Adult Swim has produced some of the best adult cartoons around, and what often makes them so compelling and fun for adults is the way in which they play with cartoon genres and the childhood nostalgia for those cartoons. Think of series like Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law which transplants superheroes and super villains into an everyday (although often bizarre and abstract) workplace – a disappointing second career for retired super-beings.
The dissonance between a being of incredible power and the mundane, rule-restricted workplace in which he works – as well as the unexpected moral and behavioral attitudes of said super-being – bring into sharp relief our expectations and the enjoyment we take in seeing these characters challenge them. I mean, Superman must have to do his own laundry. Bruce Wayne must stand in line for coffee and make inane small talk with his baristas just like everyone else. Does Spiderman pointlessly obsess over Candy Crush Saga on the subway after work?
This is the kind of thing that makes The Venture Bros. such compelling and hilarious television. Not only does it occasionally center on the everyday lives of “boy adventurers”, but it takes into account the very realistic consequences of a child raised in unrealistic circumstances. Rusty Venture was the only son (for a while) of renowned adventurer and scientist Thaddeus Venture. As such, he was acclaimed as a boy wonder and science genius in his own right and enjoyed a certain level of fame and respect.
However, boys inevitably grow up and it’s the aging and embittered man trying desperately to deny his own decline that you never get to see in those childhood adventure cartoons. Rusty Venture and many of his friends and enemies are what happens to those Saturday morning cartoons after they grow up. It’s what happens to us when we grow up. It’s a little sad, but ultimately all the more funny for its fundamental tragedy.
And that’s exactly what starts to happen to Hank and Dean Venture as season five progresses. For the first time in years, they are allowed to grow up after the clones that continually replaced the accident prone danger magnets were destroyed at the end of season three. Hank and Dean, rather than staying perpetual boys like you might see in Jonny Quest (who guest stars in adult form as a psychotic, traumatized, hard drugs addict in season two), start having meaningful experiences associated with growing up.
However, this also means that the psychological trauma associated with boy adventuring is also allowed to permanently affect their lives. Dean finds out that he’s merely one of many clones and distances himself from his family in an attempt to define himself. Meanwhile, Hank finds himself drawn to a life of danger and attempt to pursue more adult adventures with his ex-bodyguard Brock. All this is constantly surrounded by the same kind of elaborate adventure stories you might see in any Saturday morning cartoon, but undercut with sharp, adult logic and the mundanity of adulthood.
The season five blu-ray box set of The Venture Bros. is a fairly simple affair, including all eight episodes accompanied by amusing and lightly informative commentary by show runners Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick. The episodes look terrific, and considering the complexity of the season’s running plot, it is highly convenient to have them all available to watch in order, one after another. The handy “play all” option is essential for this purpose.
The commentary is humorous but meandering – going so far as to tell an almost completely unrelated story about Titanic (1997) – but is peppered with occasional references and information about the actual show that fans will find worth the slog. One of the most common and interesting tidbits are running jokes that were proposed but never actually used – like Brock’s obsession with Pocky.
The set also includes two bonus episodes – A Very Venture Halloween (including commentary) and From the Ladle to the Grave: The Shallow Grave Story (including music video) – the latter being a mockumentary about Dean, Dermott Fictel, and H.E.L.P.eR’s short lived band. There are also some short deleted scenes and unused audio that actually aren’t particularly interesting unless you are a fan who likes collecting facts about characters – such as Sgt. Hatred’s real first name.
The packaging itself is beautifully done, with a simplistic design showcasing show artwork done in a particular, comic book-y genre style. It’s really almost like opening up a Hardy Boys novel.
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