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The Venture Bros.: Season 4, Vol. 2
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Questions are answered and truths are revealed. Learn how Henchman 21 copes with life without 24. See what happens when Brock and the Venture family are forced to part ways. Discover the final fate of H.E.L.P.eR. And all the while, the balance of the free world hangs in the hands of Dean Venture, who must kill Hitler.
The Venture Bros. continues its relentless march towards absurd brilliance with this second volume of its fourth season, which unfolds in a dizzying blend of conspiracy theories, convoluted psycho-dramas, maturity rituals, and at least one musical number. The brothers themselves--hapless Dean and thoughtless Hank--continue to grow up (whether they like it or not), with Dean taking on an internship with Professor Impossible (voiced by Bill Hader) that proves to be more than just a résumé builder, and Hank joining the ranks of manhood in a particularly unpleasant manner while investigating his surly pal Dermott's parentage. Both episodes ("Bright Lights, Dean City" and "Everybody Comes to Hank's") are note-perfect examples of what makes the Venture Bros. such a pleasure: clever (but never self-satisfied) writing with a keen understanding of the show's comic book-pop culture roots and just the right blend of crassness and wit. The season's other highlight is its hour-long conclusion, "Operation P.R.O.M.," which brings the season's entire, labyrinthine story arcs to a finale that is fitting, a bit touching, and completely unhinged. Elsewhere, viewers learn along with Doc Venture (James Urbaniak) about the hideous slang term attached to his name, while Brock Samson (Patrick Warburton), Sergeant Hatred (Christopher McCulloch, a.k.a. series cocreator Jackson Publick), and Henchman 21 (cocreator Doc Hammer) resolve some long-standing emotional conflicts. It's a rare thing for a series to continue to grow and even blossom in its fourth season, but The Venture Bros. does both, in its own very odd but charming ways.
Extras on the two-disc Vol. 2 set are, like its predecessor, slim but entertaining: Publick and Hammer provide amusing commentaries for each of the eight episodes in the set, and there's a smattering of inconsequential deleted scenes. Actor Toby Huss, who voices the deeply deluded General Triester, is featured in a segment that has him providing a number of different readings on a line of dialogue, and the set includes several promotional spots for the show during its original broadcast. Viewers should know that the episodes in Vol. 2 are presented uncut, which means that the ridiculously grotesque definitions for a "Rusty Venture" are unbleeped; it's an unfortunate choice, as the adult language tends to cheapen the show's humor. --Paul Gaita
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The Venture Bros. is one of the most intelligently-written shows in the history of TV. It is screamingly funny, it has amazing action sequences, it has probably the most complicated backstory in the history of complicated backstories, and it is a true labor of love. The show is ostensibly an hommage/parody of the old Jonny Quest action super-scientist cartoon genre, taking the perspective of "what if Jonny (Doc Venture in this show) grew up, inherited his Dad's super-science gizmos, realized he didn't have what it takes to be a scientist himself, and was angry and bitter about how he was treated as a kid?" And what if he had two clueless kids (the eponymous Venture Brothers) who have no idea what it's like not to live in a super-science compound? And what if he was surrounded by a bunch of other people as schmucky as he was, including lame super-villains, over-the-top macho secret agents, assorted hangers-on, and the occasional competent person who wonders what he's doing in the midst of all the chaos. But I can't do justice to the story in less than 20 pages; it's _that_ complex. It's worth it, though, because it's so interesting and the characters, despite their failures, are so appealing you want to know everything about them.
