14 years. 7 seasons. Think on that. For most of this century, The Venture Bros. have been one of the best shows let alone cartoons available. Fans have had to endure massive wait times between season, however each season has seen the show grow and improve (that’s not to say there aren’t still some major issues with the depictions and writing). Finally getting Season 7 feels like a treat.
Having said that, I think it’s time The Venture Bros. ends, “the longer the show runs, the more edge it loses.” Make no mistake, thus far this new season has been superb, and I think it is positioning itself to be a fitting conclusion to the series. That said, if there’s demand and money to be made, then a show will most definitely continue ad nauseam whether or not it is of quality. I want to see The Venture Bros. wrap up with style rather than limp into insignificance.
For many, the return of the show isn’t even on their radar. It’s been far too long of a hiatus and most fans have grown out of the show. Honestly, I began watching in my early 30s and am now staring down the barrel of mid-40s. Even for a geek, it’s difficult to feel the pull back to the program given everything going on in the world as well as the quality of shows having arisen during this time. Also, The Venture Bros. has never been a show of impact, by which I mean, it has never set its focus beyond a kind of nostalgic fan-fic bend.
It isn’t looking to take on chronic depression (BoJack Horseman), use humor and empathy to revise our conceptions of sexuality (Steven Universe, Big Mouth), satirize and thereby challenge our inherent racism (The Boondocks), dwell on existential absurdity (Rick and Morty), or show how family is at once chosen and granted making us better people (Bob’s Burgers, Adventure Time). Much like its contemporary program Archer, Venture Bros. is goading us through play. To what end? Well, that’s why we kinda have to ruminate on things…
I love how the show has allowed itself to mature moving on from the usual stasis in which cartoon characters exist. The episodes thus far seem to be embracing this notion in a big way, and it’s worth our time to consider why and how.
***Spoilers may follow***
The Curse of the Haunted Problem, Episode 1
This season begins by looking to the past. Specifically, the ruins of Gargantua-1 being excavated by Dr. Jonas Venture, Jr. where he discovers the pristine remains of the Problem machine. This places our narrative in three different places–the far past of the second episode of the first season ‘Careers in Science,’ the recent past of two years ago where JJ is alive and well clearly designing the new VenTech Tower, and the present time of the story. I think it’s important to look at these time frames because they not only ground us in the lore of the series itself but seem to be circling us back around to completion.
This season we’re going to be expected to be more than casually literate with the history of the show. There are nudges to this throughout the episode. But that shouldn’t surprise us, the writers of the show have been doing “years of bricklaying.” In this first episode the metaphorical spectre of Jonas Venture, Sr. that has haunted Rusty and by proxy everyone else their entire adult lives becomes literal.
The Problem comes back to us as Sgt. Hatred is giving a tour of VenTech Tower and the achievements of the Venture clan. At the same time, the Venture family are near the point of a nervous breakdown because their sleep has been so disturbed by what appears to be some kind of ghostly haunting. Rusty doesn’t believe any of it. Nor should we expect him to–his entire life has been this kind of madness. It’s not that he isn’t experiencing the difficulties others are, its that he is more calloused than most.
The haunting sets up a very simple dichotomy, the kind The Venture Bros. love, of science vs magic allowing for the incorporation of Conjectural Technologies (White and Billy) and The Order of the Triad (Dr. Orpheus, The Alchemist, and Jefferson Twilight). As the two competing teams try to figure out just what is going on at VenTech Tower, we get glimpses of a background narrative with Hank and the ongoing drama from last season involving the Blue Morpho.
The Order of Triad attempt a sort of exorcism by first trying to reveal just what or whom the spirit is. They inadvertently summon every unhappy, restless, and wronged spirit by the Venture clan in the lobby of VenTech Tower. Clearly, coming to terms with the sins of the past are going to be a major theme this season, but as there are so many sins, we’re left guessing which ones exactly. Concurrently, White continues combing through the computer systems of the new Venture home prompting Billy to retreat to his. There we are reminded that the old Team Venture resides in retirement. As Billy casually throws off a comment about the movie Sharky’s Machine, Team Venture suddenly mobilize. In a wonderful climax, Orpheus, White, and Team Venture nearly all arrive at once to face the Problem.
Opening the Problem machine reveals the disembodied head of Jonas Venture, Sr.
