But Mike Judge took a totally different route to success. He’s from what Hollywood elites call “flyover country.” Basically, everything between California and New York that isn’t named Chicago. Protip: most Americans actually live in this space Hollywood views as dead. All too often, we are completely ignored, or worse, laughably stereotyped. Mike Judge actually knows who the country is and offers us the content we want. This is in direct contrast to pretty much the rest of Hollywood that tells us what we want.
His hard-working, salt of the Earth characters, and even his slackers, are instantly identifiable. Hollywood notoriously creates, then NEVER, EVER LEAVES its phony bubble of how life actually is. Contrast Friends with King of the Hill, Office Space, or Extract. The characters on Friends rarely work, and when they do, it’s a laugh a minute. In the three MJ titles above, characters are realistically portrayed. Day-to-day concerns that we all face are addressed in very real ways. News flash! YOU ARE NOT ANY OF THE CHARACTERS ON FRIENDS (or Sex and the City)!! But the odds are pretty good that you actually do resemble one or more of the characters in KOTH, Office Space, or Extract.
The other path is to get groomed into it. Disney is the primary offender here, and, no, I didn’t misuse that word. Talent scouts are constantly scanning the horizon for up-and-comers with the “it” factor, which basically means “pretty, and smart enough to do what you’re told, but not smart enough to ask any questions.” Hollywood (generally) doesn’t want somebody as dumb as a bag of hammers, just dumb as a single hammer. I fear the machine is corrupting Chloe Grace Moretz as we speak… And, yes, she’s done work with Disney…
And this applies to every aspect of life in this dismal look at our future. One character went to college at Costco. Speaking of which, the Costco greeters now address customers with, “Welcome to Costco. I love you.” And this corporate intrusion goes even deeper. Take a look at various characters’ names. Beef Supreme. Frito Pendejo (seriously, look up what Pendejo means in Spanish! Just do it!). Velveeta. Hank BMW. President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho. Yep! Everyone’s name is now product placement! Most of the clothing is, too. Actually, if you’re paying attention to the names (und du kannst Deutsch sprechen), Joe’s name quite literally reveals the plot of the film.
Stephen Root (along with Office Space co-star David Herman) makes an appearance in Judge’s magnum opus, though it would more correctly be labeled his magnum ignoramus, Idiocracy. This is one of my all time favorite movies and it’s a serious contender for the best piece of cinematic satire ever made (along with Team America: World Police).
Mike Judge is the anti-Hollywood. I don’t mean this to be an insult, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Rest assured, before you finish this article, you’ll agree with this statement…
And it only gets better from there. In typical sitcom fashion, nearly every conflict is resolved within the easily digestible 30 minute block we’ve grown so accustomed to. But, shockingly, the lessons the characters learn *gasp* actually matter from one episode to the next! This cell on watercolor animated offering lasted 13 seasons and during that time, continuity actually mattered! Characters grow, develop, and mature. Some go through puberty, others are born. A few even die. And all of this happens with perfect socio-political commentary coming from our modern-if-traditional Greek Chorus in the form of Hank, Bill, Dale, and Boomhauer.
Michael Craig Judge was born in Ecuador, but his formative years were spent in Albuquerque (that A – L – B – U – QUERQUE), New Mexico, where he attended St. Pius X Catholic High School. After securing a BS (huh huh) in physics from the University of California, he moved to Texas to work on the computer systems of F/A-18 Hornets for the US military. Seriously!
In the same way King of the Hill and The Goode Family exist as mirror images reflecting similar points, Judge’s next movie pairs nicely with Office Space. Extract is akin to Office Space from the point of view of the management. Joel is the owner operator of a manufacturing plant that makes food additives. Every decision he makes affects all of his employees, yet they often come at him from an adversarial position. To say nothing of his home life, which is quickly falling apart. In his typical way, Mike Judge succeeds in showing us “the other side” without undermining either one of them. Office Space and Extract are both great movies and you really have to watch both to understand the man who wrote them.
When the show first ran on MTV, it featured the two delinquents in a variety of situations, generally making the lives of everyone around them a living Hell, interspersed with segments of the reprobates watching music videos. Naturally, their destructive tendencies led to moral outrage, with the predictable, obligatory censorship (which is literally NEVER the correct course of action, but it’s still the one we always seem to choose even now…) This made a profound impact on Judge, who seemingly made it his life’s mission to actually push back against any and all big institutions (government, media, business, etc.), and this is reflected in pretty much his entire body of work from here forward, including in Beavis and Butt-head itself.
You can even prove this as the show came full circle when it was revived in 2011. Speaking on the show’s early controversy, Mike Judge once said, “They say it figures MTV would do such a vulgar, awful, horrible show and they completely miss that it's satirizing the people who watch MTV.” But in the interim 14 years, Beavis and Butt-head had become the smartest characters on MTV. Make no mistake, they were no more intelligent than they ever were. Rather, it was everything else on the channel that had gotten so dumb, and the resurrected last run of the show pulls absolutely no punches in pointing this out!
