The Venture Bros. has been quietly plugging away on Adult Swim for over 15 years. The brilliant animated series has become a staple of the network, but with the show’s minimalist staff, it often takes years for a new season of episodes to hit. In spite of these lengthy waits, the show’s fanbase remains stronger than ever and new seasons of the show are treated like reasons for celebration.
It’s incredible to see how the show—both in its storytelling and its animation—have grown and become more advanced over the years. The Venture Bros. Season 7 wrapped up last year and it in many ways was the most rewarding and full season of the show since its inception. The Venture Bros. continues to evolve over time, but while we patiently wait for The Venture Bros. Season 8, here’s a look back at our 25 favorite episodes from the series.
25. The Unicorn in Captivity
Season 7, Episode 7
“The Unicorn in Captivity” is an exciting episode for the fact that Rusty’s science actually leads to the creation of something so incredible—a teleportation device—that it needs to be destroyed, lest it get in the wrong hands. There’s a lot that works in this episode, like the Monarch’s shoehorned involvement in a villainous heist to secure Rusty’s teleportation device and the many reminders that he is just not a team player. While all of this is entertaining, Rusty finds himself in an Eyes Wide Shut scenario that promises him a lifestyle of Illuminati-esque delights if he hands over the teleportation device.
This all becomes even better after the episode’s big twist at the end reveals that Rusty’s entire storyline has been a manipulative simulation. On top of this, there are also some very clever teleportation gags in the final act of the episode that would make Chell proud (that’s a Portal reference).
24. Escape to the House of Mummies, Part II
Season 2 Episode 4
“Escape to the House of Mummies, Part II” is a great example of how sharp and inventive the show was, even in its earliest seasons. There is no “Escape to the House of Mummies, Part I” and the episode takes advantage of that by throwing the audience right into the tail-end of an insane time travelling escapade that involves the likes of Sigmund Freud, Edgar Allen Poe, and Caligula. You’re desperate for exposition and answers and the episode gleefully withholds them.
It’s a great demonstration of how crazy the show can get with its episodic stories, but additionally, this is really an episode that’s all about science versus magic. The bulk of the installment pits Dr. Venture against Dr. Orpheus in a “shrinking” competition. It’s a brilliant way to blend heady themes with ridiculous storytelling and the results are surprisingly deep.
23. Handsome Ransom
Season 4 Episode 2
“Handsome Ransom” isn’t everyone’s favorite episode, but it deserves credit for being a 22-minute dissection of Batman’s unhealthy relationship with Robin. Venture Bros.’ Batman surrogate in this case is Captain Sunshine, who’s run through a slew of Wonder Boy sidekicks through the years. Due to some unexpected circumstances, Hank finds himself in Captain Sunshine’s orbit and becomes the man’s new Wonder Boy. “Handsome Ransom” really doesn’t hold back on the dirty secrets that Captain Sunshine hides behind closed doors and the fact that everyone whispers and knows about his indiscretions is even more disturbing.
This is a genuinely upsetting installment and the fact that Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman from Batman: The Animated Series, voices Captain Sunshine and is willing to portray such an evil version of his iconic character is impressive. The way in which the Monarch breaks Captain Sunshine’s mind during the final act and uses his pedophilia against him is one of the darker endings of an episode, but it’s one that takes a risk.
22. The Invisible Hand of Fate
Season 3 Episode 3
The Venture Bros.’ Season 3 develops an interesting trend where many characters receive flashback episodes that help color in their past. “The Invisible Hand of Fate” does exactly this with Billy Quizboy, and by extension Pete White, but it also provides a fascinating look into what at this point has only been a strange supporting character.
“The Invisible Hand of Fate” is a truly fitting name for this installment because Billy’s past ties together with many other characters in a surprising way. The episode provides explanations for Billy’s cybernetic eye and arm, but also explains that he was a vital component in the disaster that turns Fantomos into Phantom Limb and gets Brock stationed to be Rusty’s bodyguard. It’s a triumph that this episode doesn’t just collapse under its own weight. It’s a strong example of the show beginning to tell stories that are larger in scope and figuring out how enriching it can be for the show’s universe.
21. Rapacity in Blue
Season 6 Episode 4
As The Venture Bros. goes on, Dr. Venture, Billy, and Pete find themselves in an increasing amount of Three Stooges-esque scenarios and the trio definite work best when they’re in over their heads with some super sciene. “Rapacity in Blue” sees the team concoct the absurdly dangerous, “God Gas,” which is ostensibly a mind control hallucinogenic toxin.
