Since its premiere in 2003, The Venture Bros.
has been the best show on TV that no one has heard about. With last years’ passing of Aqua Teen Hunger Force
, it is now the longest running show on Adult Swim—and yet, it’s only in its sixth season. The show’s cult of fans have waited as long as three years to get new shows, with the fifth season premiering more than a year and a half ago. This probably has something to do with the show’s relative obscurity, but is also responsible for its quality. The classic Adult Swim formula is cheap, 11-minute shows with limited animation and outre, absurdist humor. But The Venture Bros is the exception to the rule. Its lavish, full animation and slick design sense are among the best of animated TV. The show’s co-creators, Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, do a lot with the small budget Adult Swim provides, because they do most of the work themselves—which also explains the show’s chronic lateness.
It’s appropriate that The Venture Bros.
would be serially tardy, as Hammer was quoted back in 2004 as saying the show’s primary theme is failure. The title brothers, Hank and Dean Venture, are the sons of Dr. Rusty Venture (voiced by James Urbaniak), a grown up and gone-to-seed boy adventurer in the mode of Johnny Quest who can never live up to the legend of his super scientist father, Jonas Venture. The show’s setting itself is a commentary on 21st century America: The Ventures live in a slowly moldering, Mid-Century Modern compound built by Jonas during the heyday of the 1960s.
Or at least, they did for the first five seasons. At the end of “All This And Gargantua-2”, the hour-long, inter-season special that aired last January, Dr. Venture’s longtime arch enemy The Monarch finally succeeded in burning the compound to the ground, albeit almost accidentally. Meanwhile, in orbit, Rusty’s more successful mutant brother Jonas Jr sacrificed himself to save the family’s space station, leaving the considerable fortune he had amassed to the perpetually destitute Rusty. As season six dawned last Sunday night with “Hostile Makeover”, Rusty, Hank, Dean, and their robot H.E.L.P.eR. Have moved into the Venture Tower in New York City as newly minted billionaires. Where Jonas and Jonas Jr. were industrious and innovative, Rusty and Hank become the picture of nouveau riche New Yorkers. Dean, always the more responsible Venture brother, takes the opportunity to go to college.
Publick and Hammer have taken the opportunity of a new season to hit the reset button on the increasingly convoluted cast and mythology they’ve built up over the last decade, and that includes one very welcome change: Returning Brock “The Sweedish Murder Machine” Sampson (voiced iconically by Patrick Warburton) to the Venture fold after he spent the last two seasons dealing with super spy intrigue. On the other hand, decamping to New York leaves behind longtime Venture boarder Dr. Orpheus and his Order of the Triad, a magic-powered minor superteam that features a gay Alchemist and Jefferson Twilight the Blackula Hunter (who had one of my favorite lines from the entire series, when he was asked why he says he hunts Blackulas instead of African American vampires: “Because sometimes I hunt Blackulas in England!”)
“Hostile Makeover” is mostly table setting for the upcoming New York storylines. Early seasons of The Venture Bros
. used the X-Files
formula of alternating long-term plot arcs and monster-of-the-week episodes—even expertly skewering the conventions serialized TV with the classic episode “Escape From The House Of Mummies Part II”, for which there was no part 1. But the later seasons have leaned more towards Game Of Thones
-style intrigue, albeit set in an absurd world of powerful but incompetent super beings. They have also moved into meta-commentary on geek culture, like making Season 4’s premiere episode “Blood Of The Father, Heart Of Steel” revolve around the slow destruction of a priceless copy of Marvel Comics #1. Season 6’s move to Gotham will allow Publick and Hammer to take on the comic book-heavy zeitgeist, with the return of Spider-Man parody Brown Widow (voiced by Firefly and Castle’s Nathan Fillon) and a new potential love interest for Brock in Wonder Woman parody Wararina.
If all The Venture Bros.
had to offer was geeky inside baseball gags, it would be funny, but the show’s real genius is the genuine pathos Hammer and Publick manage to throw into the mix. It’s hard to create a parodic world that retains real emotional stakes, but Team Venture makes it work because they are as good as anyone out there at creating great action sequences, and the creator’s genuine love for the characters shows through. The contrast between the characters puffed up exteriors and insecure interior lives seems all too human, and when our heroes get bogged down in some arbitrary rules governing superheroes, it reminds us of how much of our lives are takes up with mundane hassles. It may seem strange at first, but once you dive in, the world of The Venture Bros
. will seem very familiar.