The Venture Bros. Reviews: “Tanks for Nuthin'” (season 6, episode 5)

The Venture Bros., "Thanks For Nothin'"

It’s too early to say whether or not the one-long-story experiment of season six works, but I am thinking, at this point, that it hurts the show.

Believe me, I look forward to the opportunity to eat my words, but for now, it’s difficult to stay invested in a show that’s content to plod along without bringing anything to a conclusion…or necessarily nearer a conclusion. Without the benefit of rising and falling action (we get those things, just not in structurally significant places) we’re left only with the humor to enjoy. And that’s actually a pretty massive departure for this show.

Before season six I rewatched a load of older episodes, and I was struck by the long, joke-free sections of the early seasons. As funny as I remember the show always being — and, indeed, those older episodes are still quite funny — there was a lot of sitting around. A lot of scheming and expositing. A lot of arranging the pieces now for a bigger payoff later. It worked very well, and it worked very well because the writing and the characters were strong enough to keep us invested. (The tension in many of those stories was impressively generated as well.) We didn’t need every line to be a joke; it was enough to spend time with these characters, in this world.

Now we’re in the middle of one long story, and I can’t even tell you exactly what that story is. We still don’t know what Wide Wale is doing, for instance. He negotiated arching rights to Dr. Venture, but evidently farmed the responsibility out to lesser villains. He’s manipulating The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend somehow, but is it because The Monarch killed his brother or is that not a story thread we’re actually exploring? And does he even need to be manipulating them right now, from a narrative standpoint? Isn’t The Monarch sewing enough seeds of distrust himself?

What about Hank and Dean? Hank is seeing (or will start seeing?) Wide Wale’s daughter, and Dean’s in college now, but it’s hard to call either of those things stories when nothing beyond the setup has taken place.

Brock has some kind of story unfolding, but I’m not sure how much of it is deliberate. I’m not referring to his infatuation with Warriana — though I like that aspect of it quite a lot — but rather his change in attitude. In the “Hostile Makeover” comments, Casey pointed out something that hadn’t registered with me: other characters got the drop on Brock a shocking number of times. It was a great observation on its own, but the rest of the season seems to bear it out as an actual change in character. Hyper competent, deeply focused, impossibly aware Brock seems to be gone, replaced with a big guy content to distract himself by watching videos on his JPad.

I find that interesting. Brock used to fill his downtime by lifting weights or practicing with his knife, and now he’s sedentary. Characters do get the drop on him, and regularly, including the big scene with Think Tank this week taking place only because Brock was paying no attention at all. Say what you will about Hatred; had he been at that front desk, he’d have known something was coming.

In fact, speaking of Hatred, I remember the backlash to his “replacement” of Brock in season four. At the time Jackson and Doc responded by saying that Hatred allowed them to tell different stories than they could tell with Brock, and they were right. Brock was so effective at his job that in order to put the family in any kind of danger, they’d have to find some way to pull him out of the action. But even more interesting, Brock was disinterested in the world around him whereas Hatred was engaged and enthusiastic. (For a perfect illustration of this, see “Home is Where the Hate Is,” in which Brock detaches from a “bad party” that Hatred himself is throwing. The difference between them — and the kinds of stories in which they could participate — was never more clearly on display.)

I bring this up now because this incarnation of Brock can lead to different kinds of stories as well. He’s neither as competent as he once was nor as personable as Hatred is. He is, in a sense, the worst of both worlds as far as a bodyguard goes, and I wonder if that’s intentional. If it’s not, that’s worrying. If it is, that’s potentially fantastic.

And what’s Dr. Venture’s story? Yes, he’s preparing — off and on — for the Science Now conference, and we see that he cares about it for some reason, but I still don’t have a sense of why it matters to him, or of what’s really at stake. (Surely VenTech is already in the public eye for other reasons; he can unveil a grand new idea any time.) Additionally, it’s not as though the narrative is “building” to anything; it’s just something that comes up now and again and gave him a reason to paw through his brother’s abandoned projects.

