I admit it: I picked a damned terrible season of The Venture Bros. to review in this format. Not because it’s been a bad season — it’s been very funny on the whole, and never less than interesting — but because there’s so little to appraise in isolation on a week to week basis.
The Ventures aren’t jetting around the world getting into scrapes, they’re not beset by villains of the week, and complications are raised without being resolved.
That’s the nature of the story Doc and Jackson are telling this season. It’s not a problem. In fact, it’s exciting. The lack of a 22-minute hard stop for all of their ideas must be liberating; whenever they need more time to develop an idea, they let it bleed into the next week. And the week after that. These are good things.
But man does it make it had to look at it in weekly chunks and speak about it intelligently. Like any story, you need to look at where it’s going before you get the whole picture. In the absence of knowing where it’s going, all you’re left with is how well is it being told. That’s a great thing to focus on, but I don’t want reviews like this to be various repetitions of “‘Rapacity in Blue’ was very funny.
Having said that, “Rapacity in Blue” was very funny.
The pattern so far this season seems to be one episode of wall-to-wall setup, followed by one episode of partial payoff. So far, I like that; it keeps the plates spinning without leaving us afraid that it’s not going anywhere. I wonder if that’s going to keep up. If it does, I wonder how successful it will seem in retrospect.
The biggest payoff this week came on the heels of last week’s Blue Morpho setup, which isn’t surprising. The reveal of The Monarch’s father being a hero — let alone a hero who associated with Jonas Venture, Sr. — immediately seemed like a fruitful avenue for the show to explore. If I’m worried by anything it’s the fact that it took four episodes to get The Monarch into the Blue Morpho suit.
The slow burn worked, don’t get me wrong, but the story possibilities, the jokes, the atmosphere…everything became so urgently rich that I could spend eight episodes watching nothing but that. (Speaking of which, do we think The Monarch will appear in every episode this season? I’m thinking he will…and if I’m right it’ll be the first season in which that’s the case. He’s long felt like a secondary protagonist for this show, and maybe that’s finally happening from a structural standpoint.)
The entirety of this material was great. There’s plenty of fun to be had with The Monarch simply discovering a cave full of gadgets, but tying it into his bloodline, his destiny, and this show’s always brilliant exploration of the difference between a good guy, a good guy, a bad guy, and a bad guy…it just brings the comedy and the potential to a whole other level.
It’s the discovery of an old video cassette that helps The Monarch accept that his father was a good guy, and it helps him accept that precisely because there was some moral ambiguity to the man. It comes first in the form of a jokey conversation with Jonas and a staged confession to the camera…but let the tape run a little longer and you see your father cheating on your mother, relishing and abusing the power over strangers that comes with fame.
It’s fully possible that the Blue Morpho was a genuinely great human being before he became friends with the self-absorbed, debaucherous Team Venture, but The Monarch here sees evidence of grey around the edges, which makes his birthright — as 21 puts it — a bit more palatable.
And, of course, once he gets into the suit, he becomes a good guy. The clothes absolutely make the man. He starts by toying with the idea of blowing up an aggressive driver (the fact that he only toyed with the idea is major progress for The Monarch) and ends by coming to the legitimate rescue of Billy Quizboy and giddily celebrating with 21 how good it felt to be the hero.
The Monarch has long been a perfect illustration of the show’s artfully hazy approach to good guys and bad guys. In fact, he was arguably the show’s first illustration of that approach…and it’s something that’s been explored by innumerable characters since. (Let’s not forget as well as the constantly shifting alignments between and within the show’s various factions.)
Dr. Venture, too, serves as a constant reminder of the blur between the heroic and villainous…in fact, Dr. Venture may well be responsible for more of the show’s most terrible events than The Monarch, and The Monarch was unquestionably part of more of the human and emotional moments.
21 has also explored both sides of the dichotomy…albeit more actively. When he was a villain, he knew he was a villain. When he was a good guy, he knew he was a good guy. The Monarch and Dr. Venture each reject their “other” side whenever somebody brings it up, but 21 was perfectly willing to explore himself and try to find his actual place in the world. The fact that he’s a villain again — while acting as a hero — is a great way for him to tie those two competing aspects of himself together, actively, with an eye toward personal unification.
In fact, come to think of it, Hatred’s “once a bad guy, always a bad guy” speech to Gary last season seems to have been proven correct. Of course, the big irony there was that Hatred himself was a bad guy who was no longer a bad guy. Then again, he started as a good guy, so maybe the inevitable return to factory settings isn’t such a bizarre thing for him to endorse. There’s the suit, and there’s the man inside the suit. But who is it really?
“Rapacity in Blue” (which has the best episode title in several seasons) still doesn’t tell a complete story, and it starts a couple of new plates spinning with Dr. Venture’s panicky scramble for a new invention and Brock’s sexual frenzy for Warriana — the latter of which seemed a bit odd and which I expected to have resolved in the show’s tag — but it’s also…satisfying. Thrilling. It’s like sneaking away in the middle of the night and getting away with something you know you shouldn’t do. We come home giggling and tripping over ourselves, even if it hasn’t (yet) really amounted to anything.
As ever with season six, though, what happens this week will be defined or redefined or undermined by what happens next week. And I was definitely left confused by a few things.
For starters, I’m not sure why Billy had to be under the effects of the God Gas when he met Blue Morpho. Sure, he concluded it was really Rusty in that suit, but I think he could have done that anyway, and it’s odd to me that the only witness to anything that happened was someone whose perspective is clearly unreliable. It would have been far more interesting to me if Billy was actively convinced it was Rusty, rather than being in every position to doubt himself.
That’s pretty minor, though. More significantly, I’m not sure I buy that Dr. Girlfriend would jump to the conclusion that The Monarch went on a date night with 21…she should be a bit savvier than that, especially since last week she (believed she) saw her husband arching Dr. Venture against her wishes.
Speaking of which, The Monarch knows about Copy Cat’s little ploy last week…so has he discussed that with his wife? There’d be no reason for him to keep it to himself and every reason to tell her what really happened, so I don’t know if we’re still dealing with relationship fallout from last week or not.
It just feels slightly sloppy around the edges, and, if anything, that’s made more clear because the core idea of the episode — and its central thrill — is so well handled. (I also have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the vocal return of 24; I’d honestly expected we were done with him entirely.)
“Rapacity in Blue” is my favorite so far of the season…and it promises some incredible fun to come. I hope we haven’t seen the last of the original Blue Morpho, but this newest incarnation — with a Kano who isn’t even Asian — represents the single most exciting development the show has had in years.
It’s times like this that eight-episode seasons really start to feel like a gyp. Things get interesting just in time to start winding down.
Here’s hoping The Venture Bros. does what it does best, and proves me dead wrong.