"Venture Bros." Season 4 Volume 2: Boys 2 Men via Failure. And Musicals.
Now that the rest of season 4 of Venture Bros. is out on DVD and I’ve gotten through the second half, I find I am of two minds on it. On the one hand, I certainly enjoyed these last 8 episodes of the season, since they come the closest to the heights of the show’s superlative second season. On the other hand, I can’t shake a marginal but persistent sense of dissatisfaction. There’s a small sense of “been there, done that” along with mixed feelings on the way the expanded cast is getting used more heavily, with an odd blend of both relief and disappointment that the show’s intimations of larger plot threads are left dangling in this season. Make no mistake: Venture Bros. is still one of my favorite shows and I got well more than the recommended daily dose of laughs and shocks from this disc, but I still feel like there should be more.
The back half of this season resolves a number of the plot threads from the first half, while throwing in a few new curveballs on the Venture compound. Brock Samson fans will be pleased to note that he makes his comeback in this half of the season, even if a good chunk of the screen time that would have been his in earlier seasons ends up spent on characters like Sgt. Hatred and SPHINX agent Shoreleave (“SPHINX!”). The latter character seems to have become a new Venture favorite, playing a fairly substantial role in nearly every episode on this disc. The other big change this season is actual growth and development for Hank and Dean Venture, as they graduate from their learning beds with high-school equivalency diplomas and take their first steps from failed teenagers to failed adults that seems to be the arc of everyone on this show. Other than that, there are the usual insane plot twists that drive a typical season of Venture Bros., including (but not limited to) entirely inappropriate relations with a piece of machinery, kidnapped henchmen and sidekicks pitted in gladiatorial combat, the sinister machinations of Phantom Limb with a few other returning characters, Henchman 21’s ongoing hangups over Henchman 24’s death and his growing crush on Dr. Mrs. The Monarch, Rusty Venture’s foray into big Broadway musicals, the apparent death of another supporting character, the revelation of one character’s true parentage, and possibly the worst senior prom in the history of senior proms.
These last two plot elements provide the backbone for the two best episodes of the disc: “Everybody Comes to Hank’s” and the hour-long finale “Operation P.R.O.M.” Both parody and homage to classic film noir detective stories, “Everybody Comes to Hank’s” focuses on Hank’s summer job as a detective-for-hire as he chases down the mystery of whether Brock Samson is really the father of Dermott, the hilariously annoying teenager introduced last season. If The Big Lebowski is the Coen Brothers’ warped film noir, this is Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer’s, complete with long stretches rendered in black-and-white as riotously funny hard-boiled dialogue spills out of Hank. Even funnier is how everyone else just plays along with the possible exception of the Alchemist, who gets some of the funniest retorts as he expresses his complete bafflement over what Hank is saying. It’s easily my favorite episode of the show from seasons 3 and 4, with a third-act plot twist that’s still a surprise despite making perfect sense. “Operation P.R.O.M.” comes in as a close second, though, as Doc Venture attempts to put together a prom for his home-schooled kids, with predictably hilarious results. The most impressive trick is how the episode easily swings between the ridiculous and serious plot threads with ease, resolving several of them while setting up foundations for future seasons of the show. A good chunk of the episode is also spent on an extended dirty joke, as a succession of characters attempts to define what a sexual act called a “Rusty Venture” would be with increasingly disgusting alternatives suggested as the episode wears on. The censored version of the soundtrack manages to be funny for an entirely different reason than the uncensored version (both available on this disc), but in either case the gag is funny less because of its intrinsic humor value and more because of the way that the different characters on the show react to it. I also found it impressive that I didn’t realize the season finale was double-length until it was finished—without commercial breaks, it flows so naturally and so well that it just felt like an unusually dense half-hour and still left me wanting more in the same way almost every Venture Bros. episode does.
On the other hand, I have to admit that this sense of wanting more is significantly less than it was at, say the end of season 2. In fact, “Operation P.R.O.M.” feels uncomfortably similar to the finale of season 2, which threatened a radical refiguring of the Venture world, only to back down from the larger changes in favor of only slightly modifying the status quo. I’d believe that my dissatisfaction came from the fact that the show’s original leads often take a back seat to supporting characters in these episodes, but the problem with this theory is that I liked the nutball antics of Sgt. Hatred, the Alchemist, and Shoreleave and think they play off the original cast members wonderfully well. There is no bombshell like the departure of Brock Samson or the death of Henchman 24 at the end of the season 3 finale, or the seeming death of the boys at the end of season 1. Indeed, the finale to this season seems like it was made specifically so that it could serve as the finale for the season or the entire series, and I can’t help but wonder if it might not be for the best if they quit while they were ahead. On the other hand, vaguely unsatisfying Venture Bros. is still way funnier and more entertaining than a lot of other TV shows or movies at the top of their game, so I still find myself looking forward to subsequent seasons of the show.
The only real complaint I can muster about Venture Bros. Season 4 Part 2 as a DVD is that its release on 2 separate DVDs (in two separate snapper cases) means that it takes up twice the room on the shelf as the other releases of the show. The shows themselves are perfectly presented in anamorphic widescreen with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack that doesn’t kick in full force too often, but packs quite a punch when it does. Bonus features are anchored by the now-standard commentary tracks by Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, which are the usual mixture of off-the-wall goofing off, geeky arguments, bizarre digressions, and occasional information. It’s nothing new to anyone who’s sat through the earlier tracks or a Venture Bros. comic con panel, and they’re still worth listening to if you’re a fan. The remaining bonuses are several deleted scenes, a blooper reel revealing the many many many takes they made actor Toby Huss do for a line, and the extremely funny live-action spots starring Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick advertising the season finale.
I still find it almost impossible to accurately identify the source of my vague dissatisfaction with this season. It’s certainly nothing at all like the recent reaction I had to works like SpongeBob SquarePants or Megamind, and I think Venture Bros. is still a good ways off from reaching that point. The show has been remarkably consistent across its four seasons, and this season was definitely a big step up from season 3 in my eyes. I mentioned in reviewing Archer‘s second season earlier this year that sometimes “more of the same” isn’t a criticism at all. It’s still not a criticism here, but I suppose there is a little bit more of it if I find myself saying so about a season 4 than a season 2.