What You Should Have Watched – The Venture Bros.August 7, 2009
I feel as though I may be going about this whole morally-superior television lecture series the wrong way, because by starting with the greatest television program ever to grace our pitiable, meaningless existences with its blindingly brilliant presence, I’ve probably undercut everything else that ever appeared on TV unfairly. However, I really like talking about really good TV so I’m not going to change the formula and you’re just going to have to live with being slightly more and more underwhelmed with each additional entry in this already underwhelming feature.
Though The Wire is empirically and unimpeachably the best show to have ever been broadcast at any one time, it does have the one flaw of basically n0t being on television any more, save for reruns on basic cable where they edit out all the good stuff like the swearing and the boobs and, supposedly on BET, all the white-people subplots in season 2 (a fact that I find absolutely hilarious). What all this means is that The Wire regrettably can no longer hold the title of Best Show Currently on Television, which leaves said title vacant. And what program will fill this vacancy like so much caulk? Many have their own answers, but these answers are often stupid and obvious, relying on inferior versions of The Wire (The Shield), or shows people don’t quite realize have been cancelled (Battlestar Galactica), or shows that shouldn’t really count because of their non-narrative format (The Daily Show, etc.), or shows that are actually pretty good but are inferior to the one that I am about to name (Mad Men). To find the Best Show Currently on Television, one has to search beyond conventional television, into the idiotic jungle of Adult Swim. I put forth to you that the offbeat The Venture Bros. is actually the best show on television right now.
I realize right here and now that Adult Swim is, more or less, for retards. The subnetwork’s bread butter has been recycled Hanna Barbera cartoons shitting out farts and talking about Dokken for the past eight years or so, and while I thoroughly enjoyed this kind of thing when I was in middle school, it has to be said that in middle school, I was a retard. I’m still basically a retard now, but I have read at least six (6) books since then, so I am a little more discerning at this point.
The Venture Bros. stands above and beyond the rest of Adult Swim’s fair in several major ways. First, and most importantly, it’s actually animated by actual animators, all of them Korean, none of them drunk 28-year-olds using Flash on a laptop like everything else. This means we get good-looking, dynamic action in the show, instead of glorified .gifs yammering on about stupid shit for 15 minutes. Unfortunately, that also means that a season takes, like, two years to produce, and they only get, like, twelve episodes in a season, so you really do end up paying for that quality. What’s a good analogy here? Wine? Sure: Venture Bros is like a wine that you pour into your eyes and it is funny and endearing.
What also makes Venture Bros stand out from its colleagues in the “mature” animation division is that its two main writers, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, are more concerned with creating an interesting universe full of engaging characters and ideas than just making fun of shit like a gigantic child. This is where Venture Bros really separates itself from the more popular cartoons of this era, the Family Guys and post-season 10 Simpons, and even to a lesser extent the Goode Families: there is so much more to each plot of each episode than just parodying popular culture or going “hmm, wouldn’t this situation be silly.” To be sure, there’s quite a bit of parody and silliness conjecturing, but it isn’t purposeless in the way the previous cartoons can often feel.
The main difference is that parodying done on Venture Bros is based on unpopular media. Anyone in this day and age can parody Mad Men or Lady Gaga or whatever. It’s why we do it on the Squelch – it’s easy, it’s a quick laugh, you can totally savage the media if you really hate it enough, and its popularity guarantees that most people will understand the jokes. Venture Bros, however, has wrapped its narrative structure around an elaborate parody of mostly unpopular things – or has gone one step further and combined two relatively unpopular or old ideas into an amazing ball of ridiculousness. Perhaps the most wonderful example of this phenomena is the character Dr Quymn, a female counterpart and love interest to Dr Venture, who is simultaneously based on Lara Croft, the girl from Johnny Quest, and, perhaps in an only eponymously punny way, Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman. However, the relatively juvenile Quymn/quim works out amazingly, as it is revealed some time later that she is the daughter of a Bond girl-esque female spy. It blows my mind how well that all works.
In a way, Venture Bros feels very personal — when watching it, one gets the feeling of understanding the childhood awkwardness of Hammer and Publick: the weird cognitive dissonance between the fantasy worlds of comics and youth literature and the real world, the amusing realization of the impracticality of how they would hypothetically coexist, and the overwhelming fear of, and gradual acceptance of, the failures of adulthood. Everyone on the show is a failure, because, as the creators of the show mention, everyone ever is a failure to some degree.
There’s something really endearing and maybe even comforting about that thesis. Maybe it’s just because I feel that I, personally, am awful, but the notion that everyone else is sort of awful too warms my inadequate heart right up. The world of Venture Bros is one of sublime failure – its machines move on failure, sprinkled with bits of accidental success and incidental compassion. Somewhere in the middle, there are dick jokes and references to pining for the AT-AT walker toy from the 80′s. And, just as a reminder, its lead-in is that fucking Robot Chicken show, which is immensely more popular. I guess I have to hand it to that Seth Green fellow, thirteen second sketches about Spider-Man pooping are clearly what the people want.
Incidentally, be sure to look out for the two-page spread “What If Life Was More Like Spider-Man Pooping?” in the next issue of the Heuristic Squelch, coming out August 31st!