Go Team Appellate Judge Dave Ryan!
Our reviews of The Venture Bros. Season Two (published May 9th, 2007), The Venture Bros. Season Four, Volume One (published November 4th, 2010), The Venture Bros. Season Four (Blu-Ray) (published March 17th, 2011), The Venture Bros. Season Three (published April 9th, 2009), and The Venture Bros. Season Three (Blu-Ray) (published March 30th, 2009) are also available.
Go Team Venture!!!
Although it doesn't seem to have quite the cult cachet that its Adult Swim stablemates do, The Venture Bros. is probably the second-best thing in that lineup (behind only the transcendent Aqua Teen Hunger Force). If this gonzo animated blend of Jonny Quest, James Bond, and spaghetti action films from the '60s seems just a tiny bit familiar…well, there's a reason for that. But more on that later…
Facts of the Case
Once upon a time—back in the late '50s and early '60s—the heroic genius Dr. Jonas Venture, aided by the superheroic Team Venture, kept the world safe from villainy, aliens, and Communists (not necessarily in that order). Venture Industries, the corporate arm of Jonas Venture's empire, was synonymous with technological brilliance.
Well, it isn't the late '50s or early '60s anymore. Today, Venture's sole son and heir, Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture (James Urbaniak), has donned the Venture mantle, but it doesn't fit very well. Venture Industries isn't quite the economic juggernaut it once was. Venture himself is a pill-popping whiner, like a scientific version of Larry David. He has fashioned a family for himself in the form of two teenaged sons, Hank (Chris McCulloch) and Dean (Michael Sinterniklaas). Hank and Dean's origins are…murky. We know that they do not have a mother that they know of. (They may be clones—or worse.) Anyhow, the titular Venture brothers are innocent as Osmonds, home-schooled by an educational box, and as pie-eyed and naive as Beaver Cleaver. They are a constant, nauseatingly optimistic thorn in their father's side.
Thankfully, there's one competent person in the Venture organization: Doc Venture's bodyguard, Brock Samson (Patrick Warburton, Seinfeld, Family Guy). Brock is not Man; he is Überman. Bow down before him. Women want him, men want to be him, and villains want to brag in Hell about how they were killed by him. He has a license to kill, and kill thoroughly.
Every good guy must have a nemesis—even crappy good guys. Accordingly, Dr. Venture has a crappy nemesis: the Monarch (McCulloch). As in monarch butterfly. From his flying chrysalis, the Monarch and his butterfly henchmen (not the cream of the talent pool, let me tell you), along with his…ahem…husky-voiced assistant/lover Dr. Girlfriend (Doc Hammer) seek to thwart the Ventures wherever possible.
This DVD set contains the entire run of the show to date, including the pilot episode and a half-length Christmas episode, each of which are included as bonus features:
• Pilot: "The Terrible Secret of Turtle Bay" (included
as a bonus feature)
• "Dia De Los Dangerous"
• "Careers in Science"
• "Mid-Life Chrysalis"
• "Eeney, Meeney, Miney…Magic!"
• "The Incredible Mr. Brisby"
• "Tag Sale—You're It!"
• "Home Insecurity"
• "Ghosts of the Sargasso"
• "Ice Station—Impossible"
• "Are You There, God? It's Me, Dean"
• "Past Tense"
• "The Trial of the Monarch"
• "Return to Spider-Skull Island"
• "A Very Venture Christmas" (included as a bonus
The Venture Bros. is the brainchild of Christopher McCulloch (using the name Jackson Publick) and Eric "Doc" Hammer. McCulloch is an artist/animator/writer; Hammer a writer and editor. If you look very closely at the credits on "Careers in Science," though, you'll spot a name that (if you're reading this) should be familiar to you: Ben Edlund.
Ben Edlund is, of course, the guy who brought us The Tick. The Tick, in both its animated and live action forms, is still one of the classics of superhero spoofery. Ostensibly a kid's show, the animated Tick was unpopular with children—but became wildly popular with college-aged kids and adults, thanks to its all-too-human heroes and a non-stop avalanche of adult puns and in-jokes, which flew miles above the heads of the show's alleged target audience. (Not many kids—at least, not many non-German kids—would get the joke behind naming a hero Die Fledermaus.) The Tick was a show that took the East Coast sensibility and humor of Seinfeld and applied it in a Justice League format. Brought to network TV as a live-action comedy by Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) and Larry Charles (Seinfeld) with Warburton in the lead role, it lasted a single but beloved season. (The show was probably doomed by its premiere in the middle of the immediate post-9/11 entertainment doldrums—it was just too quirky and odd for that particular time.) More salient to this topic, both shows also employed, as writers, a couple of guys named Chris McCulloch and Eric Hammer.
