The Venture Brothers Season Two
Starring: James Urbaniak, Patrick Warburton, Michael Sinterniklaas, Christopher McCulloch, Doc Hammer, Steven Ratazzi, Lisa Hammer
"The Venture Brothers", part of the Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" line-up, is an animated send-up of "Johnny Quest", "The Hardy Boys", superhero comic books, and just about every other boy's adventure staple you can remember from your childhood. A lot of the humor comes from injecting adult sensibilities, angst, and vulgarity into traditional Saturday morning cartoon scenarios. The show is the brain-child of writer-producer-directors Jackson Publick (aka Christopher McCulloch) and Doc Hammer (aka "Eric"). Publick previously worked on both the animated and live-action versions of Ben Edlund's, "The Tick", and as with that show, it is clear that Publick and Hammer have a tremendous familiarity with and affection for the material that they are satirizing. The low-budget animation, which fits the show's low-budget aesthetic, is produced traditionally with the aid of overseas animation houses.
The major characters of the show are:
Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture (Urbaniak) - Former boy adventurer and son of fabled super-scientist who is now a frustrated mediocre super-scientist with two boys of his own.
Hank Venture (Sinterniklaas) - Impulsive but not too bright son of Dr. Venture who is fond of white shirts with a blue kerchief.
Dean Venture (McCulloch) - Slightly less dumb but more romantic and naive brother of Hank, who is fond of sweater vests.
Brock Sampson (Warburton) - Domestically-skilled and homicidally-inclined former secret agent who was assigned as a bodyguard to the Venture clan and then all but forgotten by his agency
Dr. Byron Orpheus (Rattazzi) - Skilled necromancer who wants it understood that necromancy has nothing to do with sleeping with dead people. He is a single father who is allowed to stay at the Venture compound, and performs light chores such as lawn maintenance
Triana (L. Hammer) - Goth-teen daughter of Orpheus, she is a target of constant crushing by Dean.
Pete White (McCulloch) and Master Billy Quizboy (D. Hammer) - Albino homosexual and cybernetic-handed lisping genius little person with modest aspirations to super-scientist adventures of their own.
Jonas Venture Jr. (Urbaniak) - Dr. Venture's twin which he consumed in their mother's womb, but who eventually grew inside of him (don't ask where) until freeing himself to emerge (don't ask how or from where) as a diminutive man towards the end of the first season.
The Monarch (McCulloch) - Dr. Venture's arch-nemesis who dispenses his evil with a butterfly theme.
Dr. Girlfriend (D. Hammer) - The Monarch's much more intelligent girlfriend who looks like Jackie O, with a touch of Barbarella, and speaks in a voice slightly higher than Barry White's and slightly less gruff than Harvey Fierstein's.
The Phantom Limb (Urbaniak) - Possessor of deadly but invisible arms and legs, he is the businesslike head of the Guild of Calamitous Intent answering only to the mysterious Sovereign. He is also a rival for Dr. Girlfriend's affections.
21 (D. Hammer) and 24 (McCulloch) - Two regular Joes in the Monarch's crew who offer us insight to the life of a henchman, or, as The Monarch believes they sometimes prefer to be called, a minion.
Note: The following synopses include what some may consider to be mild spoilers, so skip this section and head right down to the The Video comments if you would rather avoid these than read my summaries and comments about the episodes. I promise I will not take it personally - KJM
Season One ended with the title characters being blown up and killed, so Season Two begins shortly after our protaganists' demise...
Powerless in the Face of Death - We see how the various characters in the show adjust to the boys' deaths. Orpheus pursues various unsuccessful supernatural means to bring the boys back. The Monarch plots his escape from prison while 21 and 24 attend support group meetings for former henchman. We learn that while Dr. Venture was wandering the Earth in a haze after the boys' demise, Jonas Venture, Jr. earned multiple degrees, becoming "Dr. Jonas Venture, Jr." and already seems to be a more capable super-scientist than his brother. Dr. Venture and Brock finally bring the boys back and reminisce about the previous thirteen times they died. This is a very funny episode with tons of side stories and a very humorously easy way of getting the boys back on the trail of adventure after being blown up.
Hate Floats - The Monarch escapes from prison bent on revenge against both Team Venture and The Phantom Limb, who has stolen the limited affections of Dr. Girlfriend. Things go awry when the new henchmen rounded up by 21 and 24 consist primarily of inner city gang-bangers with no respect for chain of command or Guild of Calamitous Intent rules about the use of firearms.
Love Bheits - Team Venture, in Star Wars costumes except for Hank who is dressed as Batman, find themselves shot down and trapped in "Underland" (somehere near Michigan). Baron Underbheit imprisons all of them except for Dean whom he decides to marry after seeing him in his Princess Leia slave girl costume. The remaining team escapes and hooks up with a prank-loving rebel faction before mounting a rescue attempt for Dean. This episode has some amusing Star Wars references, a catty pair of eunuchs, and girl Hitler - so what's not to like?.
