‘The Venture Bros.’ on an Adolescent Growth Spurt

In as eclectic of a lineup as Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim is, it figures that the shows that compose of it are similarly diverse. Cult classic castoffs and original programming alike find harbor in this late-late night block, and The Venture Bros. is to Adult Swim what South Park is to Comedy Central: one of its earliest and successful mainstays.

Though The Venture Bros. is entering its eighth active year, 2010 saw the end of just its fourth season, and as with most serialized television programs, four seasons is enough to become incredibly convoluted. But The Venture Bros. is no ordinary serial program – the hyperactive action-adventure-fantasy-comedy animation makes the narrative worlds of the average serialized dramas look tame. As such, the eight episodes included in The Venture Bros. Season Four, Volume Two are the pinnacle of this narrative complexity.

Take the episode “Every Which Way But Zeus”, for example. A mysterious force manages to collect every hero and henchmen in the Venture universe, and force them to work for him. Around a massive circular table in a high-tech conference room, familiar leads from the entire chronology are gathered, and while small-talking, Brock Samson (Patrick Warburton) gets in an argument with Tiger Shark, a minor villain from seasons past. In a moment of self-referential wit, Brock laughs as Tiger Shark has to remind him of their previous conflict, like many of the ensemble who only a devoted fan with a rolodex could keep track of.

In the same episode, the benefits of massive character accumulation are accompanied with its faults. The C-plot follows important, but periphery roles, and when these half-hour episodes are primarily devoted to the main characters, the couple of minutes of screen time devoted to this side plot falls to the wayside as unimportant and frivolous. Meanwhile, Brock and the other heroes start to doze off as the super villain rattles on, and Brock echoes the sentiment of the audience when he is awoken and mutters, “What, are we still doing this?” The plots are too random and scattered for casual viewers, and fans of the show know that the plots are only devices for delivering character-based comedy, which can be hilarious given you can keep track of them all.

One of the most charming parts of the aging of The Venture Bros., however, is the literal aging of the Venture brothers, Dean and Hank. Unlike most animated shows, where the frozen time is a logistical advantage compared to the aging actors in live-action shows, The Venture Bros. opted instead to account for aging to derive character development. In Season Four, Volume Two, the Venture boys are confronted with various coming-of-age challenges, such as Dean searching for colleges and getting an internship, and Hank losing his virginity. Even just visually, this growth is exceptional, as Hank continues to grow into a physically mature, but increasingly dense teen, while Dean grows intellectually, yet looks straggly and awkward with a peach fuzz mustache.

The ageless style of The Venture Bros. is evident in both the most intricately animated episodes as well as the DVD’s extras. The box’s cover art attempts to bring out more of the edgy, dark, and dramatic elements of the animated comedy, but the ’50s retro script, glam music, and the overlapping color tones of the menus reflect the nostalgic fashion of the show. The special features are little more than the usual assortment of odds and ends, though of understated value to loyal fans are the show’s promos, which are included. Beyond that, the episode commentaries are rambling and unnecessary, and the deleted scenes are as average as the rest of the scraps on the cutting room floor.

In all, the content included in Season Four, Volume Two is enjoyable. The narrative of The Venture Bros. has snowballed through years of development, which has resulted in a swelling and convoluted world. The aging of the eponymous pair is inventive and intriguing, but this feature might be better spent condensing this world than expanding it. This DVD installment of The Venture Bros. has the same qualities as the half-season of episodes that are contained on it: a proper extension of The Venture Bros. chronology, yet only sufficiently enjoyable for the loyal fan.

RATING 6 / 10