He had a few engineering stints, each more brief than the last, before deciding he wanted out of the drab office cubicle life. He was at a crossroad where he only had enough money to purchase a new bass guitar or a camera. You may be surprised to find out that he chose the bass! But don’t worry. It will all make sense soon enough… Anyway, he played bass for some Texas-based musical acts, including Anson Funderburgh and Doyle Bramhall, but he kept coming back to that camera and the animation he could create with it.
This is a movie you can watch a hundred times and find something new with every single viewing. The plot is hilarious on its face. Sight gags abound. And through it all, like King of the Hill, some of the best jokes are the subtle ones. Through a comical series of events, Joe ends up serving in the Presidential Cabinet. In the White House (as opposed to the House of Representin’), the table for the meetings is too long for the doorway, so, at some point prior to the movie, they just knocked a huge hole in the wall and pushed the table straight through. During this scene, the table is partly still in the hole and nobody calls any attention to it whatsoever! Not only is that riotously funny, but it really fleshes out just how stupid the world is.
Mike Judge is the anti-Hollywood. And we love him for it!
Those of us in the education field know how well he gets it. King of the Hill perfectly portrays how the system really works. In one episode, Peggy wants to tend an organic garden for the school. Principal Moss constantly blows her off, making it clear he’s not even listening. Then she says she could grow the veggies for the football team. His response, “Football! I’m listening!” is so spot on, it’s not even funny. And, yet, it's hilarious! How did Mr. Judge nail that so perfectly? In college, he spent some time working toward his teaching license. He’s been there on the inside and exposes the education system for what it really is. Think back to just how spot-on Office Space is. Why is that? Because he’s been there.
As the series opens, Hank and three of his friends are standing around, working on a truck, and drinking beer. As they do, they’re discussing the latest episode of Seinfeld. This tiny moment embodies exactly what makes the show so great: subtlety. The vastly inferior Seinfeld is famously a “show about nothing.” This introduction is the show’s way of telegraphing that it is a Texas Seinfeld.
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The Goode Family, by taking exactly the opposite route, functionally reinforces the lessons of King of the Hill. Each episode plays out similar to the movie, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The trendy, liberal positions espoused by these characters are all fine and dandy… until the rubber meets the road. Sadly, this show only lasted a half a season, which is a real shame.
Mike Judge’s first foray into the world of animation gave us a few shorts: “The Honkey Problem,” “Office Space (also known as the Milton shorts),” “Frog Baseball,” and “Peace, Love, and Understanding.” And if you eat Taco Bell, you, too, can experience “Peace, Love, and Understanding,” when you receive your own visit from Sterculius, the Roman god of feces. Hopefully you recognize some of these titles. If you watched MTV from 1991 to 1994 and you caught Liquid Television, you may have seen them. This show was waaaaaay ahead of its time and served as an animation showcase for shorts that couldn’t have appeared elsewhere. Some were funny, some were satire, some were just plain out there, but the concept and execution were fantastic.
And this show clearly made a profound impact on Judge himself, who, in 2003 (along with Don Hertzfeldt) started a project called The Animation Show. The idea behind it was to screen animated short films in theaters, as they were meant to be seen. It ran through 2008, and featured so many shorts over the years that it makes Mike Judge the man responsible for putting animated short films into more theaters than any other person in history. Yes, this includes Walt Disney and the Warner Brothers. But don’t count it out just yet! The Animation Show is gearing up for a 2018 run as well!
Finally, Mike Judge’s ability to portray blue collar schlubs like us so well is so prevalent because he still embodies that mindset himself. Even now, with a net worth of $900M, he keeps his nose against the grindstone and continues to hone, refine, and perfect his craft, all while retaining those real world roots. Over his entire body of work, you can see a steady evolution of ideas. “Peace, Love, and Understanding” was likely the genesis of the Monday Night Rehabilitation scene in Idiocracy, for example. Really pay attention to each of his offerings and you’ll find that constant sharpening of his already rapier wit.
Shortly thereafter, we meet our protagonist, Joe Bauers. He is perfectly average. At everything. He’s got a dead center 100 IQ. He’s an average height, weight, etc. If real life were a bell curve, Joe Bauers would be sitting on its apex in every single measurable way (Incidentally, the movie seems to draw, at least in part, on the book The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life). As part of a military experiment, Joe agrees to being cryogenically frozen. He awakens 500 years later. Now reread the previous paragraph. That’s been going on for 500 years… Keep in mind that Joe was exactly average (and that IQ is a normative metric). Five centuries of stupid genes increasing and smart ones diminishing. Joe is now the smartest person on the planet.
