"Kahlua, Hershey's syrup, and a dash of red Kool-Aid!" And, here you have the Red Moco Cooler. My new segment is named after Dr Venture's preferred bizarre cocktail. Yes, I'm creating a series dedicated to one of my all-time favorite animated comedies, The Venture Bros! I almost included this in my main series, Scotch & Spandex, which is dedicated to all things superhero related; but my love for this show demanded that I give it some special attention. We all know articles and reviews of the VB can easily fit into that original category, what with the OSI, the Guild of Calamitous Intent, and various superhero parody characters in the show, but I wanted to go more in depth. I plan on doing a complimentary podcast to this article as well as weekly reviews of the new season, so it felt right to dedicate a part of my Bar to this long running and influential show. I don't want to spend too much time explaining why this is an amazing show that deserves a significantly larger fan base (it is, and it does), but rather take a look back on some of the better qualities of the show, along with characters and moments that are near and dear to my heart.
Letting Jokes Marinate
Showrunners Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick are masters of adding more to their world with every episode, as well as creating story arcs that span over entire seasons. Yes, seasons. Plural. So, it's not a large leap to think they would do the same with jokes spanning over years. This'll range from a single off-handed question that doesn't get answered till years later, to an off-handed "so-and-so is off doing ___" only for that ____ to be the focus of several episodes...4-6 years later.
The first thing that comes to mind is in season 4, it's stated that Jonas Jr is up in space, working on his Gargantua-2. The ep in question was "Handsome Ransom," which originally aired on October 25, 2009. Then in 2013, with "What Color is Your Clean Suit?" an entire episode (hour long special) was dedicated to Rusty hastily (and irresponsibly) making the Ray Shield for said Gargantua-2. They were adding some spice to that joke that's been sitting on the back-burner for 4 years. And finally, on January 19, 2015 did we get to go to Gargantua-2 in a famous hour long special. Almost 6 years of letting that idea cook, and it paid off spectacularly.
An old fan favorite of this technique of letting a joke marinate would be Billy Quizboy's hand and Phantom Limbs invisible...well, limbs. In one of my favorite episodes in season two, "Victor. Echo. November." several jokes/references are made to Billy's prosthetic robot hand and Phantom Limb's invisible "murder hand thing," the joke being that no one knows how these things happened. Billy doesn't even know. A good portion of that episode is dedicated to crackpot theories to figure it out. The next season, two years later, we are treated to the episode "The Invisible Hand of Fate." Another classic episode, in which we follow Billy and Pete White in the past, and learn the origins of various characters. Well, not their whole origin stories, but how they came across their unique features. Since it's in the past, we get Brock as an agent in the OSI, with Colonel Hunter (my #1 favorite character), the "the Nozzle," and the introduction to my favorite sassy gay sailor, Shore Leave. Also, there's a semi-effeminate albino beating the shit out of a severe Hydrocephallic with a Playstation 2. Not at videogames; but with the actual console. He physically knocks the guy unconscious. Twice.
The last thing that comes to mind (I'm trying to do the least amount of research, only getting episode names and air dates) is how the show will introduce background characters in early seasons, never give them a name, and 5-10 years later will they be re-introduced as a second or third tier character. One example is Augustus St. Cloud. He was introduced in season 1, during "Tag-Sale, You're It!" as a fancy boy looking at girly mags, but he never had a name. We see him again here and there over the next decade, but not until season 5 does he come back with a vengeance as Billy's new Arch-enemy. His super power? Having "lots of money." His reintroduction was him driving up to the Venture compound in the Batmobile, really driving that point home, since that was Batman's only real power, too.
A variation of that gag is a main character referencing a some random person by name, but we have yet to see them. Monstroso, Crime-o-dile, and Truckules come to mind. Truckules was mentioned back in season 1 and we didn't see him till the end of season 2. Truckules is a behemoth of a man whose torso is made up of a semi-truck. And, the same happened with Monstroso being mentioned in season 1, but we don't see him till season 4. This guy is a supervillian, a lawyer, and a literal giant. These jokes are little treats for us dedicated fans, allowing us to get more out of viewings, remembering small scenes or casual one-liners from years back, and finally cashing in on them.