Up until now, this had been the biggest mystery, the prime mover of the series, what had happened to Jonas Venture? Suddenly, we see what has happened to him but are left still utterly confused. Once again, we discover what we thought was superficially a silly gag is actually a very complex silly gag as the Problems Light is revealed to actually be the P.R.O.B.L.E.M. machine (PROgressive Biological Life Extension Module). I think more than a few fans will be kicking themselves for not having suspected something like this sooner given the elder Dr. Venture’s predilection for convoluted and punny acronyms (see M.U.T.H.E.R from season 3). When White assaults the ProBLEM attempting to sever it from VenTech Tower’s computer system, what’s left of Dr. Venture essentially screams ‘Super Runaway!’ as the building begins to shudder.
The episode ends leaving us to mull over this groundbreaking revelation…
The Rorqual Affair, Episode 2
…and when the next episode begins, we’re in an entirely different storyline. Rather than pick up where the premier left off, episode 2 shifts our focus. However, it still possesses all of the traits of the first episode of the season.
Unlike the premier, this episode decides to model itself loosely on Jaws as it deals primarily with Wide Whale. The joke is classic Venture Bros., at once tired and clever. The allusion is only superficial, merely a means to get into the story needing to be told and that story is of The Monarch.
The Monarch has become like Rusty Venture a rather shallow character, a one trick pony, while those around him have enlivened the story. Specifically, Dr. Mrs. The Monarch or, rather, now just Sheila and Gary, a.k.a. Henchmen 21. Gary has been playing Kato to The Monarch’s Blue Morpho over the last season while Sheila as been working to piece the Guild of Calamitous Intent back together. The two have been the forces guiding The Monarch’s decisions. As such, the villain has increasingly become less and less interesting and more and more a foil to explore other characters. The opening of the episode shows us how Wide Whale was able to capture Blue Morpho–Gary overslept and wasn’t able to back Blue Morpho’s confrontation with the rival villain currently preventing him from arching Rusty Venture.
Gary arrives too late. Wide Whale captures Blue Morpho but keeps it under his hat as The Guild is revealed to be in disarray. In steps arguable the best supervillain of the series, Red Death, volunteering to capture Blue Morpho. This is, of course, a scam by Red Death since he already knows The Monarch is Blue Morpho. The threat of the most murderous character coming for him finally pushes Gary into revealing to Sheila what he and The Monarch have been doing. She is, rightly, furious. One of the most interesting things about this episode is when Gary reveals the Morpho cave to Sheila, it turns out to simply be the water heater closet. Gary is dumbfounded.
Let’s take a second here and recall the scene where Gary gets off the phone with Henchman 24 when The Monarch as broken out of jail and demanded the two return to help him repair his cocoon.
It was a hilarious scene of a manchild playing. It also showed us a kind of meta-break because 24 picks up the epic soundtrack joke without having seen or heard 21 doing it as he pretended he had a secret lair in his closet. One could argue, these two were having a shared delusion and we weren’t seeing what they were imagining. Apply this now to Gary standing in the concrete water heater closet. Were The Monarch and Gary involved in a similar shared delusion only we were seeing what they were imagining in season 6? Just what is real and what is fantasy?
This is an important question because as The Monarch wakes to find himself being beaten by Wide Whale and his henchman Rocco, it’s revealed to us why Wide Whale hates him. The Monarch’s apparent murder of Dr. Dugong seemed extreme at the time (but The Monarch had killed before, see Captain Sunshine) but was also quickly glossed over and forgotten yet this act arguably created last season fallout from which we’re now seeing.
When Red Death presents Sheila, Gary, Hank Venture as the utterly amazing Enrique Matassa, Wide Whale, Rocco, and The Monarch/Blue Morpho with a still alive Dr. Dugong we see an array of people who have premised most of their lives on a misunderstanding, a mistake in judgment. Like the sins of the Ventures from the premier, here we see the sins of the villains. The two dovetail when from out of Wide Whale’s building they all see VenTech Tower begin to shudder and twist as though it’s moving. We realize we are seeing from the outside the ProBLEM.
Episodes this season will be self-referential as they tie in and connect with dropped or forgotten narratives. Perhaps none will be more interesting than seeing if/how what happened to Jonas Venture, Sr. is connected to why Rusty and The Monarch are so entwined. But while all this goes on, the current Venture Bros. Hank and Dean are growing up and looking to live their lives. We’ve seen Hank make the first forays into independence, will Dean be next?