Perhaps the resident of Highland who most disdains the disastrous duo is Tom Anderson, who bears a striking resemblance to the titular character of Judge’s next (brilliant) offering, King of the Hill. I LOVE King of the Hill and I’m not even going to attempt to hide it. I’ve seen the entire series through multiple times and rarely does a day go by when I don’t watch at least one episode (thanks, Adult Swim!). Hank Hill is Texas’ native son (ironically born in New York) who exemplifies hard work and modesty.
In The Goode Family, we have a family of do-gooders (I see what you did there!) who are motivated to the extreme to look and act the way society deems they should. Put simply, these folks would bristle with all the feigned moral outrage they could muster because I used the word “retarded” a few paragraphs ago. Never mind the fact that it was used correctly and not as a (direct) pejorative.
Mike Judge cameos as Stan in Office Space.
But I bet it won’t up front! There’s a pattern that Judge’s filmography tends to follow. This isn’t perfect, but it’s true more often than false. Generally, his art doesn’t do very well out of the starting gate, but over time, as more and more people happen upon, usually by word of mouth of his fans (like me!), he has long-term, lasting success. Up front, Office Space, Idiocracy, The Goode Family, and Extract were all deemed failures (this is especially criminal in the case of Idiocracy). But today, two (arguably three) of these pieces are beloved by many.
Judge’s next project was The Goode Family. In many ways, this show served as a foil to King of the Hill, while reinforcing much of its messaging. The typical KOTH episode plays out with people pointing and laughing at Hank’s conservative solutions to whatever the current problem is, but in the end, Hank is usually proven right. It’s a best of both worlds approach where we get to lampoon without insulting (and given how so many episodes play out, we really learn a lot about Mike Judge himself in the process. It’s no mistake that he voices Hank himself), but point for point, traditionalism rules the day.
Bill Dauterive is voiced by the phenomenal Stephen Root. His marvelous portrayal of the lovable loser likely landed him another role in Judge’s body of work. He also played Milton in Office Space. Yep. That Office Space, based on the other “Office Space.” And if you’ve ever seen the original short, then you certainly appreciate just how perfect Root is as Milton and Gary Cole is as Lumbergh.
Surely to God you either have or have had a terrible boss at some point in your life. Well, either that, or you will, or perhaps you ARE that slave driver yourself… Then Office Space is the perfect movie for you! Bill Lumbergh is that perfect level of passive-aggressive obnoxiousness that we just plain accept in the corporate world today. But why? Everybody knows that it’s bullshit, yet we all just accept it! Not Peter in this movie! He does the types of things the rest of us only dream about. Don’t want to go that meeting? Then don’t! Would you rather be fishing? Then do it! Tired of the soul crushing (lack of) view from your sanitized (for your protection, of course) little cubicle at work? Then bust out your drill, open that sucker up, and enjoy seeing something other than the humdrum prison cell you’ve grown accustomed to!
Two of those aforementioned shorts, in particular, forever cemented Mike Judge as the powerful media force he is today: “Frog Baseball” and “Peace, Love, and Understanding.” These two cartoons introduced us to, perhaps, animations most infamous pair: Beavis and Butt-head. These two amoral metalheads were practically the voice of a generation (X, to be exact).
This brings us to his current show, Silicon Valley. I’ll let Judge himself summarize this one for you, as he does it far better than I ever could, “Look at the Tumblr guy who's a billionaire. There are these guys in college who were smart but introverted people who suddenly have a billion dollars, and they're still socially awkward. That's just great for comedy.” Now consider how it ties in to the rest of his body of work. It’s been 26 years since he started working in the entertainment industry, and it’s a vastly different place than it was then. This show proves that not only can he keep up with the times, but that he’s actually still on the cusp of setting the trends.
I say satire, but it seems eerily true to life at times… As the movie opens, we see a dumb jock with an IQ that puts him near the retarded range juxtaposed against a gifted couple. Clevon, with his 84 IQ, has massive success in mating, leading to not only more Clevons, but they get dumber with each passing generation. Meanwhile, our successful, intelligent, young couple delays having children, then has trouble procreating, and eventually, one of them dies off. They produce no offspring.
And he shows no sign of stopping any time soon! Later this year, Cinemax plans to run his next animated series, Mike Judge Presents: Tales from the Tour Bus. There aren’t yet many details given about this show, but we know that Cinemax has purchased an 8 episode run and that the premise of the show is country musicians on tour. Given that Mike Judge seemingly has the Midas Touch (should we just go ahead and rename it the Mike Touch? Hmm… Maybe not), I have no doubt that this show will meet and exceed all expectations.
So, why is that? The answer: Mike Judge is the anti-Hollywood. There are two main routes to success in Hollywood. One way is to be born into it (the other is Maybelline). Why do you think Jaden Smith has a career? It’s not because Sal Vulcano has him tattooed on his thigh (but that helps). If I ask who your favorite Baldwin brother is, you almost certainly have an answer (the correct answer isn’t a Baldwin brother at all, it’s Adam Baldwin).