The Venture Bros., Season 4

Television, 2009-2010

I don’t devotedly follow much serialized fiction the way a lot of people do, but I do have one, and it’s The Venture Brothers. I’m riding this fucker out to the end, even if it ends up spiraling into Family Guy territory. That seems unlikely however, as this show absolutely killed in its fourth season, really hitting it’s stride at around the 2/3 mark. For what it is, this show is inordinately well done. (I’m not alone in thinking this- here it is above The West Wing on The AV Club’s Best Shows of the 00’s list, and a much has been made of it’s stunning mid-century design aesthetic alone alone.) There was nothing added to this season to explain why I like it so much more. I think the creators simply crossed the quality threshold from making a “pretty darn good” show to a “really fucking good” one. They’ve orchestrated character and plot together in a way that gives every episode a satisfying build, best showcased in the episodes “Self Medication” and “Any Which Way But Zeus”.

The Venture Brothers’ evolution has been a precarious one for me. I fell in love with it’s first season, before the series became covered in character development to the point of obscuring its core concept. In the first season, it was a simple matter of “this is the ghost pirate episode” or “this is the Mexican tropes episode”. As the plots became more and more labyrinthian and interconnected, I started to wonder if the show was heading in a direction that couldn’t support its own weight. This is, after all, a show whose main point is riffing on adventure cartoons and comic book superheroes. But this season I think their skill level fully, finally caught up to their ambition. Case in point, the evolution of Doc Venture in this season was both very well done and highly rewarding. For three seasons Doc was a worthless, self-centered failure, incapable of contributing anything positive to any situation. In this season he was forced to stand on his own two feet, as his highly effective bodyguard Brock Samson was replaced with the much more incompetent Sergeant Hatred. Surprisingly, Doc actually rose to the occasion, discovering (along with the audience) that he actually has a resolve and intelligence that can prove valuable to those around him. However, I don’t think this show is as thematically strong as creator Jackson Publick thinks it is. His frequent claims that the entire show revolves around the idea of failure seems like an afterthought to me. There’s certainly a lot of failed characters on the show, but the concept doesn’t seem baked into it’s storytelling, as it is in the similarly themed and genre heavy film The Host. But if that’s the glue that Publick uses to hold the whole thing together, then god bless him. It feels unfair to accuse a show that has a Spider-Man clone who shoots webs out of his ass of not being thematically strong enough. So how are the jokes? There are a couple all time greats this season, namely “After I put herpe in there” and the many definitions of what a “Rusty Venture” is, and Ladyhawk Johnson and Lyndon Bee gets my vote for most gloriously bizarre concept for a superhero ever (a type of gag this show deftly throws at its audience in seemingly endless supply). But I’ve got no doubt that any viewer would be able to provide a completely unique list of highlights that they’d be equally as passionate about.

I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone who hasn’t seen every episode of this show to watch a random one from later in its run. This, combined with the show’s heavily genre based central concept and sophisticatedly underhanded joke delivery method, will most likely prevent it from ever getting the amount of viewers it truly deserves, or simply getting more than it currently has. But that misfortune doesn’t seem to be affecting the fans the show currently does have, as we’re scheduled to get two more seasons of this awesome nonsense.

Technical gripes:

  • Viewers who aren’t as visually attentive as me (which is to say, most people, which is to say, people who rightfully don’t concern themselves with this sort of thing) probably won’t be bothered by this, but the muddy white bits surrounding all the black lineart on the Blu-ray was a major bummer for me. I thought I bought the Blu-ray for superior picture? What makes the Blu-ray even more of a letdown is it’s bare-bones packing, when compared to the awesome DVD packaging.
  • The lively and entertaining commentary tracks have a much higher quality of audio this time around, which is nice. (Although some of the unlistenable previous commentaries did have a certain ramshackle charm to them.) Publick’s public (sorry) airing of his writing insecurities was a bit of a downer, but I bet the show’s creators’ workload can be a real emotional roller coaster.
  • I really, really wish the home video releases of this show WEREN’T uncensored. A bleeped profanity and a black censor bar is always going to be a hundred times more funny than the uncensored alternative when dealing with material like this. An implication is stronger than a reveal, here.

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