Editor’s note: Whenever you read this, be a pal and pretend it’s Monday -DR
Hey y’all. I’ll be doing the weekly Venture Bros. roundups every Monday night for Deadshirt. Why Monday? The show comes on late, it takes a watch or two to really appreciate the jokes I laughed over the other times, and some people take their time watching, Okay? With that brief aside finished, I’ll try and cut my normal Memoirant© essay style short and stick with what worked and didn’t.
The Venture Bros. is probably my favorite cartoon series of all time and maybe in my top five shows FULL STOP. I’m a fan. Ever since I first caught the classic “Incredible Mister Brisby” (S1E04) I’ve been totally spellbound by the universe that creators Doc Hammer and Jackson Public have created. It’s a simultaneously loving and withering look at popular culture that really never fails to surprise me. We’re very lucky to have a number of savvy, beautiful cartoons on television right now (Adventure Time, Regular Show and Archer spring to mind) but I think Venture Bros. distinguishes itself in both animation and depth.
Anyway, the fifth season premiere was a fantastic palate cleanser to this week’s Game of Thrones (which you should definitely not Google right now. In fact, why are you on the internet if you haven’t seen it?) but unfortunately not a great jumping-on point for new fans. While “What Color…” was perfectly thematically aligned with the rest of the series’ focus on Failure and Family, its heavy ties into the Venture Mythology is as much a weakness as a strength.
The episode picks up on the morning after the touching and tumultuous events of the bed-school prom that patriarch Rusty Venture threw for his cloned sons, which closed out season four. Of course, that episode aired… jeez, almost three years ago so it took a second for me to remember where exactly we were picking up. And then the Venture Halloween Special technically happens somewhere in the middle of the three-month-spanning episode so there’s a lot of goofed up continuity built in.
Of course, I should have expected the breakneck pace since every season of Venture Bros. starts with a giant change to the status quo. The premiere of season four was a Memento-style experiment with a nonlinear story told by the depreciating value of a vintage comic book, so really I’m probably the fool for not expecting that tonight’s episode would feature new haircuts for everyone and a big ole’ learning curve. The great thing about the Venture finales is that they throw a whole bunch of curveballs out that could change the show forever, and you don’t know what’s going to get immediately turned around and what they’re going to keep until the start of the next season.
Basically, after being tasked with delivering a giant project in a short time, Dr. Venture’s characteristic short-sighted selfishness results in his unpaid college intern laborers mutating into a new society while Dean attempts to romance one of the metamorphosing students. In the process we end up meeting Billy Quizboy’s archnemesis, who turns out to be a one-off character from season one! See what I mean about the deep continuity? Luckily the character himself turns out to be the perfect kind of archnemesis (a dark mirror of the protagonist) so no sweat there.
Meanwhile, the Monarch is severely missing #21, who’s off being the last guy in SPHINX since Brock and the gang got accepted back into OSI. Some of my favorite gags in the series come from the ever-deepening well of The Monarch’s sexual perversion and this episode is no different. The Game of Thrones reference involved is almost TOO topical for my taste, but who am I to impose an arbitrary “1985-2000 ONLY” rule on Hammer & Publick’s encyclopaedic television knowledge? The Monarch and his missus misunderstand Venture’s mutation like they’re in act II of a Shakespeare comedy and set out to make their own freaks. It goes okay. This was the only plot of the episode that had me checking my watch.
Meanwhile, the guest stars playing the three main studentinternslaves are killing it. Literally and figuratively. Hip Hop’s Court Jester Aziz Ansari plays the leader of the hideous mutants, joined by SNL MVP Kate Mckinnon as Dean’s new love interest and The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac as one of the members of the lower Mutant Caste. They each turn in a fabulous performance that come as totally unexpected treats, sorry for ruining them! (Head into the comments and let me know if you want me to leave guest stars’ names out in the future.)
Basically since all the students are creme-de-la-creme nerds their new mutant society immediately becomes an extended John Carter joke, which I would not even know was a John Carter joke if not for the fact that my roommate and fellow Deadshirt writer Max Robinson is one of the five people who saw John Carter. That and the Billy Quizboy story in which his archnemesis forces him into a trivia contest over a perceived eBay slight underline what I think is the meta-story of the episode: This is what happens when you put a bunch of dorks in a room.
Everything goes crazy because they play by rules they know from fiction with little room for reality. Who buys his way into a supervillain society just to get back at someone for sniping him on a collectible and then lets him go over a technicality based off an original series Star Trek episode? Who discovers they are mutating from radiation poisoning and forgoes seeking help in favor of building an Ewok tree city and writing religious edicts in elvish on human skin? Nerds, that’s who. You put a bunch of nerds in the room and if the temperature is just right then their imaginations run wild and they quilt together all the things they love into something new and fun, provided they don’t collapse into anomie over which Klingon dialect to use.
If they’re really brilliant, they take all these things and make The Venture Bros. If not, then you get Robot Chicken. That’s a big gamble, but it’s one I’m willing to make if the rest of the season is as deep and delicious as episode one.