‘Venture’ on video
Venture Brothers fans have suffered for a year and a half, watching re-runs and waiting for Season 3. Originally scheduled to premiere in December 2007, the third season has been pushed back an agonizing six months to — tentatively – June 2008. This delay, along with the first two seasons’ removal from YouTube, has been enough to force many fans into shelling out $50 for the Season 1 and 2 DVDs.
For readers unfamiliar with the show, it’s a half-hour animated series that airs Sunday nights during Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Adult Swim specifically caters to grown-up children who were raised on cartoons and crave animation with content aimed at an early-twenties demographic. Venture Brothers is laden with pop cultural references ranging from Star Wars to Depeche Mode to David Bowie.
The show is set in a world of idiosyncratic heroes and villains, juxtaposed between their everyday lives and the kind of super-villainy we lapped up while watching Superman as children. Also, in the tradition of Adult Swim, there are lots of references to old Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
In “Viva Los Muertos”, The Venture Brothers’ 24th episode, the gang from Scooby-Doo shows up, but they’re 20 years older and Shaggy is a schizophrenic who thinks the dog talks to him.
Jonny Quest also makes a cameo in the second season, but he’s a gun-wielding heroin addict, driven crazy by decades of isolation in a lab at the bottom of the sea.
The plots are meandering, which is perfect for attention spans sculpted by 30-minute cartoons. There’s lots of animated violence, with backstories and character explanations thrown in out of sequence. It’s not unusual to see a confusing joke explained three episodes later.
References to superheroes also abound. In “Ice Station Impossible” from Season 1 and “Twenty Years to Midnight” from Season 2, Stephen Colbert does the voice of Mr. Impossible, a spoof on The Fantastic Four. However, The Thing is mentally handicapped, the Human Torch involuntarily bursts into flames and starts screaming and the Invisible Woman can make only her skin disappear. Colbert – and his character – will not be returning in Season 3, an unfortunate side effect of the success of The Colbert Report.
Stephen Colbert isn’t the only voice-over talent that makes the show work. Patrick Warburton, the voice of “Swedish murder machine” Brock Samson, has a long list of comedic successes. Viewers will recognize his voice from Family Guy‘s Joe Swanson, Seinfeld‘s Putty, Bee Movie and The Tick.
Instead of trying to remember to stay up until midnight and turn on the TV every Sunday, it’s a luxury to have all 26 episodes, in sequence, at your fingertips. Also, the DVDs come with deleted scenes and Season 1 has a brief episode – “A Very Venture Christmas” – that was never aired. The bulk of the episode centers on the accidental summoning of a Germanic Christmas demon.
Both DVDs have commentary from the show’s creators – Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer – available on most of the episodes. The Season 2 DVD extras also feature a tour – sort of — of the studio where The Venture Brothers is written and animated. It looks like the basement’s basement, complete with kitschy clutter, a stack of electric guitars and Doc Hammer’s oil paintings of melancholy women in their underwear.
The commentary feature offers some insight into the bizarre nature of the show. In the course of the commentary, both writers openly admit to writing the episodes out of sequence and to pulling off some of their best work while heavily sweating over a deadline. Their dedication shows, though, as they agonize over weak lines and tiny details that the casual viewer – or any viewer – would never have noticed.
The Venture Brothers is highly abstract, and any description will inevitably fall short of the real thing.