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The Venture Bros., "Rapacity in Blue"

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.

The Venture Bros., "Faking Miracles"

I wonder if this season will play much better as one long story than it will as a series of episodes. So far, it’s difficult to judge them on their own, individual merits, and that’s both worrying and thrilling. It’s worrying because we have three episodes so far that don’t tell a complete story in their runtime. But it’s thrilling because, if the plates are kept spinning, we could end up with something incredible.

It’s too soon to tell, but unlike “Hostile Makeover” these unresolved plot-threads hold some very clear potential. I’m a bit disappointed that the closest thing we had to payoff was Dean painfully urinating some nanobots down the toilet, but this week’s chapter in the elaborate setup of season six is…well, pretty promising.

The title refers to Dr. Venture’s digging through his brother’s old, abandoned projects with Billy and Pete, but we’ll get to that shortly, because the more interesting story thread, for my money, is the (proper) introduction of Sirena Ong. We met her briefly in “Hostile Makeover” — with a strong implication that she was related to Wide Wale — but didn’t learn anything for sure except that she had gills.

Now we get a better sense of who she is: a stubborn, spoiled young girl who — like Hank and Dean before her — is stuck in a life that she doesn’t especially want. Her station is defined by her father’s station, in true, tragicomic Venture Bros. tradition. And when she finally gets to interact with an outsider, she falls more for what Hank represents — escape, freedom, rebellion — than who Hank really is.

Their brief exchange on the veranda (ending with one of the few times Hank’s managed to pull off something genuinely cool, even if he’d already mindlessly gloated about running away from stupider henchmen than her father’s) was probably the highlight of the entire episode. And, in keeping with Sirena’s perspective, it wasn’t because of what it was, but rather because of what it represents.

Hank’s romantic dabblings have given us two of the show’s all-time best episodes: “Assassinanny 911” and “Everybody Comes to Hank’s.” I’d have a difficult time articulating why those two episodes managed to be so emotionally disarming, even though Dean’s dabblings (mainly with Triana) were unquestionably more relateable and true-to-life, but seeing another such story get queued up like this is very exciting to me. The show has worked wonders with the premise before, and I have total confidence that it can do so again.

In fact, Sirena’s introduction provides Wide Wale with a clearer identity as well. Previously I wasn’t sure why Wide Wale existed. I didn’t know his joke — aside from being some degree of sea creature — and I especially didn’t know why he seemed to be taking over Monstroso’s role in the show, as we already had a hulking, powerful businessman in the rogue’s gallery.

Last week RaikoLives pointed out the obvious, and then he pointed out the second-most-obvious: “Obviously I keep wanting to say ‘and he’s dead’ but that’s never stopped anyone in this show before.” Which was basically my thought process, too. If Doc and Jackson need a character back, they can bring a character back. In this case they didn’t…and I honestly wasn’t sure why. Especially since his replacement was so similar.

Sirena helps make it clear that Wide Wale is more of a Godfather figure. Which, yes, that’s certainly been alluded to already, but her birthday party — which is clearly just a party for her father’s organization and powerful friends, while she sulks in her room and is repeatedly forbidden to have any fun — cements that as the direction the show is taking with him. Monstroso was a businessman, and so is Wide Wale. But though they’re both villainous, one’s business is a little more legitimate than the other’s.

Interestingly, the show really seems to be leaning into the Italian jokes lately. Wide Wale is a Mafia don, Serena is a spoiled princess, Hank works at a pizzeria, Scaramantula returned for the opening scene (along with some shots at the Italian automobile industry), we had that whole scene with The Ambassador a couple of episodes ago…I’m not complaining, but I find it an intriguing coincidence. I wonder why so much Italian humor is clumping together, especially when it’s generated from a pretty wide range of characters and contexts.

I do also kind of love the fact that Hank has a menial job. The squandering of the fortune a few weeks ago seems now like it just happened so we could get some jokes along those lines. Yes, wasting money he didn’t earn was a very Dr. Venture thing to do, but last week and this week we see members of the family bringing money in as well, and that bodes ever so slightly better for their future.

Whew. So, what else? Dean got some nanobots shoved up his creepy dog dork, which was…fine, I guess. I got excited when Billy dropped the test tube because it’s been a while since “strange Venture technology” played much of a part in an episode, but I don’t know that it went anywhere. I’d assume we’d see more such nano-shenanigans in a later episode if they weren’t flushed away at the end, so I guess we got a weird scene with him and Brock and that’s that.

Then we had an interesting twist on the periodically rocky relationship between The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend. I’m glad they didn’t go the easy — but admittedly natural, especially considering her new clout — route of simple jealousy on his part, because that’s territory we’ve explored several times before, but they instead gave us a fairly satisfying, complex subterfuge that positions them both as pawns in somebody else’s game.

It’s good, and it gives the rest of the season a lot to work with, but best of all it employs a new character who immediately gives us a sense of his utility; there’s no way anybody can watch this episode and not instantly think of a dozen ways the show can use Copy Cat.

