chris Diamantopoulos, Stephen Root
Release Date: June 23, 2022 (Paramount+)
Dom Sinacola is a Portland-based writer and editor. He’s also on Twitter.