REVIEW: ‘Mike Judge Presents Tales From the Tour Bus’ is an Instant Favorite

There is a certain type of person — including someone who may or may not be typing this right now — that has such a deep and abiding love of music lore that they will watch any rock documentary, read any musician biography, and pass on any backstage legend, no matter how apocryphal, as though it were a part of their own family history.

If you are such a person, I urge you to get yourself over to Cinemax to binge Mike Judge Presents Tales From the Tour Bus, a show that is almost exactly what it sounds like: the Beavis and Butt-Head-cum-Silicon Valley creator narrating animated legends of famous musicians’ bad behavior, told by their less famous, mostly bemused bandmates and friends, and embroidered with archival footage and photographs.

I say “almost” exactly what it sounds like because while I would have assumed a show like this would focus on the Led Zeppelins and Motley Crües of the world, Judge cleverly focuses this season (hopefully the first of many) on country musicians from the ‘60s and ‘70s, who certainly were no slouches when it came to debauchery, self-abuse, debauchery, questionable sexual decisions, debauchery, unnecessary gunplay, and of course, debauchery.

Through the first four episodes, Judge gets the true stories of singer Johnny Paycheck, best known for his 1977 hit “Take This Job and Shove It”; wildman pianist and early rock-and-roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis; and, in a story too good to confine to a single episode, the doomed romance of George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

A few things I learned from these episodes:

  • Paycheck (as everyone seems to have called him) once drunkenly stole Patsy Cline’s pink Cadillac while she was on stage, but couldn’t find his way out of the parking lot
  • Paycheck once shot a guy in the head in an argument over a trucker hat (miraculously, the guy was not gravely wounded)
  • Paycheck spent $16 million on cocaine
  • Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin
  • After a big night out, Lewis once woke his fellow revelers with a burst of machine gun fire
  • Lewis once crashed his car through the gate at Graceland looking for Elvis Presley
  • The already-married Tammy Wynette seduced (and startled) her idol, George Jones, by sucking on his toes
  • The teetotaling Tammy once threw George’s car keys away so he couldn’t get himself to the liquor store, but she soon saw him on the highway on his riding lawn mower, returning from said liquor store

Not all of these stories are exactly new — Jerry and his cousin were covered in the Dennis Quaid-Winona Ryder biopic Great Balls of Fire, and George riding the lawn mower is one of the greatest legends in music history — but the way they’re presented, a clever mix of real footage and photos with animated recreations of off-stage exploits — is wildly entertaining, enough to make this show an instant favorite. Judge has said he would like a second season to focus on the early years of gangster rap, with the promise of heavy metal twinkling over the horizon. If the country episodes are any indication, that is a future we should all be doing our part to make real.

New episodes of Mike Judge Presents Tales From the Tour Bus air at 10pm ET on Cinemax; past episodes are available on-demand.

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