Return of Beavis and Butt-head and Allen Gregory confirm: I don't get modern cartoon comedies
Now I know how my parents probably felt when they first saw an early episode of The Simpsons.
Pop culture references flying at the speed of light. Scenes that seem way too crass or explicit for television.
And a lot of humor young folks love that unfolds like an uninspired mess to older eyes, wrapped up in animation that looks too crude even for children's television.
I feel a tinge of that watching the work of Seth MacFarlane, the mastermind behind a growing list of animated comedies I have never found entertaining (Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, so far).
That notion bloomed fully while I was perusing two animated shows making their bows this week: the return of Beavis and Butt-head to MTV at 10 p.m. Thursday after 14 years, and the debut of Fox's newest animated comedy, Allen Gregory, at 8:30 p.m. Sunday.
To be honest, I didn't like Beavis and Butt-head much when it first started in 1993, as dim-witted adolescent avatars for MTV's young audience.
It was kinda cool how creator Mike Judge (King of the Hill, Office Space) built characters that MTV's audience laughed at — two geeky, know-nothing teens in a fictional Texas town who loved ridiculing stupid music videos — even while he was lampooning the very kids who watched them most.
But 18 years later, MTV's revival of braces-wearing Butt-head and his bouffant-haired pal Beavis feels more like cashing in on '90s nostalgia than anything creative. Just the sort of move The Simpsons or MacFarlane might mock on their own shows.
This time, the pair take on clips from MTV's own so-called reality TV series, cracking that "everybody's mouth is always open" on 16 and Pregnant and noting when the Jersey Shore cast listed all their hookups on a chalkboard, "if they did this chart long enough, they could figure out where herpes began." A side story line featuring the guys letting a scruffy hobo bite them repeatedly — they wanted to become werewolves, they mostly just got infections — was as skeevy as you might expect.
But as creepy as the double Bs could get, they haven't matched the grossest moments in Fox's Allen Gregory, an odd little comedy starring the voice of Jonah Hill as a superprivileged kid forced into public school when his family's finances take a hit in the recession.
Little Allen Gregory De Longpre wears a tan pantsuit and carries a briefcase, spouting self-obsessed patter like a Hollywood hipster schmoozing his way through the Ivy. In other words, he's a super geeky target for public school kids focused on kickball and cursive writing instead of the latest Charlie Rose episode.
Still, it's the segment where young Allen Gregory dreams of seducing his school principal — a sixty-something matron with back fat so extensive he can (and does) luxuriate in it — that feels as unsettling as anything Beavis and Butt-head ever committed to a broadcast.
Is it a satire of kid culture? A sendup of the cluelessness among some overly entitled heirs to wealth? Regardless of its target, Allen Gregory seems to miss the mark, showcasing pointedly odd characters in scenes that fall somewhere between amusing and perplexing.
Perhaps it's all just too hip for this middle-aged critic to process. But my hunch is that the groundbreaking spirit of The Simpsons and South Park has yet to find its echo in these animated shows.
Of course, that's probably just what my dad would have said about The Simpsons.