Mike Judge's 'Tales From the Tour Bus' is great TV

Mike Judge presents Tales from the Tour Bus. (Photo: Cinemax)

Mike Judge has given us Beavis & Butt-head, King of the Hill, Office Space, Silicon Valley, and arguably our current president with his prescient 2006 film Idiocracy, and his new series, Mike Judge Presents: Tales From the Tour Bus can stand with his best work. Presenting animated stories of country-music stars such as George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Paycheck, these half-hours, airing Fridays on Cinemax, are packed solid with great anecdotes and great music.

The concept is simple. Judge, as host and narrator, interviewed a lot of people who knew these stars — backup musicians, relatives, managers, roadies, hangers-on. Judge then presents them in cartoon form, with periodic little bits of film showing the artists in performance. I knew I was going to love this show when the George Jones episode, airing on Friday, led off with my favorite clip of Jones doing a staggeringly beautiful solo version of “Take Me.” From there, it just got better, which is to say, funny and weird. The stories that Jones’s backup band tells of the singer’s drunken misadventures — complemented by the tales told by Tammy Wynette’s hairdresser sisters Janette and Nanette Smith — make for hilarious yet poignant stuff.

Judge loves this genre of hardcore country music. He’s not out to ridicule his subjects, as worthy of mockery as some of the crazy stuff Jones, Paycheck, and Lewis did is. Judge elicits lots of fresh details in the interviews he conducts. The tale of Ronald Reagan’s infatuation with Tammy Wynette — an affection that was not returned by Tammy, who sided with a jealous Nancy Reagan — that was new to me. I had heard the one about Waylon Jennings tying Jones to a tree, but had not heard the reason why: because George insulted Waylon by calling him “a Conway Twitty-singin’ sonofabitch,” which made me hoot with laughter.

Even — or especially — if you don’t get the humor in that last one, the country-music knowledge being arrayed before you in Tales From the Tour Bus is sure to both enlighten and entertain you. Low-down and openhearted, Tour Bus exposes a wider audience to the sorts of lives we rarely see on television. The music is great, too.

Mike Judge Presents: Tales From the Tour Bus airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on Cinemax.

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