Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I dare you to make less sense

Or, VENTURE BROTHERS, revisited:

My initial impression -- namely, that THE VENTURE BROTHERS were little more than THE TICK meets JONNY QUEST, and overall, the show was consistently only about half as funny as THE TICK, turns out to have been premature. As Mike Norton said in the only comment this blog has had in over a year (I think), you can't judge the series by the first seven episodes. It does, indeed, evolve over the first and second seasons into something that is far more complex and valuable than merely the sum of all its inadequate, badly damaged parts.

I kind of wish I'd watched the first two seasons without having the Big Secret About Hank And Dean pre-spoiled for me. As it was, I probably didn't get the full impact of the death scene at the end of Season 1, or the revised credit scroll at the start of Season 2.

Having said all that, and having watched with real pleasure as what at first seemed an extremely formulaic show did indeed develop into something with real depth and breadth, something that was both nuanced and rich, something that actually rose above the limitations of the genre and became a multifaceted and almost beautiful and moving ongoing story of one of the world's most tragically disfunctional extended emotional families, replete with some of the most bizarrely developed and unhealthy psychic symbioses imaginable... for all of that, I find myself, in the end, feeling disappointed.

I know where it came from. I went into the last two episodes of Season Two psyched, thinking "Okay, next paycheck I'm buying Season 3". I emerged on the other end of that particular 2 parter... deflated. It was a big grand superhero wedding story, and all my favorite VENTURE BROTHERS characters were there... and overall, I was just kind of bored and disappointed and depressed by it. Phantom Limb had been kind of cool, but now he was just another jerk. Dean's addled, delusional wanderings through the Monarch's engine room filled me with a burning desire to watch nearly anything else, even ROCK OF LOVE, while they were onscreen. The ongoing saga of the Monarch, Dr. Girlfriend/Fiance, the Monarch's two numerically-named henchmen, the revelation of the true identity of the Sovereign... nothing really seemed to work for me. The only thing that really worked for me was watching Brock lead the Monarch's horde of nearly worthless goons in an attack on Phantom Limb's forces... and Brock always works for me.

Which is yet another reason I'm disappointed... apparently, Brock leaves at the end of the third season, and is replaced as Dr. Venture's bodyguard by Sgt. Hatred. Yay.

So, yes, THE VENTURE BROTHERS did grow up to be something far more than it seemed like it could in those first seven episodes, and I did very much enjoy a lot of what I've seen much more than I expected to. But at this particular moment, I largely feel disappointed in the series, and have little interest in watching any more of it, knowing what I do of its future direction.


  1. Certainly, in the end at least some of it may come down to different strokes and the rest of it to the power of expectations.

    Had I come into this with a full hype machine in place, churning and spewing away, it doubtless would have affected my attitudes toward the show. As it was something I came into right at the start, there were no expectations as I began watching something that was a loose parody of Johnny Quest. It was a gradual unfolding for me, with the show growing over the course of the season each season promising and delivering more. Season Two had two relative clinker episodes for me -- Love Bheits and Guess Who's Coming To State Dinner. The former lacked much depth, seeming to mainly be the same homophobic humor played again and again with some bits (Girl Hitler and Catclops) that seemed to be there just because someone there thought they were intrinsically funny; late night drunken humor that they decided to keep in. The best parts of it were the costume party elements up front and a couple of jokes at Hank's expense. The latter episode... I can't put my finger on it. I didn't care for it and found that I had very little interest in watching it again. Eventually I will.

    When the series was renewed late in season two, Cartoon Network signed up for both seasons 3 and 4 in the same contract, which I've seen as being something the creative team took advantage of, knowing they at least had two more seasons to work with. This gave them the opportunity to use much of season three to flesh out not only the existing characters but also to let us see several generations into the past, and probably was what allowed them to separate Brock from them as they ended season three. Had they just been renewed for a single season at a time I suspect they would have kept it tighter, though until I see the wrap of season four I won't be able to say what would have been the essential elements.

    Season four is only half-completed, 8 episodes wrapping this past December, the other half of the season off in this upcoming summer. It's been very satisfying inasmuch that they've been revisiting things, sometimes shifting the perspective to let us see them differently, including at least one scene that very significantly changed what we thought we'd seen in season three. They also surprised me by taking Sgt. Hatred, a character I wasn't even sure why they created in the first place, and made him into someone I enjoyed -- in the right context.

    Anyway, the second half of this season is set to recommence August 22, IIRC, with no word so far about whether or not season five's been authorized... or even pitched.

  2. If I get a chance to watch more VB for free, as I got with the first two seasons, I'll make the time for it. As things stand now, though, the last two eps of Season 2 moved me from "I need to buy these, and the stuff I haven't seen, ASAP" to "Meh, maybe sometime, if I can do it for nothing". Which is about how I feel about the first ULTIMATES collection. If it would ever show up at the library, I'd take it out strictly, as Forrest Whitaker says, for the experience. But I'm not paying for it.

    I am of the opinion that Baron Underbeit is one of those high concepts that sound can't-miss/totally-hilarious when you're throwing ideas around in the writer's room, but that simply fails utterly no matter what you do with it in actual practice.

    However, yes, the bits with the costume party, and 'the Bat', were funny... funny enough that I've heard various people quote those dialogue bits out of context, long before I knew their actual derivation.


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