Reviews

The Venture Brothers: Season Three

In its third season, the show becomes more complicated than its origins as a Jonny Quest parody would indicate.


The Venture Brothers

Distributor: Turner
Network: Cartoon Network
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2009-03-24
Amazon

By the time Alan Moore's The Watchmen finally hit the big screen, there was very little idealism left in the world of superheroes. Frank Miller had performed the double-whammy of revealing Batman as a barely-reined-in psychotic and pegging Superman as an anachronistic boy scout. Kurt Busiek's Astro City looked at superheroes from the perspective of the average citizen. Warren Ellis's The Authority explored the combination of superpowers with an ends-justifies-the-means philosophy, while his Planetary (among many other things) turned a thinly-veiled Fantastic Four into mass murderers with messiah complexes.

For some time, it's seemed like every "with great power comes great responsibility speech" uttered in the Marvel Universe has been met with skepticism by writers who are interested in how the genre fits with today's sensibilities. So by the time The Dark Knight allowed Batman to get his full brood on, and The Watchmen pulled its heroes out of retirement, this viewer/reader was already deep in the funk of deconstruction fatigue.

Granted, I'm a geek, raised on the monthly neuroses to be found in Spider-Man and X-Men comics, archetypal tweaks common in Neil Gaiman's work, and a political junkie's inherent suspicion that even the noblest utterings are suspect. So these days, something needs to go completely over the obsessive line to stand out.

Oddly enough, a prime haven for people like me has been the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block of shows. Usually consuming the 11:00PM-to-whenever time slot frequented by stoners and insomniacs, Adult Swim has built an empire on revealing our cartoon heroes to be nincompoops. They made Space Ghost an oblivious talk show host, populated Sealab 2021 with narcissistic idiots, and filled Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law with portrayals of Fred Flinstone as a Mafia don (all that work in construction), Boo Boo as an anti-corporation terrorist, and Scooby & Shaggy as munchies-driven stoners (admittedly not much of a stretch there).

Into that proud tradition enters The Venture Brothers, which exists mainly to take the piss out of old Jonny Quest cartoons (happily taking super-science, super-villains, and the military-industrial complex down with them). Created by Jackson Publick (a writer for animated series The Tick), The Venture Brothers follows the family of Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture -- his naive sons Hank and Dean, his berserker secret agent bodyguard Brock Sampson (voiced with maximum testosterone by Patrick Warburton), and their robot companion H.E.L.P.eR -- as they try to survive experiments gone awry and the machinations of self-proclaimed arch-enemy The Monarch.

Forever living in the shadow of his world-renowned and world-saving father, Dr. Jonas Venture, as well as his own celebrity as a Jonny Quest-style child-action star, Rusty Venture falls short in both the ethics and competence department. It doesn't help that his sons think they're the Hardy Boys, or that Brock is a daily reminder of his own lack of virility in every aspect of his life.

For its first two seasons, The Venture Brothers contented itself as a heady, anarchic blend of deconstruction and animated mayhem. Walt Disney is parodied as the evil Roy Brisbee, in his honeycomb lair at the heart of a theme park, pestered by the Orange County Liberation Front. The Doctor Doomish Baron Ünderbheit seeks revenge on Venture for the accident that cost him his jaw, while elastic-bodied super-scientist Mister Impossible maintains an iron grip over the other members of his fantastic foursome. A mystery-solving group of teens in a green van investigates a forgotten part of the Venture compound, only this time the dog speaks to his hippy companion in a thick German accent, prodding him to kill the others. And then there's the Monarch, always the Monarch, seeking to destroy Venture and everything that he (or rather, his father, has built).

As the series progresses, the Monarch is as much a central character as anyone in the Venture fold. Season Two found him sparring with fellow villain Phantom Limb (his arms and legs are invisible, and his touch carries a killing charge) for the affections of the male-voiced Dr. Girlfriend, who had gone from Phantom Limb's arms to the Monarch's lair, and back to Phantom Limb. Dr. Girlfriend, dressed in her standard costume of pink dress and pillbox hat (a la Jackie Kennedy) represents one of the show's few competent characters, and it's partly through her testimony that most of Season Two's chaos doesn't result in the Monarch's execution at the hands of the Guild of Calamitous Intent.

It's from those seeds that Season Three goes past the destruction of icons for its own sake, and begins to really craft a mythology of its own. The world of "arching" is shown to be as rule-laden as any other workaday profession, with super-scientists having their arches assigned to them, and every encounter governed by a strict set of regulations.

At the beginning of Season Three, the arching of Dr. Venture has been handed over to fatigues-clad basket case named Sgt. Hatred, while the Monarch takes up residence in a villainous gated community and must suffer through less than inspiring adversaries (such as Dr. Dugong, who's basically a peaceful manatee in a lab coat).

Meanwhile, as the Monarch obsesses over ways to get Venture back in his sights, the show takes on the task of exploring the intertwined origins of characters like Phantom Limb, the giant-headed Master Billy Quizboy, Dr. Girlfriend, and the Monarch himself. Before we knew what happened, The Venture Brothers became a real show that existed in a universe with a more profound mission than "make fun of the stuff we enjoyed as kids".

That's not to say that there isn't great delight to take in murderous moppets, overly dramatic Dr. Strange parodies, a black vampire hunter who hunts blackulas, a villainy consultant named Dr. Killinger, or a Sean Connery-type figure who seems to represent the history of British colonialism in his every carnal pursuit. But now there's actually some interest in where the show's going from week to week, and that's pretty darn satisfying.

Extras are fairly slight on the Season 3 DVD’s, consisting mainly of commentary tracks and storyboarded deleted scenes. The Blu-Ray edition, however, includes a CD of JG Thirlwell’s soundtracks for the series. Even so, you’d almost have to count the show’s fondness for cursing and full-frontal male nudity – uncensored on the DVD -- as an extra. Turns out Cartoon Network was bleeping out lots of profanity and using lots of strategically-placed black bars every week. So often that you didn’t even notice after catching an episode or two on television.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


Keep reading... Show less

Composer Michael Vincent Waller just keeps on writing, even when trying to settle on instrument arrangements.

When New York composer Michael Vincent Waller began recording his works, he turned to his solo piano works. He hit us the following year with a double album full of a variety of chamber music arrangements. With Trajectories, Waller walks it back to solo piano and piano/cello duets. The ensemble format may have shrunk from The South Shore, but the scope of Michael Vincent Waller's work certainly hasn't. Trajectories is nearly 77 minutes in length and uses each bar of music for full minimal effect.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Roswell Rudd, ailing from cancer at 82, releases a loving quartet record of standards with collaborators as distinctive as he is.

The first song on Embrace is "Something to Live For", the exquisite Billy Strayhorn composition that was purportedly Ella Fitzgerald's favorite. What better melody and lyrics to kick off a tender, expressive, intimate date of eight standards, led by the wondrous trombonist Roswell Rudd. Singer Fay Victor brings a sympathetic wisdom to every song, and pianist Lafayette Harris and bassist Ken Filiano are an ideal rhythm section. No drums. Less is more. But there is much here.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image