“Heads Of Beef” is an episode of Nickelodeon cartoon show from the late 1990s, Courage The Cowardly Dog.
In any horror comedy starring a dog, surely at some point the dog must find himself a hot dog, right?
The trope of the surprise in the burger plays on a primal fear we have when visiting cheap food joints — what is under the bread?
David Walliams has used it…
As have I, in our story app Hilda Bewildered.
While there have been many surprises and reversals, this is the first Courage episode which so completely subverts audience expectations.
Courage is forced to go with Eustace to buy Muriel a scone. She is too sick to cook.
Courage’s other weakness is that he is inclined to worry a lot and sometimes, as will be revealed here, it’s over nothing.
Eustace is a Horrible Husband (the full trope) so of course he looks after himself and is grumpy about his wife failing to cook him dinner even though she is sick.
As ever, he must keep Muriel happy and make sure Eustace remembers to buy her the scone from the bakery.
Whenever Courage puts his own collar on this is a visual metaphor for him doing something he doesn’t want to do. Another catch phrase is, “The things I do for love!” though he doesn’t say that here.
Plans to remind Eustace about the scone change when it becomes clear Eustace has no intention of stopping at Sweet Stuff. They drive right past.
This episode is one of the later ones from season one, and by now the audience is well conditioned: We know that an opponent will appear and that it’s up to Courage to save the day. Even if we’ve never seen any Courage episodes before in our lives, the intro sequence tells us exactly that: “…and it’s up to Courage to save the day!” The problem to be overcome by the writers is now how to keep the stories feeling fresh?
This is the first episode in which the opponent is not a genuine opponent. Both the audience and Courage are fooled into thinking the pig is evil and plans to eat them after luring them out the back.
The pig chef is called Jean Bon — “I’m not French but my name sounds French don’t you think?” (Is this a dig at American singer Jon Bon Jovi?)
The diner itself is first seen from a ‘security camera’ angle. This in itself suggests things aren’t quite right.
Seeing the other customer disappear through a door (the lavatory?), and that the pig is suspiciously minding his briefcase and hat, Courage bravely decides to go through the same door and investigate. Of course he alerts Eustace first, but Eustace is busy enjoying his Very Cheap Burger.
The battle sequence involves Courage falling down the stairs into the basement, ominous shadows on the walls, and a chase scene in which Jon Bon chases after Courage in a way that seems he wants to eat him.
The best line is saved for the wife, who declares that Courage is so sweet she could just eat him up. She then chases him. Being quite large and unwieldy, Courage manages to get away and runs (wee wee wee) all the way home.
The psychological phenomenon wherein you want to squeeze or eat really cute things is called ‘cute aggression’. No one is sure why this is, but it might be simply that high levels of positive emotion may need a physical outworking, similar to crying when something really good happens to us.
The audience learns what the pigs mean by ‘heads of beef’. They are culinary artists who enjoy crafting customers’ heads out of minced beef.
It is also revealed that the customer who disappeared earlier is a gallery owner who offers to showcase their work.
This part of the story actually comes before the revelation in this tale. (We are left wondering until the final scene what has happened to Eustace. Eustace often cops punishment for being such a horrible person but on this occasion he’s having a good old time.)
Courage makes it home, leaving Eustace at the diner. Sitting with Muriel in front of the TV, Muriel assures us all that Eustace will come home eventually. We know that Muriel won’t ever get the scone she asked for. But I have to admit, at the beginning of the story I was half expecting a circular plot in which Eustace stops off to get the scone and encounters a sequel of whatever he got at the burger joint.