On the 19th of May, a little show you may not have heard of will wing its way back onto our screens in the US. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if comic book rules applied to the real world, or if you’ve ever wanted to see what would’ve happened if Jonny Quest had been allowed to grow up and face his post-“boy adventurer” days as an adult, or even if you’ve just ever paused to think about how absurd the very notion of “arch villains” really is, then you need to be watching this show. It’s called The Venture Bros. and it’s a must-see for geeky folks like us, so here’s a list of reasons why you should catch up before the season five premiere.
We geeks love a good pedigree, don’t we? If we know that a writer used to work/learn from someone whose work we already respect, then we’re all the more likely to give them a chance. Such is the case with The Venture Bros. The show is written, directed, and edited by Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, whose names you probably aren’t familiar with. But what if I told you that Jackson used to work on The Tick? If you’re familiar with that cult classic, then I’ve probably just gotten your attention. Now what if I take it one step further and tell you that Doc and Jackson were introduced by The Tick creator, Ben Edlund, who is the only person other than the two of them to ever write an episode of this show? At least a few of you just decided to give this show a chance, didn’t you? We geeks love a good pedigree, and this show has a great one.
It turns genre conventions on their head
The basic premise of the show is this: Doctor Rusty Venture – former boy adventurer in the same vein as Jonny Quest – is now a failed adult super-scientist raising his twin boys, Hank and Dean, as a single dad along with the family’s bodyguard Brock Samson. Why does the family have a bodyguard? Because they’re under daily threat from Rusty’s various arch enemies. At the forefront of these enemies is The Monarch – a butterfly-themed supervillain – and the Monarch’s paramour, Dr. Girlfriend, along with their seemingly endless supply of henchmen.
But there are rules in this universe for “arching.” There are organizations. There’s insurance.
The antagonists (the more PC term for “bad guys”) belong to The Guild of Calamitous Intent, which has an extensive rule book to regulate the vengeance process. It includes rules such as if the protagonist has a medical emergency, all arching must be halted while the protagonist seeks treatment — only to pick up exactly where it was halted once that emergency has been resolved.
You have not lived until you’ve seen a supervillain in full-rage, right on the verge of fully destroying their arch-enemy forever, have to pause and put a pin in it because the protagonist has a doctor’s note that day.
They also play with the idea of henchmen via two of The Monarch’s men, 21 and 24. (All of the henchmen are given numbers instead of names, signifying how disposable they are.) Somehow, despite being henchmen, 21 and 24 seem impervious to the dangers that kill off so many of their comrades. Eventually, they become aware of this fact and use it to their advantage. What follows is a brilliant deconstruction of the idea of redshirts and what happens when two redshirts are elevated out of that status.
This show loves geeks — for real
We’ve all seen shows and movies that try to represent geeks and mostly just end up making fun of us. Not so with this show. Not only does this show know its geek lore/include tons of references, but it respects geeks more than any other show I can think of.
21 is a huge geek. He’s the kind of guy who describes something amazing as, “like Christmas, my birthday, and meeting the cast of Firefly all at once,” and, upon finding that Rusty Venture has built a real-world lightsaber, pronounces, “I’m gonna cry.” But his geekiness saves him and his allies on more than one occasion — most notably when they find themselves out of weapons and instead raid his collection of geek memorabilia to arm themselves with Lord of the Rings replica swords and Magneto helmets. And not to spoil anything, but without giving too much away, 21 becomes one of the show’s most compelling, multi-layered, and badass characters.
This show loves geeks and respects us, probably because the writers are pretty big geeks themselves.
Well-rounded, three dimensional characters who defy tropes
The first character this show introduces us to is Venture bodyguard Brock Samson. Brock is “half-Swedish, quarter Polish, quarter Winnebago.” He refuses to use guns, preferring to work only with his favorite knife. He leaves a bloody trail wherever he goes, and has absolutely no problems with that. He’s excellent at his job, and literally everyone on the show is afraid of him to some degree or other. Pretty much your stereotypical badass bodyguard/murder machine. On the other hand, he loves the Venture family fiercely, will throw himself in front of all manner of busses to keep his teenage charges safe, and keeps an herb garden – not to mention he possesses a blind spot a mile wide when it comes to his affection for his on again/off again paramour/rival, Molotov.
On the flip side is Brock’s partner and closest friend in later seasons, Shore Leave. Shore Leave is loud, flamboyant, and effeminate, which leads a lot of people to underestimate him. But like Brock, he has hidden depths, and he kicks major ass. He’s able to take on an entire room of antagonists by himself and come out of the encounter with barely a scratch. Looking at the two of them, you’d never imagine they’d be able to get along, but together, they form an unstoppable team.
This show is not afraid to take risks
I’m treading carefully to not reveal any major plot twists, but here’s what I can tell you: too often, a show will end a season with a huge cliffhanger that completely changes the came — only to quickly buy it all back within the first few episodes of the next season. Not so with The Venture Bros. Season three ends with two huge cliffhangers and rather than use the first few episodes of season four to “fix” the alterations to the dynamic of the show that those events left in their wake, season four explores the new normal and there’s absolutely no hints that season five will undo them, either — if anything, the trailer for season five seems to indicate even more big changes. The writers of this show know how to keep the storylines fresh and exciting and constantly reveal more nuances of each character, but perhaps just as importantly, they’re not afraid to take a gamble.
The past matters — and so does continuity
One of my favourite things about the original Star Wars trilogy is that the past mattered — the events of Anakin’s life years before the first film have a huge, lasting impact on the saga of Luke and Leia. I loved the same concept in the Harry Potter book series — the choices of not only Harry’s parents, but also going even further back to the choices of a young Albus Dumbledore are constantly hovering over the series and impacting everything that’s happening in the present. The same concept holds true in The Venture Bros.
Rusty Venture wasn’t just a boy adventurer — he’s the son of the infamous Jonas Venture, a successful, competent scientist who worked with his own team of protagonists and had his own arch enemies. Not only do the effects of constantly being kidnapped and held hostage as a child take their toll on Rusty’s adult life, but so does the legacy of a man who he can never live up to. (One of the over-arching themes of the series is failure.) And that’s not to mention that Jonas’s friends are still around, still popping in from time to time to wreak havoc, drag up the past, and affect the storyline of the present.
On this show, continuity matters. The tiniest of details comes back to haunt you later on as a hugely important plot point. Characters who are casually mentioned as one-off jokes (the villains on this show have the best names) are suddenly absolutely vital to the story and the mythology of this universe. Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick remember every detail of their fictional universe and they love to reward you for remembering those details, too.
Without a doubt, the strongest point of this series is its character growth. Nothing is static on this show — relationships change, characters age, and time heals all wounds (while simultaneously picking the scabs off of some old ones). Hank and Dean, the central characters of the show, are growing up. Their sheltered existence is slowly being peeled back as they near adulthood and their relationship to the world they live in is changing as a result. I can’t spoil too much for you, but suffice to say that the boys are deciding what their role is going to be in this wacky universe full of heroes and costumed villainy.
This show is tailor-made for a geeky audience and never fails to leave me in hysterical laughter. The writers of this show just get us, and the tropes that make up our geeky interests. They know how to play into those tropes while simultaneously turning them on their heads, and how to give us one of the best ongoing mythologies I’ve seen in a long time.
The fifth season premieres in the US on the 19th of May; you’ve got time to catch up on the first four seasons. In the meantime, “Go Team Venture!”
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