The other thing you need to know is that this is the cult show to end all cult shows. It is utterly uncompromising. The creators (Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer) assume you have watched all the previous seasons, and they delight in basing stories on minor plot points of earlier episodes that you've probably forgotten about even if you have seen them (the episode "Any Which Way But Zeus" is a good example of this). They also pepper each episode with hundreds of pop culture references ranging from very obvious to unbelievably obscure (part of the fun is trying to figure them out). So be warned: you need to watch the previous seasons (all of them!) before watching this one. Also, DVD is really the best way to watch the show, preferably on a computer. That way, you can rewind if you miss a reference or ten, and you can pause if you want to go online to the many Venture Bros. fan sites to figure out where you last saw such-and-such a character who just popped up out of nowhere. You'll also probably need to listen to the episode commentaries to really understand every last detail, if you're obsessive about this sort of thing. This sounds like a lot of work, and it is. It's actually kind of ridiculous how much time I've spent chasing down Venture Bros. references, but it's worth it because it makes the show that much more enjoyable. Season 4, part 1 is excellent, but part 2 really hits a new level of awesome, with almost every show being a classic (the one-hour finale in particular is jaw-dropping). Along the way, the characters that you know and love are given greater depth and you start to feel compassion for them (even the villains), even though they're still pretty much losers. In particular, we start to realize that Doctor Venture isn't just a failed super-scientist, he's also the product of horrible parenting from his famous super-scientist dad who warped him so much he's unable to function normally. And every other character has some kind of similar backstory explaining why they are the way they are.
I haven't given you many details about the episodes, both because it would take way too long and because I don't want to spoil the fun. If you like intelligently-written, clever, and amazingly twisted comedy, you will love this show. And watch out for that finale! It'll feel like the Secret President did a Rusty Venture on your Id!
The Dr. Orpheus episodes really shine, but, beginning with "The Diving Bell vs. The Butter-Glider," the major evolutions of the narrative really start to reveal themselves in the most delightful ways. The humor is as strong as ever--exceeding season 3 and rivaling season 2 (which is perhaps the strongest season). However, don't let my reverence for the second season lead you to believe that it's all down hill from there: The Venture Brothers remains consistently strong all the way to Season 6. Aside from the show's innate hilarious nature, the creators have a strong acumen for illuminating the shallowness of certain widespread trends in nerd culture while still managing to remain reverent to certain works and pieces (they certainly aren't afraid of letting their opinions known). One of the great elements of the show is that is doesn't talk down to its viewers when using referential humor. For example, when they fashion a character that alludes to a monster from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they don't just let the allusion rest to show off their expansive knowledge but show that they are fully aware of what they're talking about through acknowledging that they are using an allusion in a specific way: leaving viewers in an interesting position of skipping looking up a reference and focusing on what dialog is actually established with the twist on the allusion.
The animation only continues to grow in beauty, the voice-acting is brilliant (and VERY under-appreciated), and the narrative complexities keep getting better.
Aside from a nice gallery of new characters, the evolution of the primary characters is given full attention. Hank, Dean, Brock, Rusty, The Monarch, Dr. Girlfriend, 21, Dr. Orpheus, Billy, and Pete all go through massive changes: some subtle, some abrupt, all great. Billy and Pete are always golden scene-stealers. Orpheus, who has a very realistic past despite his esoteric and mystical line of work, is given more development than he has in past seasons (along with the Orpheus specific characters like the Alchemist). Sergeant Hatred enters the story in a new way, and he is a wonderful wreck of a man. Of all the characters, I would say that Hank (who paradoxically changes by staying the same) and 21 are the characters who contribute the most depth to this season, and that was hard for me to say because I honestly love all of the characters. Brock is not as present, but that's a major point and serves a purpose to the story. I think the story-line I most enjoy, however, is Dr. Girlfriend/Dr. Mrs. The Monarch's singularity as a character. Aside from the many different elements of humor she brings to the story, her narrative is possibly the most fraught with struggle and inner-turmoil. It's so hard to pick a favorite story-line from this season because so many plots change is great, entertaining, and exciting ways. It's just as fun and hilarious as it is artistically magnificently and poignant.
Among long-running, adult-oriented animation, it is almost peerless. The creative team behind the show work tirelessly to make something that they can be proud of, and they should be. Unfortunately, despite claims of new-found critical attention to animation as a "worthy" artistic medium, this show continues to be overlooked in favor of live-action critic favorites that only perpetuate certain conventions of story-telling that have been monotonously praised--shows that take less effort and risk to produce content that still panders to a very narrow critical consensus of what is dubbed "good TV." Cartoon Network, however, has been bold enough in their selection of programming to allow animators a place to voice themselves and repeatedly show how animation as a more than valid medium, and you'd be hard-pressed to find any show that rivals the genius of The Venture Bros.
PS - Before moving on to Season 5, you should watch "A Very Venture Halloween." It explains a number of season 5 changes that might seem random if you haven't watched that glorious special.
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