Dr. Venture is in an odd place with the show right now. He’s a (arguably “the”) central character, so personal growth for him tends to come in small, temporary flashes. He’s humanized by his tragic past, but his present-day existence is constant, and we always return him to where he was. He can’t change too much, because he anchors the show.

…except that he doesn’t. There’s been very little Dr. Venture this season, and in some of the show’s best episodes he didn’t feature at all. (Or featured very little.) A reluctance to let him evolve as a character is understandable, because you don’t always want to evolve the core of your show, preferring to let growth occur naturally around the fringes. But now Dr. Venture is at the fringes. He has a chance to grow and to change without altering what The Venture Bros. is today…and still he doesn’t, which I think is what’s making it difficult for me to care much about Science Now or, in a larger sense, the future of VenTech.

Here’s why I say that with confidence: we’re watching The Monarch grow and change right now, and it’s not altering what The Venture Bros. is. It’s also the one thing keeping me truly engaged this season, and it’s the single most thrilling development the show has had in years.

Funnily, The Monarch has changed a lot. From the very first season we’ve seen him struggle in his relationship with Dr. Girlfriend. We’ve seen him happy with her, then alone without her. We’ve seen him fight to get her back. We’ve seen them get married. We’ve seen them adjust (with varying success) to new arches. We’ve seen his fortunes rise and fall, and now we’re seeing him explore a new identity altogether. There’s been a lot of change, that is to say, with The Monarch, and it’s been handled quite well. That’s what makes it frustrating that Dr. Venture — his “good guy” counterpart — doesn’t get to take these big leaps as a character, and is confined to a couple of steps in this direction or that.

There’s a rush of excitement that comes with the Blue Morpho material, both for the characters and for us. There’s a feeling of strong forward momentum, of not knowing where the story will take us but of knowing that it will be a great ride. And so far it’s been great stuff, giving 21 a brilliantly natural opportunity to benefit from both his newly-developed physical prowess and his encyclopedic knowledge of comic books…as well as giving The Monarch a fresh new outlet for his outsized theatrics.

That’s the story I want to follow right now, and I’m sad that there are only three more episodes left in the season. We just got to the good stuff, and there are so many other things going on that I have no idea if there’s much Blue Morpho material left. I hope there is, but aside from some good jokes and gorgeous visuals, there’s not much else about season six that’s sticking with me.

I wonder if part of my concern with the season is the move to New York in general. At first, it was bursting with possibility. Now, past the halfway point, there’s only one new development that I truly care about…and it’s the Blue Morpho stuff, which didn’t require a move to the Big Apple at all.

Is this season too muddled? Would there be more to enjoy if everything had a little more space to breathe? I honestly don’t know…nor do I want to make it sound like I’m not enjoying the season. I am…but things feel too crowded and too aimless at once. I don’t really know what’s at stake for most of these characters, or if they’re just killing time because this is their new environment now and they might as well keep busy.

I’ll pose a question for you here: what if Dr. Venture really were the masked vigilante taking out supervillains? He’s not, I know. And that wouldn’t easily gibe with his character, as it stands. But let’s say that he really was offing all of these bad guys, one by one, when nobody’s looking.

Wouldn’t that be more interesting? Dr. Venture getting framed doesn’t seem to be amounting to much yet, and it might not simply because he can’t take an active role in the proceedings. We need to shuffle him off to the side, because he’s not actually involved, and that’s disappointing.

The Monarch gets to do (indirectly) the dirty work, which means we have something to look forward to when he’s on screen. When Dr. Venture is on screen, it doesn’t seem to mean much more than that he got his token scene for the week and we’ll be moving on shortly to whatever actually matters.

I’ve mentioned before that I won’t really be able to judge season six until we see where all of these threads are leading us. And I definitely have faith they’ll lead us somewhere interesting. But, for now, it’s hard not to wonder why we are where we are. And, for now, I don’t know that I have any answers.

It’s still a good show, but I don’t know if I’m watching a great one. At the very least, season six of The Venture Bros. pales in comparison to season one of The New Adventures of The Blue Morpho.