With The Venture Bros., McCulloch and Hammer have taken Jonny Quest and given it the Tick treatment. Like Quest, you have the two kids, the absentee-father figure, and the "family friend" who actually does all the work. But here, the "hero" is far from heroic, the kids are dolts, and the "family friend" is a trained killer. The shows are so dense in one-liners and quick jokes, and have so much going on in them (the biggest challenge of this review was writing the capsule episode summaries), that multiple viewings are almost a necessity (as they were with the animated Tick). The show's sense of humor is smart and bone-dry, which can make it a bit off-putting for newcomers—it's kind of like joining a group mid-conversation. Once you get used to the tone and rhythm of the show, you really start to appreciate the care with which it is made. Few shows are as downright clever, or as subtly quotable, as this one.
Visually, the show is fantastic. The show's overall look reminds me of those Italian knock-off spy films of the '60s, such as Danger: Diabolik—especially the frantic opening credit sequence, which sports one of those Diabolik-like horn themes that sounds like a trumpet section falling down a flight of stairs. The animation is relatively simple, but cleverly executed, with a focus on subtle exaggeration. The character models are perfectly matched to the voice actors, who do amazing work in this show. Warburton should just quit whatever else he's doing and focus on voiceover work—as good as he is on Family Guy, he's 100 times better here. Imagine Puddy on steroids, and you get the picture. The other main voice actors—McCulloch, Hammer, Sinterniklaas, and Urbaniak—also bring oodles of character to their characters. And I don't care if Dr. Girlfriend has the voice of a male Brooklyn cab driver—she's hot.
It should be noted that The Venture Bros., unlike the other Adult Swim original cartoons, is a full half-hour long. (The lone exception is the Christmas special, a half-length 15-minute show.) Functionally, this means that the Venture plots don't have the breakneck pacing of, say, Sealab 2021 or ATHF. Nor, given its grounding in a specific genre, is it as surreal and screwed-up as Space Ghost. It's a more measured and subtle—some might say "adult"—show than its peers, and should have a wider potential audience. This is a show that probably could, with a bit of tweaking, survive quite well on network television. But don't confuse it with something "mainstream"—it's still a unique and quirky show that's unlike anything since The Tick.
Typical of all non-Home Movies Adult Swim releases, The Venture Bros.—Season One is thin on extras. There are a handful of "deleted scenes," which actually represent dialogue that was recorded but cut for time purposes. The excised dialogue is presented with the storyboard animatic for that particular scene. It's crude but effective—however, the deleted items really don't add much to the experience. Much funnier are the "Behind the Scenes of the Venture Bros. Live-Action Feature" and "Animating Hank & Dean" skits. The former is a purported look at the non-existent Venture Bros. movie, but actually it's the voice actors in character (and in costume) pretending to be their characters. Believe it or not, it works brilliantly. Ditto the latter piece, a spoof of the Lord of the Rings-type special effects extras, which reveals the immense amount of motion capture and computer work that goes into "digitally" animating Hank & Dean. As complete spoofs, neither of these has any real good information about the show, but they are quite entertaining.
Some information can be gleaned from the multiple commentaries by McCulloch and Hammer, but mainly these are just recordings of two funny guys being funny. (For example, a portion of the first commentary is devoted to a discussion of which Venture Bros. male character each would sleep with, if they were forced to sleep with one.) Finally, the inside package art by noted comic artist Bill Sienkiewicz is spectacular—especially the portrait of Brock.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some people just didn't get
Also, I really did want to learn more about the show and its creators—their influences, why they made certain choices, and so forth. There's very little of that information to be had here. Again, this seems to be a more general Adult Swim DVD problem, rather than something specific to this release. But it's especially disappointing from this complex, witty, intelligent show.
"You could've told me Sasquatch was a…a dude."
Scuba. Say scuba! That sounds funny. Scuba. Not guilty.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentaries by Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer on Selected Episodes
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