Cartoon Network // 2009 // 386 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 17th, 2011
"I fought an 8-year-old! And the only reason I won is because he fell on a spike!" -- Billy Quizboy
The flagship series of Adult Swim returns with its long-awaited fourth season, packaged here in its entirety (the season had been split in two parts for broadcast). Big changes are afoot this go-round: for good or ill.
Season Three ended with the Venture compound in shambles from a massive battle, Brock Samson bounced out as Hank and Dean's bodyguard, and Henchman 24's decapitated head rolling into the arms of a stunned Henchman 21.
Picking it up for Season Four, we find that Sergeant Hatred -- reformed villain and pedophile (really) -- has taken over as the Ventures' bodyguard, Henchman 21 has become the Monarch's most trusted and lethal ally, Brock is still off the radar, Dean is uncertain if he wants to follow in his father's superscience footsteps, and Hank has grown his hair out.
It was roughly halfway through this batch of sixteen episodes I really started to entertain the notion that the grandeur and majesty of The Venture Bros. had come to an end. Hey, it was a good run! Three seasons of inspired, subversive hilarity is nothing to sneeze at.
My biggest issues:
The Ambitious 24/21 Experiment Cratered
In their commentary for the Season Three finale, series co-writers Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick remarked how potentially foolhardy it was to tamper with arguably their best comedic duo with the offing of Henchman 24. I see how you'd want to shake things up creatively, but the payoff just wasn't worth it. While it was entertaining to see 21 run around like Rambo, losing out on the priceless nerd banter between 21 and 24 was too steep a price. This injustice is partially rectified later in the season.
Sergeant Hatred Sucks
He was a lame character as a throwaway villain and he's an underperformer in his new "regular" status. Sure, he gets a few good lines, but that's mainly because the writers are awesome. He is a sad replacement for Brock. And then there's...
Pedophilia Jokes Aren't Funny
I'm no prude, but come on!
Not Nearly Enough Doctor Orpheus
Again, this oversight is remedied later on, but for an unconscionably long stretch one of the greatest side characters in the Venture mythology is MIA.
My mood soured by the midpoint of the season. How could one of my favorite shows and arguably the funniest half hour on TV be this middling? With great relief, I can report that Doc and Jackson righted the ship and returned to form with the second round of episodes. Brock returns in a great role, Sergeant Hatred's affinity for young boys is dialed down (thankfully), Dr. Orpheus resurfaces, and while 24 isn't resurrected, he does pop in for a few bittersweet cameos; sweet because the 24/21 dynamic is still gold, bitter because it is a reminder of what-shouldn't-have been.
In addition, some of my favorite episodes of the whole series appear during this stretch: a brilliant Hank-centric film noir creation, Dean's frightful experience interning for Dr. Impossible (which introduces us to the inspired villainy of "Fat Chance"), and the hilarious two-part season finale. This sustained excellence shifts the balance of Season Four into the plus column, proving that even at its weakest, The Venture Bros. is still better than most all other crap.
All 16 episodes were fit onto one Blu-ray disc and they look great in their fine-tuned 1.78:1, 1080p format. The hand-drawn animation is clear and colorful, delivering visual lunacy with great success. You wouldn't think traditional animation would benefit as highly from the HD upgrade, but it does and a comparison to the series' standard-def counterpart makes that evident. Sound comes from an aggressive Dolby TrueHD surround mix, blasting out J.G. Thirlwell's inspired score and action effects well enough so your entire system gets involved. Extras: deleted scenes, commentary from Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, outtakes, and network promos.
The season starts off choppy, but the Ventures pick it up when it counts.
Not Guilty. Go Team Venture, mofo.
Review content copyright © 2011 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Cartoon Network
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 386 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site