Escape to the House of Mummies, Part II - This episode starts in the middle and stays there. Orpheus helps Dr. Venture escape from the mummies' pyramid so he can get help for the imprisoned boys and Brock. After an argument with Orpheus, he gets sidetracked into a useless technology vs. magic shrinking contest and forgets about the boys and Brock, whom we periodically see traveling through time and interacting with Edgar Allen Poe and their earlier selves (since Dean accidentally set the time machine to 12:30 AM instead of 1230 AD). The conceit of this episode presenting us part two of a three part story of which the beginning and end will never be produced is a pretty funny one, and the episode would be worth it if only for the encounter between Orpheus and his cerebus-esque master. We also learn why Triana always wears the same clothes.
Twenty Years to Midnight - The discovery of a video tape made by Jonas' father two decades earlier sets Team Venture off on a quest to gather and assemble the pieces of a device that will help save the world. Along the way we encounter an adult, stir-crazy, drug-addicted Johnny Quest living in an undersea pod, the Fantastic Four-like "Impossibles", and the 12 foot tall armored Grand Galactic Inquisitor, who is only there to observe. It's hard to explain, but the Grand Galactic Inquisitor's constant yelling at people to "Ignore Me!" gets funnier every time he says it. Professor Impossible is voiced by truthy comedy talk-show host Steven Colbert.
Victor, Echo, November - The boys go on a double date with Triana and her friend, Kim, while Dr. Venture stays home to watch "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas", which turns out to have a lot more singing and a lot less sex than he was hoping. Coincidentally, at the same restaurant where the boys are dining, The Monarch and his new internet girlfriend, Jollyrancher82, are meeting with The Phantom Limb and Dr. Girlfriend so that he can complete his paperwork to re-up with the Guild of Calamitous Intent and purchase the necessary insurance. The Monarch cannot hide his jealously, and in a heated moment of one-upmanship, The Phantom Limb orders the destruction of Team Venture, which will not happen if a naked blood-soaked Brock has anything to say about it. A disgusted Dr. Girlfriend walks away from the men at her table and recruits Kim as a super-villainess. This is a good episode for fans of The Phantom Limb, as you get at least four conflicting accounts of his origin. It is also one of the few animated shows I know of where fully a third of the episode seems to take place in a restaurant men's room
Assassinanny 911 - Brock is called back by his employers to bring down his former mentor, so he hires his mercenary former rival/girlfriend, Molotov Cocktease, to look after the Venture family. The highlight of this episode is the parallel Apocalypse Now style assassination sequences as Brock closes in on his mentor and Dean decides to kill his father after accidentally stabbing himself with a drug-tipped spike in one of Molotov's stilettos. This episode originally aired much earlier when the season was broadcast, but is properly sequenced on the DVD to avoid what would be a minor continuity error relating to the "Kim" character not having met Hank and Dean before "Victor, Echo, November".
Fallen Arches - The Guild of Calamitous Intent decides that Dr. Orpheus has qualified for an arch nemesis, so he takes the opportunity to re-assemble his old team, The Order of the Triad, with blacula slayer Jefferson Twilight and The Alchemist. Dr. Venture gets jealous and tries some one-upmanship with his latest invention, the Walking Eye.
Guess Who's Coming to State Dinner - The Gargantua-1 space station crashes to earth, landing on a nest of terrorists, which earns Team Venture an invite to the White House. With the help of the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, the boys uncover a plot to assassinate the President involving crash-surviving Colonel Bud Manstrong and his manipulative mother. This was probably my least favorite episode of the season due primarily to its willful pointlessness, but the Manchurian Candidate references, mother Manstrong's aggressive flirting with Brock, and a montage of the boys collecting five dollar bills to paste over Lincoln's ghost provided enough entertainment to get me through it.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills - The boys are kidnapped by a crazy woman claiming to be their mother, Dr. Venture is terrorized by a Japanese Demon, and the Monarch becomes enamored of the mysterious advisor Dr. Henry Killinger. Somehow, this all comes together in a Mary Poppins-inspired finale. This is another comparatively weak episode, but I did love the Henry Killinger character. Usually, any episode where Dr. Venture needs help from Orpheus is a funny one, but those segments of this episode did not click for me. Similarly, Dr. Orpheus' mystical consultations with his metaphorically-inclined Master are usually funny, but the whole Catherine the Great with a stallion thing is a bit too gross for my tastes.
¡Viva Los Muertos! - Brock kills a bunch of Henchmen when they attempt to attack the compound, and Dr. Venture takes the opportunity to reanimate one of them into a Frankenstein-like creature. Brock finds himself in a bit of a funk, and turns to Dr. Orpheus for help. Meanwhile, a group of middle-aged mystery solvers wander into the Venture compound and become convinced that it is haunted. This episode was written by Ben Edlund, creator of "The Tick", and is the only episode of the season not written by Jackson Publick and/or Doc Hammer. The middle-aged quasi-Scooby gang is very funny with Ted (Fred) bullying everybody around, Val (Velma) spouting man-hating manifestos, and Groovy (Scooby) looking mangy and acting paranoid.