Unsurprisingly, the God Gas gets out of control and causes a lot of people to hallucinate (Harangutan included, who is always a welcome presence) and lose control. “Rapacity in Blue” is also right in the height of the Monarch’s Blue Morpho storyline. Here, he and 21, fully embrace their roles as Morpho and Kano, and proceed with their plan to eliminate Dr. Venture’s list of arches so they can reclaim the position. It captures the best of what that storyline has to offer.
20. Red Means Stop
Season 6 Episode 8
Like many season finales for The Venture Bros., “Red Means Stop” impressively sees many of the year’s major storylines dovetail together. This time around, the Guild and the OSI temporarily align in order to take out Blue Morpho, once and for all. The major piece of this plan sees the OSI and Dr. Venture use his latest arch, Red Death, against the Monarch. Red Death is an extremely fun character all around, but the fact that he has an unblemished record for killing his enemies makes him even more interesting here. In spite of how he should be terribly intimidated, the Monarch is resilient with his desire to take on Red Death.
“Red Means Stop” manages to defy conventions in a number of ways, but perhaps the best one is that Red Death and the Monarch just have a deep heart-to-heart here about the importance of rules and why villainy is important to them. It once again shows that these villains contain multitudes and it still packs in a ton of action to bring the season to a close (as well as a hilarious final reveal about the death of all of Venture’s previous arches).
19. Arrears In Science
Season 7 Episode 3
The Venture Bros. Season7finds a lot of poignancy in calling back to the show’s first season and providing reflections to many of its a earliest episodes to illustrate just how much this show and the characters have grown. “Arrears in Science” is the conclusion of the “Morphic Trilogy” that begins the season and by and large puts much of the show’s old baggage away and starts anew in many respects. There’s a ton of backstory that gets revealed in this episode, but the real focus is on the painful relationship held between Jonas Venture and the Blue Morpho, Don Fitzcarraldo.
The show has always hinted at how terrible Jonas is, but this episode really puts it on display. Jonas’ relationship with Fitzcarraldo is meant to play parallel to Rusty’s relationship with the Monarch, but Fitzcarraldo is very much the victim here. The tragic answers behind Rusty and the Monarch’s parents hit hard and there’s a set piece at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade that makes for the beautiful conclusion to it all.
18. A Very Venture Halloween
Season 5 Special
Believe it or not, the show’s Halloween special is actually a surprisingly satisfying installment. Not only does it find away to provide its own uniquely bizarre spin on what’s already a dark holiday, but this episode is full of big revelations that irrevocably change the show. “A Very Venture Halloween” effectively balances a number of spooky storylines, some of which are lighter, like Dr. Venture’s wager with Billy and Pete that no trick-or-treaters will make it past the security measures and reach the front door, and others that are considerably heavier, like a zombie apocalypse.
The best parts of this episode see Orpheus and his supernatural friends get out of control with their powers and cause the undead to walk the Earth. Orpheus in panic mode is always enjoyable, but the conclusion here involves the all powerful Master take the form of Santa Claus to extinguish the problem, which is a pretty brilliant end for a Halloween special.
This is also the episode where Dean learns that he and Hank are clones, which sets him on a major trajectory that diverges from Hank for the rest of the series. It’s a major turning point for the character.
Also, all hail the pleasure toast.
17. Powerless in the Face of Death
Season 2 Episode 1
The first season of The Venture Bros. has plenty of charm, but “Powerless in the Face of Death,” and by extension the show’s second season as a whole, helped elevate the show to something much more impressive and ambitious than a weird Johnny Quest parody. “Powerless in the Face of Death” kicks off the second season after the major cliffhanger of Hank and Dean not only dying, but Rusty’s flippant remark that they were apparently clones. This season premiere unpacks that idea to great detail and even explores the 14 other times that the previous Hank and Dean clones perished (that Batman death never fails to make me laugh for just how awful it is).
There’s a lot of table setting in this episode, including the Monarch’s prison breakout and Jonas Jr.’s rise in the field of super science, but it’s the material on Rusty that really connects. The self-discovery that Rusty goes through during this period of freedom, set to “Everybody’s Free,” still remains as one of the season’s best and most effective sequences to date.
16. The Venture Bros. & The Curse of the Haunted Problem
Season 7 Episode 1
Jonas Venture Sr. has always been a colossally important character in the series, but for the most part he’s been someone that’s only been looked at in small doses. “The Venture Bros. & The Curse of the Haunted Problem” finally really looks at what went down with Jonas and attempts to put the topic to rest. Accordingly, while much of this season premiere episode looks back to the past, it also ties back to the ProBLEM light from previous seasons, which makes all of these revelations look like they’re all the more brilliant and part of a more intricate tapestry.
