Reviewing The Venture Brothers required me to stay up past my bedtime. I also lost 30 minutes of precious sleep. And frankly, my nightmares are more enjoyable than this infantile series. Part of the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, a series of late night programs intended for mature audiences, The Venture Brothers has been compared to South Park and The Simpsons, as well as Johnny Quest. It is similar to the last, in that two adults don’t quite have a handle on their mischievous teen charges.
Hank and Dean (voiced by Chris McCulloch and Michael Sinterniklaas) are the Venture brothers, twin space travelers, one brain and one brawn. Their father, Dr. Venture (James Urbaniak), is what one would imagine an idiot savant who grew up to be a mad scientist would be like. They are aided on their travels by Brock Samson (Patrick Warburton), pilot and all-around super-macho guy, and their robot, H.E.L.P.eR.
In one episode, Dr. Venture is called to a remote space station he helped build with his late, domineering father. On his arrival, the doctor hallucinates a 12-foot tall version of his father, then discovers the problem: a toy he left inside the ship’s wiring when he was a child. While he’s preoccupied, the twins stay busy running from their own “ghost,” when they stumble across a series of “scenes” that convince them it has gone on a murderous rampage: their father lying unconscious, H.E.L.P.eR covered with a ghost-like sheet, Brock having jungle gym sex with the station’s female officer. The boys never do learn the truth about the ghost.
This lack of resolution exemplifies The Venture Brothers‘s primary problem. The boys are so moronic that it’s hard to care what happens to them. What other teenagers would see a man and woman having sex and think they were “wrestling” to the death? Or confuse a robot for a ghost? Unfortunately, the incidental humor is as unfunny as the brothers. As the phallic space ship approaches the loading bay of the station, the female officer provides Brock guidance that’s full of double entendres reminiscent of junior high locker room banter. She tells him, “That’s it, slow, slow.” And he replies, “That’s a tight fit.”
The running gag of this episode involved Dr. Venture’s need to urinate. Unable to make it to the restroom in time and certain that his spacesuit contains a “waste protection unit,” he pees in his suit, which is not, of course, protected. This sets up 20 minutes of jokes about Dr. Venture smelling like piss, urine running out of the suit, and what it’s like to walk around covered with pee. He finally changes his suit at the episode’s end, and, as the team leaves the station, urine drips from the soiled suit, shorting out the wiring the doctor had just fixed.
The concept behind Adult Swim is good. Most adults under the age of 60 were raised watching cartoons and many still appreciate their artwork and humor. Some of Swim’s 24 shows, which air on a rotating basis, already have a strong following from their time on network, such as Family Guy and Futurama. Others, such as Baby Blues, are based on other familiar sources, like daily comic strips or comic books. Still, the website describing these shows offers little incentive to watch, making each of the shows appear as idiotic as The Venture Brothers. For instance, character descriptions for The Brak Show include “Mom: She is married to Brak’s father, but she used to not be married at all,” and “Dad: He is married to Brak’s mother and has two sons, Brak and Sisto. One time he put screens on the house.” If the characters are as dull as their descriptions, who would want to tune in?
As I am now an adult—that is, no longer in junior high—I failed to laugh once at The Venture Brothers. Where South Park and The Simpsons include jokes that will appeal to 10-year-olds and grown-ups, The Venture Brothers remains fixed on the kids’ level. I won’t be losing any more sleep over it.