This is the kind of thing I was concerned about in “Hostile Makeover.” With all of the new characters introduced there, there was very little sense of what they’d be good for. (Apart from one or two “This is kind of like that” jokes, which are fun, but which are no substitute for characters who are interesting in their own rights.)

Copy Cat’s personality just seems better developed, and his power offers story opportunities that no other character’s does. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him. And he wasn’t the only new character who screams with potential…

I’m speaking, of course, of Blue Morpho. Oh, man, am I speaking of Blue Morpho.

It’s a short scene, but a crucial one, as not only does it reveal what was in The Monarch’s basement — Blue Morpho’s old hideout — but fills in some dark backstory both actively and passively. Actively because we’re outright told that he’s The Monarch’s father. Passively because…well…we’ve already met The Monarch’s father.

Yes, Vendata gets namedropped here, and that’s no coincidence. Back in last season’s best episode — “Bot Seeks Bot” — Vendata was very, very strongly implied to be The Monarch’s father. Here, now, we can piece together more of that as-yet-untold story:

Jonas Venture Sr. was rescued from Scaramantula by the guy…only to violently grab and threaten him. Gary tells us that they later became friends, which is borne out by the photo in “SPHINX Rising,” in which we see The Monarch and his parents with Rusty and Jonas. The man was then presumed killed in a plane crash — along with his wife — but was actually resurrected by Jonas as Vendata.

That’s…a pretty sad character arc, and the more we learn about it, the sadder it’s likely to get. But that’s all more than The Monarch knows; for him, the worrying thing is that he may have hero DNA in him. Which is a nice detail, because we’ve long known that Dr. Venture has more than a little of the villain in him. Lines get blurred, roles are reversed, one character is revealed to be another.

“Faking Miracles” is a fun episode, and it sets up a lot of things that the rest of the season can play with…but I have to confess, I’m a bit nervous. Last season was only eight episodes long. Season four was split into two chunks of eight episodes each. I don’t know how many we’re meant to get this time around, but if it’s only eight, we’re going to be at least at the halfway point before “promise” can become “fulfillment.” That’s a bit worrying.

At the very least, we know we’ll have fun along the way…but The Venture Bros. has always been more than just “fun.” It’s hilarious, and heartbreaking. It’s frivolous, and profound. It’s cruel, and sweet. It’s parody, and sincere. It’s bombastic, and contemplative.

It’s a longform experiment in opposites, and it’s a very successful one. I’m not writing season six off by any means, but I am looking forward to seeing the pendulum start to swing back.

The Venture Bros., "Maybe No Go"

There’s nothing I love more than a great show proving me wrong.

Last week, I said this:

“Hostile Makeover” doesn’t even pretend Dr. Venture is going to succeed. His very first order of business, it seems, is to fire absolutely everybody. Who are these people? He doesn’t care. What did they do for Venture Industries? He’s not interested; he just doesn’t want any of his money going to them. The new phase of his life has only just begun, and he’s taken active steps to ensure it won’t go anywhere.

This week, I happily admit that I fell into Doc and Jackson’s trap. We’re so conditioned to seeing Dr. Venture behave atrociously to people — with incredible short-sightedness and destructive selfishness — that we can see a couple of seconds of him writing on a whiteboard and read an entire season’s arc into it.

And, hey, good. The character work on this show in general — and with Dr. Venture in particular — has been sharp and sturdy. It’s almost impossible to view anything anybody does in complete isolation as a solitary moment; it always informs or is informed by who they are.

It helps the comedy to land and it ends up advancing their stories. Simple gestures or clever lines get to be both small delights and important gears in an increasingly complex (and impressive) machine.

Here’s where else it pays off: the subversion of those expectations.

Dr. Venture writing on the whiteboard as part of a montage was a very important choice of delivery. Because we didn’t hear anything, we assumed the worst: Venture’s a fucking idiot. Now we find out that that isn’t quite the truth. Sure, perhaps he still is one, and the collapse of VenTech likely still looms, but there was a method to his madness.

See, Dr. Venture isn’t going down without a fight. He’s a failure, everybody in his life sees him as a failure, and the newspaper gives over its front page to making it clear that the entire world sees him as a failure…but there’s still a part of him that doesn’t want to be a failure. That believes he’s not a failure. Or, at least, that his failure can be redeemed.

He fired the staff not because he didn’t want to pay them (the ultimate solution, it turns out, is actually to maintain two staffs), but because he wanted to start fresh. He has something inside of him. Something to share with the world. He just needs to get it out. He’s hoping, like Doc Brown before him, to see that headline change. It might still be a bad idea, but it’s an idea. He was in the shadow of his father and lived in unfair comparisons to him until his brother — a talking fist sticking out of an oven — showed up…and then he lived in his shadow and was compared unfavorably to him, too.

Dr. Venture has something to prove.

He’ll never be admired like his father, or brilliant like his brother. But he has something, whatever it is, he’s convinced that he has something, and he fires the staff so that he can rebuild it in aid of his own vision. It’s actually…admirable.

Last week, Dr. Venture was silently portrayed as an asshole. This week he opens his mouth, and we learn he’s a visionary.

Rusty’s back.