The central premise here is that there’s the belief that a ghost is loose in VenTech Tower, but this is just a clever way to get to something much deeper. Debate rages on over whether the source of this weirdness is supernatural in nature of just some complex computer virus, but the discovery that Jonas Sr. himself is the cause of this disturbance is even better. This episode only allows the briefest of reunions between Rusty and his father before everything goes to hell, which makes this meeting all the more painful.
15. Showdown at Cremation Creek (Part II)
Season 2 Episode 13
The Venture Bros.’ capper to their second season features a wonderful free for all of super villainy that blows the show up both figuratively and literally. “Showdown at Cremation Creek” is really when Phantom Limb is at his most terrifying and illustrates how effective he can be as a villain. His plan here is to assassinate the Sovereign of the Guild of Calamitous Intent and usurp his position, but it’s even more ridiculous to learn that the Sovereign is David Bowie…kind of (he’s a shapeshifter who takes a liking to rock stars).
This finale puts an end to the Monarch and Phantom Limb’s season-long feud, it finally weds the Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend in holy matrimony, and there’s also a ridiculous Dean fantasy sequence that ends up playing a major part in saving the day. “Showdown at Cremation Creek” is a strong, contained conclusion to a show that was very much continuing to grow.
14. The Revenge Society
Season 4 Episode 5
“Showdown at Cremation Creek” is very much Phantom Limb at the pinnacle of power before everything crashes down around him, but “The Revenge Society” is a fascinating look into the shell of a man that these events force him to become. Phantom Limb now operates under the name Revenge and appears to be insane on many levels. His team consists of a coffee mug, toaster, and a shoe named Lady Nightshade that he appears to have conversations with. In spite of Phantom Limb’s apparent madness, he’s frighteningly effective in his work and soon his mission to steal the powerful Orb from he Venture compound is complete.
Phantom Limb is successful here, but the biggest twist is that the Orb—an artifact that’s been at the center of the show for seasons now—is actually broken and doesn’t do anything. Phantom Limb is once again a failure and he’s denied the right to take over the Guild, in spite the entitlement that he feels towards the position.
13. Bright Lights, Dean City
Season 4 Episode 13
The Venture Bros. pulls off an unofficial two-parter of sorts with the fourth season’s “Bright Lights, Dean City” and “Everybody Come to Hank’s,” which are companion pieces to each other, yet focus on different Venture brothers. “Everybody Comes to Hank’s” appears to be the more beloved of the two installments for most people, but “Bright Lights, Dean City” stands out to me more for the crushing dynamic that it presents between Dean and his father.
It’s very much played for laughs here, but it definitely hints at a larger problem that festers as the show goes on. Rusty shacks up with Dean in his dorm in New York City and makes his life over there a living hell. He mooches off of his son and somehow finds his Broadway musical, Rust!, going into production. Rusty’s dynamic with the Brown Widow is great and makes for a solid introduction to another new character. Dean’s internship at Impossible Industries also leads to some strong character beats and Rusty inadvertently causes a rather morbid sequence of events where all of Professor Impossible’s team go through body horror agony.
12. The Family that Slays Together, Stays Together (Part Two)
Season 3 Episode 13
The big finish to the show’s third season is an extremely gratifying display of carnage as well as a reinforcement of the show’s core beliefs. Off of the events of the episode’s first half, Brock very much holds his own against the O.S.I.’s best assassins, but that doesn’t mean that still can’t use backup. Enter the Cleaner, who’s a great injection of testosterone to what’s already an aggressive cast. In many ways this finale is a celebration of all things Brock. He not only outsmarts the O.S.I. and the Monarch, but he finds the confidence to leave his organization and forge his own path.
This marks Brock’s exit from the season for some time, but the conclusion also knocks off Henchman 24 and forever changes Henchman 21, Gary, in what’s some of the series’ best character development to date. On top of that, the episode’s big flashy climax features the mass execution of all of the remaining Hank and Dean clones, which means they’re on their own now. This episode is all about saying goodbye to certain safety nets and it’s The Venture Bros. at its most courageous.
11. What Color is Your Cleansuit?
Season 5 Episode 1
It seems like any time that Dr. Venture gets a budget to throw around and some interns at his disposal that some of his worst blunders take place. This is yet another situation where Rusty blows a grand opportunity and falls in the shadow of his brother, but what makes this incident so special is that there are mutants! Glorious, flesh-eating, multi-limbed mutants!
