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I adore The Venture Bros. The show is more than just a too clever cartoon. It’s a quality show exploring obsession, failure, jealousy, and the way fantasy and reality can overlap. All the while being funny, clever, silly, stupid, dramatic, and visually engaging.
With the season six premier of Venture Bros concluded, we should take stock of just what this show has to offer or will offer. Despite being a long running program (it debuted in 2003) it doesn’t really have that many episodes (including the premier on Sunday, Jan. 31st, just 68). In prep for the premier, on Thursday I began watching the series from its beginning to be entirely up-to-date and fresh for the new material. By the time Sunday rolled around, I was more than ready with plenty of time to spare. Once the sixth season has run its course, The Venture Bros. will have only reached 75 episodes over a 13 year span. Yet somehow this lack has been the greatest strength of the show.
A dearth of episodes doesn’t imply a lack of depth or richness. In fact, with nearly every episode show-runners Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer augmented their universe, constantly and incessantly world-building while at the same time developing not only individual episode but also season long story arcs. What makes the season 6 premier so enticing isn’t just the rarity that is a Venture Bros. episode, rather the fact that this season begins a whole new set of story-lines.
By the end of season 5 and the special episode ‘All This and Gargantua-2,’ the vast majority of character arcs and story-lines in the Venture-verse, if you will, were neatly tied up. Yes, there were possible continuations (as we know given there’s a sixth season), but for the most part the series could have ended without leaving much of a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of fans. To see just how neatly everything was tied up, check out Rob Bricken’s piece over at io9. I’d argue that only those truly obsessive fans (which, I think I could count myself in the fringes of) would have had much to complain about if that had been it from Publick and Hammer with regard to the Venture family.
The new season’s premier deserves its own breakdown. But before I get to that, I want to buttress it with examinations of what I consider to be three of the strongest and three weakest Venture Bros. episodes.
Season 1, Episode 12, “The Trial of the Monarch“
First and foremost, I love this episode because when I first saw it I was in complete unison with The Monarch. The moment Hank and Dean form Mecha-Shiva, I nearly spat my beer out and yelled ‘Come on!’ at the screen. Not a moment later, The Monarch brings the Venture brothers’ fanciful testimony to an end.
It’s fascinating to think this cold-open is the way the boys see their adventures & idealize themselves. This is emphasized when Brock reaches that moment where he (and the viewers) just can’t take any more of Hank’s constant stream of consciousness nonsense and finally calls him out on it:
Brock: “Honestly, Hank, where do you pick that stuff up? I never see you read.”
Dean: “It’s weird, right?”
Brock: “It’s like he channels dead crazy people.”
The Monarch’s own testimony segues nicely into a flashback of recent events that can best be described by his own words, a story “filled with lies and pictures of also lies.” My enjoyment of this episode is premised on its cliche melodrama. There are few things funnier than a cartoon that takes arch-villainy, super-science, & super-heroes seriously deciding to embrace the idiocy of mainstream comedy. The entire episode is superb mockery: the Southern-fried Kuato-like lawyer, Dr. Orpheus’s Evil Dead-esque Necronomicon, the ruthless efficiency of the Guild of Calamitous Intent mirrored by The Monarch’s stumbling idiocy, & Dr. Venture getting his first glimpse of the craziness from the outside. The episode also deftly plants the seeds for upcoming story arcs.
Season 3, Episode 1, “Shadowman 9: In the Cradle of Destiny”
The backstory given to us in ‘Past Tense’ at the Mike Sorayama funeral/kidnapping was pleasant but there wasn’t enough The Monarch in it for my taste. By season three, we see that The Venture Bros. is now to a greater degree going to be concerned with Dr. Girlfriend and The Monarch rather than the Venture family. When The Monarch says “Tonight I will take what is loinfully mine,” we see the true beginning of his fantastic over-the-top villain persona. Meeting and hooking up with then Queen Etherea (and now newly Dr. Mrs. The Monarch) also reveals for just how long The Monarch has been relying on her.
Revealing the dynamics and personnel of The Guild of Calamitous Intent was a delight. The episode fills in gaps in the series timeline, but even as it does so, it still leaves plenty more questions in its wake. This is an excellent example of the kind of world-building that Publick and Hammer infuse into their best stories. The final ceremony between The Monarch and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch paralleled with the moppets working with Brock, Henchman 21 and 24, as well as the rest of the characters in this super-villain/super-science world to rebuild The Monarch’s cocoon shows just how reliant upon each other the good and the bad guys are. Their symbiosis is, arguably, the foundation of the show.