Showdown at Cremation Creek (Part 1) - The reunited Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend plan their nuptials, with a wacky sitcomish contrivance leading the Monarch to ask Dr. Venture to be his best man rather than be caught in a lie. The Phantom Limb takes his frustration out on everyone that the Monarch knows, but is instructed by his superior, the Sovereign, to not seek revenge.
Showdown at Cremation Creek (Part 2) - The Phantom Limb defies The Sovereign, who is revealed to actually be a "Thin White Duke", and attacks during the wedding ceremony - kidnapping Dr. Girlfriend. He overcomes the Sovereign by secretly enlisting the aid of his henchmen Iggy and Klaus. Team Venture and the Monarch henchmen combine their resources to fend off the attack and mount a rescue attempt for Dr. Girlfriend. Meanwhile, Dean finds himself isolated from the rest of the group in the bowels of The Monarch's ship, and after finding a pop can ring, begins hallucinating that it is a ring of power and he is a boy-hero in a fantasy adventure world with elements of the Star Wars galaxy, Middle Earth, The Neverending Story's "Fantasia", Oz, and other mythical lands. This was a great way to end the season while also bringing the show producers' obsession with David Bowie to its zenith. There is an amusing cliffhanger involving Dr. Girlfriend that I will not spoil.
The shows are all presented in their original 4:3 aspect ratio. The good news is that the color and black levels for the show are spot-on and are noticeably superior to my viewings of it via my satellite service. The bad news is that the video transfer is not properly encoded for progressive playback. This, plus some artifacts of the show's low-budget production which result in motion artifacts when "camera moves" occur, makes it an occasionally frustrating experience to watch on a large progressive display.
I have no such complaints about the audio, which exceeded all of my expectations. Each episode is given a spiffy 5.1 remix even though this was not indicated in the promotional material before release. The surrounds are occupied by music and occasional discrete directional effects when appropriate. Fidelity and dynamic range are as good, and maybe even a little better, than one would expect from a recently produced television program. English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo tracks are also available for each episode. No foreign language dubs are included, but subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French.
Chief among the extras are commentaries from showrunners Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer on every episode. The commentaries are very jokey in nature, but they sprinkle in some candid assessments of their work and the decisions that went into it throughout. Unfortunately, Jackson Publick seems to drift away from his microphone and his comments are occasionally at a much lower level than Doc Hammer's making it difficult to understand him. They occasionally have guests, such as voice actor James Urbaniak (Dr. Venture) and Michael Sinterniklaas (Dean Venture) on select episodes, and answer their ringing phone a few times in the middle of commentaries. Doc Hammer also comments while chewing food a few times which nicely demonstrates how he achieves his "Master Billy Quizboy" voice. Amusingly, the very first sound you hear in the first commentary on the disc is a voice mail message from a Cartoon Network executive telling them that they will not be able to use the music they wanted to open the episode. Publick and Hammer then explain how they eventually were able to get it anyway. As a side note, while the big-time profanities are normally bleeped out on the episodes themselves, the commentaries do not have any such restrictions applied.
In addition, on disc two, there is a collection of deleted scenes from all of the episodes. Some are in the form of storyboard animatics, and others are finished animation. They range from minor scene extensions to completely new material. However disturbingly unfunny I thought the Catherine the Great bit was from "I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills", the deleted scene shows that it was originally intended to be even more graphic.
Finally, there is a 20 minute tongue-in-cheek featurette called "A Tour of Astrobase Go", which takes you on a journey to and through the orbiting moon base where the show is produced with narration by Master Billy Quizboy and Pete White. You also learn more than you will ever want to know about Soul Bot.
The disc packaging is very cool. It comes in a 2-disc digipack in a cardboard slipcase. The slipcase and cover feature highly stylized comic book art showing collages of various characters from the show and a list of episodes with brief credits and synopses. The artwork is given a faux-distressed look with fake creases making it look something like a well-traveled dossier. The disc's menus are also graphically interesting, employing a film strip style that advances or reverses linearly through the appropriate number of frames with each menu selection. There is a slight awkwardness to how it is implemented in that every time you select an episode to view (or the "play all" feature), you must answer yes or no to whether you want to watch it with commentary.
The Venture Bros. Season Two offers a nice packaging of the episodes with a generous helping of extras that are substantial and entertaining, although not always at the same time. The 5.1 mixes are an unexpected treat, but the video presentation is marred somewhat by a lack of proper encoding for de-interlacing/progressive playback. Those new to the show may want to start with Season One, which sets up a lot of the characters and scenarios that play out through these episodes, but even without that background, there is still plenty to enjoy if you are the type who appreciates sporadically vulgar satires of the conventions of Saturday morning cartoons and comic books. For fans of the show, this set is all you will be getting until season three airs, tentatively scheduled for early 2008, so meter it out carefully.