Not unlike the highly praised Arrested Development, The Venture Bros operates on a higher plane of comedy. From the afore mentioned long set up, to joke-a-second quips, multilevel puns, visual gags, and characters just getting down right goofy. In fact, the goofy characters are one of the points where VB really shines. My favorite character, the recently promoted General Hunter Gathers (Yes, his name is Hunter Gathers. Ha!), was Brock's former superior officer/mentor, based on Hunter S. Thompson. He's a gruff and harsh man whose a little off his rocker. But, he's very effective as a super spy. We are introduced to him during, "Assassinanny 911," in which we see he's a little looney and more than a little paranoid, but we are also given several great quotes.
"The minute God crapped out the third caveman, a conspiracy was hatched against one of them"
"No women, no children. Them's the rules. Separates us from the baddies."
One thing that gets me about the writing of this show is the dialogue. The cadence. Take Hunter for example. In that second quote, he spoke in a gruff manner. Each tiny sentence is spoken in short bursts. Hunter also usually speaks with lots of changes in his volume. He rarely uses long sentences, and I don't think I've ever heard a run on sentence from him; but there'll be more on the dialogue of the show in a little bit. Not everyone understood that second quote meant that Hunter would never kill a woman or a child. He left the "killing" part out of the phrase. This adds some subtly to him. A lot of times, what he says requires you to put a little thought into them. Whether he's making a raunchy joke or says something to move the story along, Hunter usually speaks in idioms...many of which he makes up on the spot. Hunter goes from being the crazy older super spy to getting as sex change (which is why Brock couldn't kill him in that one ep. No women, no children, remember?). A few seasons later, Colonel Hunter Gathers had his gender reassigned back to male, became the head of S.P.H.I.N.X. and then was bequeathed the OSI, now becoming General Gathers. How crazy is that side story?! I'll finish up my love letter to General Gathers with my favorite quote from him.
"Brando's got us on our bellies, and he's reaching for the butter!"
Another ridiculous character, and one of the most entertaining, is Dr Byron Orpheus. The Dracula-lookin necromancer, and single father. Sadly, there's been some consistency issues with him. Originally, as necromancer, he was able to bring people back from the dead.
"No, no, Sweetie. Zombies are animated bodies without souls. This is a regular resurrection. Stop crying, Pumpkin. I’ve done this hundreds of times. David Blaine, Evil Kenevil, both Daddy’s clients. As was Ronald Reagan, till he bounced a check."
Take a second to think about that. This is a father consoling his crying daughter because she thinks he's going to make zombies out of her recently deceased friends. It's cute, I know. But, sadly, in the fourth season, when Henchman 21 wants Dr Orpheus to resurrect his dead best friend, Henchman 24, Byron isn't having it. I'm not sure if he just didn't want to do it, or if Doc and Jackson forgot they gave Bryon that ability, but he just doesn't raise the dead anymore. Dr Orpheus explains "necromancer" is just a cooler word than wizard or warlock, and since those are now sorta lame, he'll stick with the cooler title.
Dr Orpheus also has a this manner of speaking...not unlike something from Victorian England (hence the Dracula outfit). The accent itself is not a proper Victorian Queen's English, but it is vaguely English. He also does over dramatic yells, rolling of his Rs when he's emotional, and uses Victorian vernacular. All of these traits make him adorable and endearing, but they also relegate him to an outrageous character. I always thought the writers struck gold with him.
Another favorite of mine: Henry Killinger. Yes, he's inspired by Henry Kissinger. He's old, German, has an accent, a deep voice, wears a black traditional Dr's outfit and a black skull-like mask. Plus, he carries around something called his Magic Murder Bag. Nothing further is needed.