Season 5, Episode 8, “The Devil’s Grip”
As you can tell, my favorite episodes are heavy on The Monarch. I came close to talking about Season 4’s “Everybody Comes to Hank’s,” but decided this was a better fit for my purposes. Post-giant mirrorball crushing Dr. Venture, the episode opens with a start as Hank and Dean are sent to their respective godfathers (The Action Man and Colonel Gentleman). But rather than dead, Dr. Venture is firmly in the grasp of The Monarch, who is not so quietly losing his shit about just how to torture his arch-nemesis. This failed torture session breaks the spirit of both Dr. Venture and The Monarch (although he desperately tries to brush it off). I, for one, don’t buy it that The Monarch “ineptitude is on purpose.”
Bookended with Entmann’s burial and re-burial (foreshadowing Jonas Venture, Jr.’s death), the foundation of the episode is the Venture brothers being placed in care that is an order of magnitude more insane than their lives up to this point. Hank is more than adept at being the perpetually horny octogenarian Action Man’s wingman as he attempts to bed Billy Quizboy’s mom Rose. Dean, on the other hand, is pliant but less enthusiastic about being the ward of Col. Gentleman who has him logging all the times the cat on Sabrina the Teenage Witch appeared on screen as either a real cat or a puppet. I will say, were “I, Gentleman” actually published, I would eagerly buy it and read it with much adulation. A vital story is transmitted from Col. Gentleman through Dean here.
Although Rose Whalen, Billy Quizboy’s mother, is considered by the show’s Wiki to be Triple Threat. I got the impression when I first watched this that Triple Threat and Jass were The Monarch’s parents. Given that everyone in the original Team Venture embraced polyamory, it felt like this was a glimpse into why toddler Rusty Venture and The Monarch were together playing in the family photo The Monarch discovered in “Sphinx Rising” while in the compound.
The quality of this episode revolves around its embracing of ineptitude. Sgt. Hatred’s (one of the worst characters that yet somehow persists) inadvertent destruction of The Monarch’s cocoon and home in the gated community of Malice set the butterfly contingent on an all new path. It also provides my favorite and, I would contend, most hilarious line of the entire season. After the destruction, The Monarch responds to Sgt. Hatred calling out for Gary (i.e., Henchman 21): “Who the fuck is Gary?” The torture session between The Monarch and Dr. Venture, which is brilliant in just how tortuous it is to watch as each of them act their part with cringe-worth acumen, all but ends their relationship. This is all contrasted by the Venture brothers themselves. After five seasons, Hank and Dean come to a bizarrely serene acceptance of themselves and their life.
Season 2, Episode 9, “Guess Who’s Coming to State Dinner?”
Nothing about this episode works. It would be unfair to call it a poor parody of The Manchurian Candidate (a movie that was not good when it was first made and then worse when it was re-made), rather, this is a poor choice of framing device. Manstrong is a horrid character surrounded by other horrid characters–his mother, the President (which is some kind of mashup of LBJ, Clinton, & Dubya), the Secret Service agent Hauser, and the incredibly stupid ghost of Abraham Lincoln. Plus, the weirdly racist and unfunny White House maid who resolves the episode with the application of club soda just feels tacked on, as though Publick was in a rush to just get it done and off his desk. All the jokes fall flat or feel like throwaway bits. But most importantly, aside from destroying Gargantua-1, nothing in this episode matters to anything else in the season or series.
Season 4, Episode 3, “Perchance to Dean”
The premise of this episode, I find tiresome. That premise is a variation on the evil twin trope. Here it’s an evil earlier surviving but deformed clone of Dean.
Once again, Dr. Venture tries to force Dean into the super-scientist role as when he forced his son into his first ‘speed suit.’ This time, Dean is pushed into a make-shift lab set up in the panic room where Dean proceeds to try to regrow his hair (most likely disappearing due to his rather strained genes). Much like ‘Guess Who’s Coming to State Dinner,’ a lot of the references and jokes don’t really land. The Quasimodo-ness of the deformed Dean clone (D-19) and his Silence of the Lambs skin suit macabrely happening in the compound’s attic all while prog rock is jokes are attempted in the den feel, much like the music, just lame.