Some radiation gets out of hand and soon Venture and company are fearing for their lives from what’s become of their work staff. Gary’s also Sphinx Commander in this episode and totally kicks ass in the position. You go, Gary! If that’s not empowering enough, “What Color is Your Cleansuit?” shows off how much the Monarch actually needs Gary. Later installments solidify the two as a team, but this marks the start of the Monarch showing vulnerability in their dynamic. “Emo Dean” also makes his debut here!
Season 3 Episode 11
The Venture Bros. Season 3 is when the plot really starts to become more complicated in nature. There was a very Lost-like mystery in play that had many characters in pursuit of an all-powerful Orb. This episode doesn’t shut the door on that storyline, but it provides a fascinating glimpse into the previous generations of these characters and the hidden origins of the Orb in the first place.
Major details about the Guild of Calamitous come to light and Brock’s entire mission gets re-framed in a fascinating way. “Orb” may be an oddball entry for many, but it’s a great example of what kind of scope this show can cover. It’s an episode unlike any other, but the story is so rich you could do an entire spin-off series set during that time period.
9. The Better Man
Season 4 Episode 7
Dr. Orpheus has been an incredible character the moment that he entered the series, but he’s quickly grown into one of the show’s most dependable sources of amusement. He instantly makes any episode better and “The Better Man” is the series’ big Orpheus showcase installment. Dr. Orpheus may be a master of the mystical arts, but he’s also just a human being that struggles with relationships like anyone else.
Orpheus and his Order of the Triad struggle to extinguish the villain Torrid, but the Outrider handles it with ease, which only rubs in for Orpheus how this man who took his wife is superior than him. What follows is a bittersweet, supernatural story that empowers the Order of the Triad in many ways (and Jefferson Twilight gets supernatural powers! Woo!), but it also confirms to Orpheus what a pushover he is. He understands that he needs to become more assertive, but he’s still a ways a way from reaching that place. It’s an honest, intimate look at what can sometimes be a very broad character.
Season 4 Episode 6
This might be my favorite plot that The Venture Bros. has ever done. Rusty and a bunch of other boy adventurers are in therapy together and then need to solve an impromptu murder mystery. Rusty, Action Johnny, Ro-Boy, Wonder Boy, and Hardy Boys surrogates, Lance and Dale Hale, spill their guts and bitch about their tortured past together in therapy when suddenly their therapist dies via snake bite. The natural instincts of these former boy adventurers kick in, but their current hang-ups hold them back from greatness.
What follows is an extremely cathartic episode where these characters all get to expel their demons and Rusty actually gains some perspective and learns to appreciate his family and what he has. There’s also a beautiful moment of reconciliation with Dr. Z that’s enough to make anyone a fan of the character. This is The Venture Bros. at its most empathetic and psychological.
Plus, the reveal at the end that Gary is actually responsible for the snake that takes out the therapist as a means to end Rusty’s therapy interruptions from battle is also the perfect way for the episode to go out and a totally logical explanation for what happened.
7. Twenty Years to Midnight
Season 2 Episode 5
The second season of The Venture Bros. is still trying to figure out what it is in some respects, but that desire for experimentation leads to such lightning-in-a-bottle installments as “Twenty Years to Midnight.” This is a random story of the week, but the fact that it still gets quoted and stands out amongst fans is a testament to its power and the eternal weirdness of the Grand Galactic Inquisitor.
The funny thing about this episode is while it isjust a one-off installment, it underplays the extremely high stakes of the storyline. If Rusty and company don’t assemble a device by midnight, mankind will be doomed in some respect. The strict time limit is infuriating for Rusty, but he also has a heap of distractions running around him, like the Grand Galactic Inquistor, Professor Impossible, and a drug-addled Action Johnny. It’s an early standout that packs in a ton and still holds up well to this day.
6. Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel
Season 4 Episode 1
“Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel” is arguably the most ambitious episode that the show has ever done. This installment goes all over the place and features such craziness as a Brock and HELPeR hybrid a la Iron Man, the return of Steve Summers and his lovable Sasquatch, but most importantly, an insane plot that involves cloning and the spirit of Hitler being trapped in a bulldog. This episode intentionally throws a lot at the audience, and furthermore, the episode is purposefully presented out of order to increasingly muddle what’s going on.
Cobbling together the cohesive, chronological order of “Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel,” is one of the most satisfying parts of this installment. The other joy is when it clicks in that the structural device that dictates the episode’s chronology is the CGC grading of a Marvel Comics #1 that depreciates in value over time. It’s an incredibly bold way to tell a story, but it’s an idea that’s something that only The Venture Bros. would ever attempt.