8 thoughts on “The Venture Bros. Reviews: “Tanks for Nuthin'” (season 6, episode 5)”

  1. And once again your thoughts clarify mine–I’m remember how bored the Monarch was with the whole arching thing last season, how he couldn’t get into it when he had an injured Dr. Venture in his hands. He has discovered that roleplay can bring some new excitement to the relationship. At least for him, anyway, but wasn’t arching Dr. Venture always a one-sided relationship?

    1. I’m glad you mentioned “The Devil’s Grip,” because I’m still not sure what happened in that episode. The Monarch did seem bored and disinterested — and he even let Dr. Venture go — but later on he said to his wife that that was part of his plan, and that he emotionally broke our hero. I honestly don’t know if he was meant to be lying or not. He could have been covering his ass for letting Dr. V escape, or he could have meant it, and I honestly have no idea which it was. That was an odd episode.

        1. Yep, a third totally fair reading. And it could easily be the correct one…but I still don’t know for sure, which feels odd. “The Devil’s Grip” felt a bit like a first draft to me…lots of great ideas, great jokes…but incomplete.

          A good comparison point is the “Tag Sale” episode, when The Monarch gets into the lab and can’t bring himself to even take a whizz on this. (He used to DREAM of taking a whizz on this!) Then security gets in and he launches into his standard theatrics…and it all works for me. Two entirely different mindsets for him, an immediate pivot between them, and the feeling that both sides make sense.

          “The Devil’s Grip” had a similar disparity between his moods — at least, it seemed to — but I couldn’t tell you what happened. I could theorize, but I’m not convinced I actually understand it.


  2. It really feels like this storyline, with a little editing, could have been a The Venture Bros. Movie, rather than a whole series. Hank and Dean are really outside of the show’s borders at the moment, even though I thought Dean was about to have some more work this week with Think Tank, but all of their stuff (while humourous) could have been removed and the story would be the same. I like the idea of hapless Dr Venture facing off against an actual threat, a seasoned and experienced villain who has dispatched his arch’s previously, in a city where even the heroes are corrupt. And the idea that Hank and Dean in their various ways might be the ones to undermine that (such as Hank’s possible relationship with Wale’s daughter) would be amazing.

    And I can’t even say I’m all that enamoured by the Blue Morpho plot (I almost typed sub-plot but it’s not “sub” at all) though Dr Mrs The Monarch is continually the best female character ever on an animated show, if not on television period. And I love her going off and being the head of the Guild doing the tedious stuff as well as kicking ass. We spend so much of The Venture Bros outside of the Venture family, I kinda wanted a season focusing more on them than on the Monarchs and such, and I thought moving to New York would help that. But alas, I should not judge a show for not being what I wanted it to be.

    I’ll join in the “I’m not saying it’s not good!” chant, of course, cos I’m enjoying spending the time with these people, and the writing, acting and animation is all top notch. But yeah, I really prefer The Venture Bros. being about the Venture brothers. Although, if it continues to be about Rusty and The Monarch, maybe it IS about the Venture brothers!

    1. Huh…I hadn’t even considered the potential for Hank and Dean undermining this season’s villains. Dean was in a great position with Think Tank, and Hank with Wide Wale…you’re right. Then the former…well, you know. The latter remains to be seen, but I think that could have been an interesting way to give the boys something to do, and in true Venture tradition it wouldn’t have amounted to anything. After all, the real threat to Dr. Venture is being framed by the Blue Morpho, around the margins where nobody thought to look. It’s a way to find a kind of victory within a much larger loss.

      I also agree about this being the Venture Bros. movie. And if it were, I’d probably be more receptive to it. (One film is judged on rightly different merits than a series of episodes.) I do look forward to watching it in one long stretch when everything is said and done, and I imagine it’ll improve in that context.

      1. The only issue is that there will be no big finale tying everything up – much like All This and Gargantua-2 wasn’t aired as the Season 5 finale when it was for all intents and purposes.

        I imagine chickens that are Wide Wale’s plot are going to come to roost in this future finale.

        I’m pretty on board this season, though, despite my craving for more Dr. Venture.

        1. Good point! I talk a bit about that in the new review. In short, I’m hoping that we get some kind of resolution, even if it’s not a proper ending. Time will tell…and thanks for reading these, by the way!

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