Interview with Mike Judge, Creator of 'The Goode Family'

(By Chris Pizzello -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Michael Cavna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Look back at Mike Judge's earliest short films and you can almost see the brains behind "Beavis" concocting an entire career.

Judge's first animated short, "Office Space (Featuring Milton)," foreshadows "Office Space," his live-action office-satire hit nearly a decade later. In another early short, his arrested adolescents Beavis and Butt-head snigger, swear and stare -- well before they would become household names. And in one of Judge's early rough animations, we're lectured by a health-food-obsessed eco-goodnik-- a direct tie-dyed forebear to the father figure who debuts tonight on ABC's "The Goode Family" nearly two decades later.

Clearly, the inspiration and desire to satirize certain environmentally militant Whole Foods shoppers was there from the outset. Was the animator-filmmaker fully aware of this when he pitched his new mid-season comedy?

"I realized that after starting 'Goode Family,' " says Judge, 46, by phone from Los Angeles. "I hadn't seen that [short] in years. It was kind of surprising."

"When I did that, I was driving in Dallas about 1990 and I heard a commercial for Whole Foods. The ad said, 'Surely you're thinking about what you eat, but what are you feeding your children?' " recalls Judge, who says the ad's tone was so didactic, "I just knew I had to make fun of that."

Fast-forward to the new series, in which Judge gets to mow down "green" lifestyle cliches willy-nilly. The animator enjoys satirizing eco-movement militancy ("WWAGD . . . What Would Al Gore Do?" says one "Goode" character), yet he's also aware: When it comes to creative inspiration, even he is fond of a little recycling. The Lycra-wearing head of the "Goode Family" household, Gerald (voiced by Judge), shares character DNA with hippie teacher Van Driessen from the "Beavis and Butt-head" shorts that first propelled the animator to MTV fame.

So what are the roots of this eco-fascination? "I had very liberal parents," says Judge, whose dad was an anthropologist and mother a librarian. "Mostly my mom. When I was growing up in Albuquerque, she was into things like organic gardening."

For 13 seasons on Fox, Judge and co-creator Greg Daniels satirized an uptight red-state redneck and his family in "King of the Hill." Now, the Goodes are the blue-state bookend to Hank Hill's brood -- instead of propane and pigskin, they favor hybrids and vegetarianism. But many of Judge's hallmarks remain evident, including his penchant for satiric signage that was on full display in his film "Idiocracy" (reads one bleeding-heart bumper sticker in "Goode Family": "Support our troops . . . and their opponents").

Also back is a Judge favorite, actor David Herman, who voices the adopted-son character Ubuntu. (The politically correct Goodes hoped to adopt a black child from Africa but ended up with the white son of criminal Afrikaaners). Of Herman -- who also appeared in "Office Space" (as Michael Bolton) and "Idiocracy" and has done countless voices for "King of the Hill" -- Judge says: "He's just a really great actor. He always brings you something real -- he's never hacky."

This month also ends "King of the Hill's" 12-year run at Fox, as the network has decided to cancel the show.

"I think it's probably a good time to stop," says Judge. "It's been such a great run, and I'm pretty proud of it." (The ending also has given Judge time to make an upcoming live-action film, "Extract" starring Jason Bateman and Ben Affleck.)

The filmmaker doesn't get sentimental about "King of the Hill's" end, nor does he begrudge Fox for canceling a series that, following "The Simpsons," first solidified the network as an "animation destination" in the '90s. "It's weird, but we've had so many false stops along the way when I thought the show was canceled, the end now doesn't have that [momentous] feeling. And because there was a point when I thought I didn't want to do it anymore. It's all good. . . . Fox has been good to me."

Besides, Judge quips, when mulling whether he has any parting bitterness toward Fox: "There've been so many different executives over the years, I wouldn't know who to have animosity toward, even if I had any."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company