5. The Lepidopterists
Season 3 Episode 10
“The Lepidopterists” brings consummate O.S.I. professionals Doe and Cardholder, into the fray and The Venture Bros. is forever more awesome as a result. These characters are throwbacks to old hard-boiled film noir detectives of the ‘20s, but they’re a great, menacing foil to play against the Monarch and his lackeys. Doe and Cardholder are given carte blanche to eliminate the Monarch, lest he do the same to Jonas Jr (this includes a glorious Voltron-esque giant mecha fight sequence).
The entire time it looks like the Monarch’s situation is becoming increasingly grim, but it turns out he’s been in control of everything the whole time. His plan works out and due to his uncanny foresight, he’s able to pull off the difficult transition of switching arches from Jonas Jr. to Rusty. It’s an episode that speaks to the undying determination of the Monarch, and how he can actually be rather capable, as well as setting the table with new and powerful players.
4. Tag Sale – You’re It!
Season 1 Episode 10
This is the only episode on this list from The Venture Bros.’ first season and it’s not some obligatory inclusion to reflect the show’s beginning. “Tag Sale – You’re It!” is just an incredible illustration of this unique world in full swing. Dr. Venture holds a large yard sale and tries to sell off old inventions and super-science tech in order to get out of the red.
Obviously the majority of the interested buyers are either fellow scientists or supervillains, which means that this event is basically an excuse to get all of these extreme characters together and see what happens. Even the Monarch’s grand scheme here is petty vandalism, rather than anything drastic. The point of this episode is to just take a step back, get lost in these characters, and watch how this world operates on its own.
3. The Doctor Is Sin
Season 3 Episode 2
Good and evil are fluid concepts and The Venture Bros. understands that idea painfully well. One of the most enriching themes that the show has played with is that evil people might actually be better at being heroes, or vice versa. “The Doctor is Sin” dives head first into that concept and with Rusty Venture of all people.
Dr. Henry Killinger steps in as Rusty’s evil mentor and tries to tempt him to the dark side of super-science. He’s not able to successfully persuade Rusty to swap sides, but the lasting ramifications of this proposal certainly linger with Rusty. The idea that he very well might be a better supervillain than he is a scientist is legitimate (especially when he’d be arching Jonas Jr.) and this identity crisis is something that even carries over into Dean and Hank and where their allegiances lie in the show’s later seasons.
2. All This and Gargantua-2
Season 6 Special
As the super-sized installment’s name indicates, “All This and Gargantua-2” really does offer up to the audience everything possible and then some. It’s very much the end of a chapter for the show, as it wraps up a number of storylines and character arcs before the Venture family take their inherited riches and relocate to New York City.
Features a colossal casino heist (long before The Force Awakens or Black Panther) set on Jonas Jr.’s Gargantua-2 that’s orchestrated by Killinger and the Revenge Society. The episode not only features some of the best action from the series, but there’s a relentless, ruthless pace to it that makes anyone feel dispensable. Hell, even the Sovereign is offed in a way that happens so casually and for comedic relief that it’s hard to believe that it’s real. The majority of the Council of 13 get wiped out here, there’s an amazing brawl with the original Team Venture, and Phantom Limb once again proves that he’s the biggest motherfucker courtesy of a massive backstab to gain Council seats. It also all functions as a fitting tribute to Jonas Jr., who Rusty is finally able to appreciate, and all it took was losing him.
1. Operation: P.R.O.M.
Season 4 Episode 16
“Operation: P.R.O.M.,” the big finish to the show’s fourth season, gives you everything that you’d want in a Venture Bros. installment. This hour-long finale wisely uses Hank and Dean’s prom as its foundation, but the theme of growing up is rampant through every character and people like Brock and the Monarch experience major shifts as this season comes to a close. At the height of chaos in this episode, a number of assassin prostitute transform into hideous insect creatures at Hank and Dean’s prom, leading Brock to go homicidal on the monsters. The image of these unconventional family dodging insect guts while they stick together is one of the most beautiful and fitting encapsulations of what this show represents. Dean also tells the Outrider to go fuck himself, so clearly we’re through the looking glass here and into a new chapter of this show.
All of this makes for such the perfect finale and crystallization of what this series is about that it’s not surprising to hear that this was low-key meant to function as a series finale for the show if Adult Swim didn’t bite for more. While the show has only gotten better and more mature in its later years, “Operation: P.R.O.M.” would have made for an excellent finish, if necessary.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem and his perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.