As I mentioned before, the show has amazing dialogue. Not only does every character have their own manner of speaking, but the flow of verbal exchange is something I've never seen before in an animated comedy. At least not until Archer came along. I mentioned how General Gathers speaks in short bursts with lots of changes in his volume, but he also accentuates various words in a way that really allows the joke to land. Another character with a special verbal patter is the Monarch. He's perfectly voiced by Christopher McCulloch (who also voices General Gathers, and this is the real name of Jackson Publick). While The Monarch is prone to switching from softly spoken phrases to loud yelling, al la General Gathers, he doesn't speak in short quips, rather, he speaks as a supervillian should. Over-the-top exclamations and fun long monologues.
One reason that all of the voices are done so well is because most of them are done by the showrunners. At least 2/3rds (remember, not doing much research) of the characters are voiced by Doc and Jackson, so they don't have to direct the performance of these characters. They perform the lines exactly as they originally intended.
Just as important as the particular cadence of any given character is the verbal exchange between them, as I mentioned earlier. It's not unlike Tarantino. Remember that bit about "le Royal with cheese" in Pulp Fiction? Well, check out this bit about a certain older stripper's breasts.
Ignoring the hilarious subject matter, I love the nature of the exchange. This feels like old pals genuinely riffing on some sadsack of a stripper. Complete with strangely personal analogies and a sense of shared shame. The whole show is pattered in a similar vein.
This one was a little longer, but this exchange between Brockness Monster and Shore Leave is golden. It's not unlike a sitcom, with the perfect joke setups, but the random stream of consciousness quips and puns made this stand out in memory. Plus, Brockness Monster. Ha.
All jokes aside, I genuinely place these guys on the same level of dialogue as our era's greatest screenwriter/dialogiest, Aaron Sorkin. (I'm sure Ian will want to bicker with me over that claim at some point in time.)
Fan Theory Factory
Because this show has such long breaks between seasons, it allows for crazy ass fan theories. Back in Oct of '06 was the end of season 2. The last bit of that ep was Dr Girlfriend (who has yet to be given the name Dr Mrs the Monarch) had to confess something to The Monarch, and this confession makes him scream "what?!" at the top of his lungs. The people that actually watched the show in school had tons of ideas of what was going on. We had no idea that it would be the Council of 13 was the real reason that Dr Girlfriend forced The Monarch to leave Rusty alone. Everyone thought it was her confessing to be man (genetically), or that she was pregnant, or the Moppets were her kids, or some other weird shit.
If you follow the Venture Bros subreddit, you'll see theories of The Monarch and Rusty being being brothers, or even clones. There are theories that Hank and Dean never had a true mother, and they were clones of Rusty. There was also a theory that Henchman 24 wasn't really dead, since he gave accurate info to 21 that he "couldn't have known without a ghost really talking to him."
I make an effort not to indulge myself on some crazy theories while I wait for new seasons or episodes, but I do have fun with the fact that so many other people do. From time to time I'll check out the subreddit and read some theories for funsies and see how other people interpreted different lines or applying various parts of the VB universe lore to different aspects of the show. The fact that Jonas Sr perfected cloning allows for many things to go off the rails. The fact that Jonas Sr was a swinger also allows people to go nuts. (There's one theory that Dr Quinn was Rusty's half sister. Have fun with that) Add the fact that Jonas Sr was a swinger and that photo of little Rusty and little Monarch, and now people have tons of theories that they are related in some manner or another. Fans of this show go rampant with half-baked ideas, and it adds to the show's allure.
To accompany this special look back at the Venture Bros is the first in a two part podcast dedicated to the show, with special guest star Rock Sampson. And, yes, he's named after the person you're thinking of. We'll be discussing our favorite aspects of the show, jokes that stand out in our minds and various homages the show has made to other movies and TV shows, as well as just having fun talking about The Venture Bros.