All this reads as something that could be interesting, but in practice falls short. Very little in this episode feels useful, and what is is just dull.
Season 3, Episode 6, “Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman”
I loathe this character name. I find it revolting and not at all clever. The whole thing disappoints me because the character herself is very interesting. I’d love to hear more about Rusty Venture’s more successful, intelligent, and adventurous woman counterpart. The key party flashback (which is useful to the season and series story arcs) suggest more than the possibility that Tara is Rusty’s half-sister, making the flirtations between the two and between their children more than ishy. The Scooby-Doo style ‘mystery’ of the wereodile is just stupid and unredeemably so. Tara’s bodyguard Virginia positioned as Brock’s counterpart is just insulting. It’s another episode that meant to spoof nostalgia, but the references are nearly as clever as one would hope as the action that gets us to them just feels trite and forced.
So…the premier then…
Yes, right, of course. The season six premier, the entire reason for writing and reading this.
Season 6, Episode 1, “Hostile Makeover”
The strongest episodes I’ve identified here are so for specific reasons: 1) A willful embrace of insanity that plays within its particular logic framework; 2) The symbiotic or co-dependent relationship between good guys and bad guys; and 3) A balanced storytelling structure that always complicates the narrative with each and every reveal. Similarly, the weakest episodes are such because the humor is underdeveloped or one-dimensional and the plot gets bogged down in a mire of referentiality or needless nostalgia.
The beauty of this new season is that it is a new story. Entirely new paths stretch out before Dr. Venture and The Monarch, the Venture brothers, and The Guild of Calamitous Intent and OSI. None of these entities are what they were; all of these entities are the same as they’ve always been.
Dr. Venture is now the only Dr. Venture and ridiculously wealthy. He is reveling in his new position, yet surprisingly not abusing or squandering his new found windfall. One has to wonder when the real Rusty Venture will show himself. Or is this the real Rusty Venture, the super-scientist who is a dick but just needed to be given a break. In fact, it seems that it’s only really the boys (specifically, Hank) who are letting the new lifestyle go to their head. Somehow, it suits Hank, who embraces the Bieber douche persona and rather pulls it off better than the Bieber. Fortunately, it looks as though Sgt. Hatred will finally be pushed out of the narrative with Brock’s arrival back as the Venture bodyguard. The core Venture group is reformed.
But there is no way for any Venture to escape the nonsense of super-villainy and super-science. The mockery of Spider-Man (Brown Widow who has more realist spider powers but is just as much of a dipshit) is delicious as is the fetish of adoring the Avengers, Crusader’s Action League (Captain America parody Stars & Garters & the Fallen Archer, a send up of Hawkeye). The utter idiocy of these new superheroes begs for a classic Brock Sampson beatdown. And we almost get one, but the CAL, somehow fight to a draw. When things finally calm down, we hear Dr. Venture give an appropriately exasperated sigh wearing his new custom-tailored speed suit, “Ugh…welcome to New York.” It seems that although things have changed, they have stayed the same.
Over in the world of villainy… The arching Gary & The Monarch conduct is more ham-fisted than usual. This is to be expect as Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is busy trying to hold what remains of the Guild together with only six members (one of which counts twice with its two independent heads with another only counts as one because of his split personality). The villains we have come to know throughout this series are experiencing an existential crisis. When new high-ranking super-villain Wide Wale has to be brought into the Council of 13 to stabilize the Guild, it turns out he can only be bought by being given the newly elevated Dr. Venture on as his arch. It’s also suggested that Hank’s new female obsession will be a girl I suspect is the daughter of Wide Wale. The episode ends with The Monarch having the news broken to him that his reason for existing is being taken away from him leaving him with no cocoon, henchmen, or arch.
So as the episode ends after the closing credits and H.E.L.P.eR. delivers the best bit of physical comedy of the nascent season, we’re left pondering what the new-old symbiosis will be, just how the Venture family will deal with the continued madness of their niche, and if there are any odd men out. This premier is strong episode setting a good tone for the season to come.
This post was made possible with support from Rachel Racicot.
If you liked this article, then consider supporting me via my Patreon site. Even a small pledge helps: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=2706521&ty=h