"Venture Bros" Season 3 DVD: Third Time Around with Those Seexxxxy Children
It’s understandable if a TV show starts getting more insular by the time it hits its third season. So, it’s not intended as a criticism to say that the new DVD or Blu-ray set of The Venture Bros.‘ third season is not a very good introduction to the show’s wonderfully demented world. You should probably back up to start at the beginning and progress through the second season before hitting this one. Then again, my wife got into the show with this season, so maybe I’m completely talking out of my ass here. Or maybe she just did it specifically to prove me wrong, since she is my wife and that is her job. She’s very good at it.
The punch line is that season 3 of The Venture Bros. is still scathingly, bizarrely funny, and it’s important to say so now because a whole lot of what you’re about to read is going to sound like I hated the season when I didn’t. However, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the show took a noticeable step down from the first two seasons—the laughs aren’t quite as long or as memorable, and a whole lot of episodes feel pretty insubstantial. If you don’t care about what bugs me about it, feel free to skip down to paragraph 10 below, where I talk about how cool the packaging and the extras are.
The Venture Bros. began as a parody of Jonny Quest-style animated adventure shows, with the dense title characters being the children of Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture, former child star and son of the famed scientist/adventurer Dr. Jonas Venture. They are accompanied on their globe-trotting misadventures by their bodyguard Brock Samson, a massive man-mountain of concentrated lethality who also acts as their driver/pilot. Season 3 starts almost immediately after the bad guy wedding between the Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend at the end of season 2. If you already own the first two seasons on DVD, you already know all this, and if you don’t, then why didn’t you listen to me in that first paragraph? Really, start with season 1. You’ll thank me for it. We do all this for you. I bet you’re the type who reads the last page of a book right off, too.
ANYWAY anyway …
One of the biggest weaknesses this season seems to be the crew’s penchant for origin stories. Origin stories are a staple of the comic book superhero stories that inspire The Venture Bros., but they’re really not all that interesting on their own, and are useful only if they define character traits or mirror future events. Unfortunately, most of the origin stories this season do neither. I don’t think it ever crossed my mind to wonder about the secret origin of Billy Quizboy or Pete White, and I can’t say that I was more enlightened about either after watching “The Invisible Hand of Fate” (although the G.I. Joe parody in the episode is viciously funny). “Shadowman 9: In the Cradle of Destiny” fills in a few blanks about Dr. Girlfriend (who switches to Dr. Mrs. The Monarch this season), but doesn’t manage to make the Monarch any more interesting. Similarly, the pseudo-psychoanalysis of “The Doctor is Sin” is just more repetition of Rusty Venture’s father issues—ground well-trod in the first two seasons. These episodes really only end up S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G things out that we already knew.
These backstory bits work best when they’re secondary to the episode, as they were in prior seasons. “Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman” holds a gender-bending mirror to Team Venture to reveal a mystery love in Rusty’s past, with the echoes of the past coloring the hilarious present. Similarly, Dr. Orpheus and his partners in the Order of the Triad are fleshed out just enough through asides and throwaway lines, but they spend the bulk of their time moving plots forward in the episodes when they appear. In a sense, the problem with all these origin stories, even the more successful ones, is that the show is at its best when it’s being extremely irreverent, but these stories force the show to take itself a bit more seriously than it can really sustain.
In general, it also seems like this season is a lot less cohesive than season 2, where the majority of the season ultimately led up to the big two-part climax. Most of this season is devoted to “The Monarch Hates Dr. Venture” themes that already sustained the show for two seasons and are beginning to look a little worn around the edges. Not many of the episodes truly build on each other, as they have in the past. The season’s climax even feels a bit like a rehash of the season 2 finale. Knowing Brock Samson’s big surprise in the closing minutes of the finale casts a few of his more impatient asides in a different light, but other than that, the whole big, splashy thing feels like it came out of nowhere.
Again, though, this is not to say that the show isn’t still hilariously funny. We still love to laugh at these idiots, and the season gives us plenty of opportunity to. Dr. Orpheus was plenty funny on his own, but watching him interact with his former superteam ends up making all of them a whole lot funnier. We also get a few new characters that rapidly become indispensable, such as the wet-your-pants funny ex-pedophile Sgt. Hatred and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch’s psychopathic former henchmen Kevin and Tom-Tom, the Murderous Moppets. The show has also lost none of its touch in creating ludicrously funny one-off characters like the unfortunate Dr. Dugong. Really, any criticism of the third season of The Venture Bros. has to be taken in context— “less funny” for this show is still a whole hell of a lot funnier than many other so-called comedies.
The DVD set for The Venture Bros. is a wonderful package from start to finish. The gag of the retro Atari-game packaging continues for both the disc sleeve and with the 8-bit blocky graphics and tinny music used in the DVD menus. The DVD packaging states that the episodes are the “Standard Version,” which is usually code for full-frame, but the DVD presents all the episodes in a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen in terrific 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and I imagine the show looks even better on Blu-ray, if you can afford it. This is also the first set that is completely uncensored, with four-letter words and naughty body parts in all their glory on screen. It’s plenty funny to hear the Monarch or Brock Samson drop an occasional f-bomb, but in one case, the cartoon nudity is funnier in the censored version—specifically, Rusty Venture’s nightmare psychotherapy sequence in “The Doctor is Sin” when he sees his father’s one-eyed trouser snake over breakfast. Censoring Jonas Venture Sr.’s wing-ding makes it part of the whole gag that Rusty can’t deal with how much better (and bigger) his father was. Unfortunately, for better or for worse, seeing a man’s heat-seeking moisture missile on-screen is still rare enough that it ends up being the only thing people focus on, and the amount of attention it gets is directly proportional to size (witness the gallons of digital ink wasted discussing Dr. Manhattan’s love cannon in the movie version of Watchmen). Seeing Jonas Venture’s morning glory in all its elongated splendor ends up being a distraction, when censoring it actually let the joke play out better.
And there I go, proving my own point.
Commentary tracks are provided for all 13 episodes, although it’s just Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer all the way through—no guests this time around as on earlier commentary tracks. Including the commentaries doubles the value of the set, since the fans serious enough to buy this will also want to listen to all of them. Listening to them is like attending a Venture Bros. panel at a convention: there isn’t really a lot of information in any of them, but the extended digressions and bizarre arguments the pair get into are plenty entertaining enough on their own. The exception is the commentary for “Orb,” where the pair declare that they’re going to try to do a straight-up commentary and, surprisingly, more or less stick to that promise all the way through, turning in an enlightening track as a result. If you only listen to one commentary on the set, that would be the one. Other than the commentaries, the only other extras are a set of deleted scenes that were recorded and storyboarded, but cut before animation. Most of the cuts are for time, since the majority of them are actually pretty funny.
In the commentary track for “The Lepidopterists,” Publick and Hammer talk about the dilemma facing bands who have been around for a while. If they stick to their same sound for years, “you look at them like they’re dinosaurs,” but if they start doing something different, people get angry at them for not keeping their sound. I’m not entirely sure whether they were aware that The Venture Bros. itself was subject to this same catch-22 after only two seasons, but it was. The good news is that only the top shows are subject to that contradiction; the bad news is that you can find yourself feeling both sentiments at different times throughout this season of the show.