Venture Bros. Wrapup: “Operation: P.R.O.M.”

I know from reading Jackson Publick’s LiveJournal that producing The Venture Bros. this season has been an arduous task.  He, Doc Hammer, and the rest of the AstroBase crew have been working on season 4 since at least summer 2008, and even at that there was a lengthy break in the middle and a shorter break before the season finale.  While I give the guys all the credit in the world for busting their ass to produce one of my favorite shows, I can’t help but wonder when burnout will start to set in.  There’s already talk in fan circles that “Operation: P.R.O.M.” could just as easily be a series finale as a season finale.

But speculation over the fate of the show can wait for another day.  Let’s first take a look back at the first-ever one-hour Venture Bros. episode and try to figure out where things now stand in the Ventureverse.

The main storyline of the finale concerns, as the title suggests, a prom.  But not just any prom – a $500 home-school prom held in the Venture garage/motor pool!  I’ll give Rusty credit for at least making an attempt to do something nice for the boys, even if he did cheap out and even if it was partially motivated by a desire to wipe clean the horrible memories of his own prom.  In any case, the scene had some snappy dialogue and I loved watching The Alchemist and Jefferson Twilight act all indignant over being typecast as a decorator and a custodian, respectively.

As expected, the prom quickly jumps the tracks.  Dean is heartbroken to discover that Triana Orpheus, now living with her mother and the OutRider, has a boyfriend (a Twilight-style cripster).  He clearly inherited his father’s sense of resilience, and spends the rest of the episode alternately sulking and throwing fits.  Hank, meanwhile, tries unsuccessfully to woo the postal carrier of his dreams, but handles his rejection much better.

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Venture Bros. wrapup: “The Silent Partners”

I’ll get the unpleasantness out of the way right now – the Billy Quizboy/Pete White-centric Venture Bros. episodes need to stop for awhile.  Billy and Pete are not nearly as interesting as Jackson and Doc seem to think they are, and diving deeper into their pasts, their relationship, or their neuroses doesn’t really make for compelling television.

Oh yeah, and I didn’t see a Monstroso-heavy plot coming.  Not sure they really know what to do with the character, outside of the deep voice and jokes about his size.  Isn’t he really just a more normal version of Baron Ünderbheit, a character they ditched for a few seasons?

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Venture Bros. wrapup: “Assisted Suicide”

For those who follow these episode recaps, apologies for missing last week’s of “Bright Lights, Dean’s City”.  Real life got in the way for the first few days and by the time it got to Wednesday it seemed a bit pointless to write a recap.  But real quickly – it was probably a B-, if for no other reason than it felt like the lesser companion to “Everybody Comes to Hank’s”.  It was goofy but I think I’m done with the whole Phantom Limb/Prof. Incredible duo for a bit.

So on to “Assisted Suicide”, in which Dr. Orpheus returns and the show hits a high mark.  As self-contained episodes go, this was one of the best over the past few years.  The dialogue was crisp and funny, and there was just enough emotional depth to make it more than fluff.  And did I mention Dr. Orpheus?  Because he never gets old.

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Venture Bros. wrapup: “Everybody Comes to Hank’s”

When I first discovered the secret of Hank and Dean Venture – that they’re merely the latest in a series of clones whipped up by their father – I was pissed.  Even within the kooky world of the Ventureverse, where henchmen die left and right, it seemed to devalue their value as people.  It made for some good sight gags (particularly the death montage in “Powerless in the Face of Death”), but felt empty otherwise.  I posted as much on Jackson Publick’s blog, and he didn’t take too kindly to the criticism.

But I think what I objected to in truth was that having the boys as clones gave Jackson and Doc a sort-of Venture Plot Etch-A-Sketch, where they could simply hit Reset and still get to off them in increasingly gruesome ways. So when they removed that crutch at the beginning of this season it was a welcome development for me.  Once again the stakes were high the danger was real.  So imagine my disappointment when they simply find a new way to do the same thing, through SPHINX’s memory wipe machine.

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Venture Bros. wrapup: “Any Which Way But Zeus”

One of the ways you can gauge the strength of a show’s is not how well they produce original plots and storylines, but how they rework old tropes into an entertaining package.  It’s sort of like how Led Zeppelin made the blues into something you didn’t have to force yourself to enjoy.  The Venture Brothers did much the same in its first season by repackaging a litany of hackneyed cartoon plots from the ’60s and ’70s into a wholly fresh enterprise.  Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer migrated away from that more obtuse approach as the series progressed, preferring instead to develop a more intricate, original mythology.

Every once in awhile, however, Doc and Jackson kick it old school and produce a self-contained story that feels more like a fun one-off than a very important episode.  “Any Which Way But Zeus” is one of those episodes, although I don’t think they entirely succeeded in their goal.  I think Doc (who wrote this one) wanted the best of both worlds – a self-contained episode that had the pacing and character development of more myth-heavy entries.

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Venture Bros. wrapup: “Pomp and Circuitry”

For the second episode of The Venture Bros.: Season 4.5, the action (and the comedy to a lesser extent) gets dialed back in favor of some really solid character development.  It appears to breeze by but on closer examination a lot took place.  Firstly, the boys are finally done with their bed-based education (via the “Nerd Pods”) and are graduates.  Of what, exactly, we’re not sure, as we see when Billy Quizboy attempt to play the role of guidance counselor.

To nobody’s surprise, everyone but Rusty can see that Hank and Dean are ill-equipped to take on the real world.  But really, does that make them any different than the rest of the cast?  Have any of these people ever held down a legitimate job?  Super scientist doesn’t count, unless you really are one and not just saying it.

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Venture Bros. wrapup: “The Diving Bell vs. The Butter-Glider”

So how do I go about getting me one of those Statutory Ape t-shirts? Or for that matter, an Innerspace DVD?

Oh hey, welcome back Venture Bros.!  It’s been far too long.

Anyway, we are finally ready to resume the fourth season, and “The Diving Bell vs. The Butter-Glider” does it in classic style.  No heavy myth exploration, no huge character growth, just lots of great dialogue and action.  And that’s a great way to dive back into the show.

So about the title – it’s an homage to a novel called The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, about a man who awakes from a coma unable to communicate other than by blinking his left eye.  That’s pretty much how we find ol’ Rusty at the beginning of the episode, except that he’s in Sgt. Hatred’s jeep and is being trailed by the flying cocoon (piloted by 21, on his first solo command).

The main plot involves a classic cartoon gag, namely a takeoff on Fantastic Voyage.  Using Billy Quizboy’s shrink ray, Brock, Shore Leave, and the Venture Brothers take a submarine trip through Doc to find the cause of his paralysis.  They make a rather disturbing discovery along the way, one which may have ramifications later.  But more importantly they find the blood clot causing the problem, and head back out for extraction.

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