In fact, “Maybe No Go” plays like an extended response to “Hostile Makeover.” Whereas nothing happened last week, so much happened this week. Whereas last week was all rising tension, this week things go…really well, actually. For everybody.

That latter point is the most interesting, and most unique in a show like The Venture Bros., which makes a point of picking at the flaws and weaknesses of every single character, so we’ll get to that one in a bit.

First, the lighter side of things: the plots. The Pirate Captain kicks the dart monkey. The Monarch and Gary (who seems to be back to calling himself 21) attempt to eliminate all obstacles between them and Dr. Venture. Wide Wale launches an attack. Hatred and Brock team up for a thrillingly adorable defense of the tower. Billy and Pete square off against their nemesis. And all of these things had a beginning, a middle, and an end. “Hostile Makeover” felt overstuffed and a bit aimless, but “Maybe No Go” takes the same amount of material and weaves a much tighter, more satisfying tapestry.

The main story seemed to belong to Billy and Pete, which is good, because last week I wrote St. Cloud off as a go-nowhere character. And…maybe I’m still tempted to. We’ll see where things go, but this at least proves he can be part of an episode without dragging it to an irritating halt.

Their plot was one hell of a lot of fun. I remember back when “The Invisible Hand of Fate” aired; I was disappointed that we didn’t get a Billy and Pete version of the title sequence as we did for The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend in “Shadowman 9: In the Cradle of Destiny” or Dr. Venture and Jonas Jr. in “Powerless in the Face of Death.” We got one here, and it was more than worth the wait.

Billy Quizboy is one of this show’s finest creations, and he’s high on a very long list of very fine creations indeed. His tragedy is a relateable one, and one as ripe for comedy as it is drama.

Billy is one of the few truly capable individuals in the show’s universe…and nobody takes him seriously. While other capable individuals — notably Brock and Dr. Girlfriend — rise through the ranks, earning more respect with every episode, even from their adversaries, Billy languishes. He lives in squalor. He’s mocked and belittled by his friends.

But he’s a skilled surgeon, as well as deeply intelligent and tragically loyal. His struggle to be accepted, admired, and understood has fueled several of the show’s best moments, and came to an incredible, bittersweet head in the hugely underrated “The Silent Partners.”

That episode was one of the few times that the show gave Billy a triumph. This week ends with another. After a long, emotional walk home, the invisible hand of fate gives Billy a boost forward. The “boy genius” did what he felt was right, though all earthly logic was against it. Fortunately for him, a larger, cosmic logic was on his side…and he and Pete are summoned to VenTech, presumably to front the company’s new speculative engineering department.

It’s a sweet moment at the end of an episode that’s almost wall to wall with them. In fact, I’m not sure The Venture Bros. has ever been this generous to its characters before. The Pirate Captain cleans up. Dean proposes the solution that could save the company. HELPeR doesn’t have to cope with a resurrected J-Bot. The Monarch and Gary find a path forward…in the basement. Wide Wale is swiftly and easily repelled in his assault.

And — seriously guys, this was adorable — Hatred and Brock got along. Decades of animosity between the two gave gentle way to a mutual respect. Brock’s always had the ability, but, for once, Hatred had the intel. They worked together, smiled together, and went out for a beer together. It was a more natural fit than I would have guessed possible, especially after last week just about seemed to position them as rivals for the season.

The Venture Bros. is the only show I know that can take a Swedish murder machine and a reformed bad-toucher and turn their mutual jump from a building into a disarmingly sweet denouement. When they fell, most of my concerns about season six fell with them. Even through my concerns last week I knew I was in good hands, but it sure is nice to see that confirmed so quickly.

I’m going to leave you with a couple of questions, which I hope will engender discussion. No wrong answers; I’m just curious what people are thinking.

First: what’s the primary difference between Wide Wale and Monstroso? They dress similarly, they’re both huge, they’re both powerful businessmen…is there a reason we subbed out one for the other? I’m not complaining, I assure you, but it’s not like the switch from The Monarch to Sgt. Hatred in season three. In that case there were (multiple) story reasons, and the massive change in character was important to the show. In this case it feels a lot like a character we’ve already seen, and I don’t know quite why we bothered promoting someone new.

Second: what was in the basement? I’m guessing the original Venture clone farm. I have a reason that my guess is so specific, but I’ll keep that to myself for now. What do you see under those sheets?

And, what the hell, third: are you feeling incredibly stoked for the rest of this season? Because holy shit did I just get invested.

The Venture Bros., "Hostile Makeover"

Season six of The Venture Bros. is guaranteed to be an interesting one. Successful? That remains to be seen, especially as “Hostile Makeover” on its own doesn’t provide much of an indication of what to expect. But interesting for sure, if only due to its (clearly deliberate) audacity.

It opens with a few seconds on the old Venture Compound, and then immediately shifts us into an entirely new life for the family, a new context, full of new characters, new adventures, new outfits, new roles, new expectations…new everything, really.

A major shakeup like this isn’t unprecedented. The Venture Bros., after all, has been a show that’s used permanent change to great effect.

We can all argue about which season (two) or episode (“Everybody Comes to Hank’s”) is best, but it’s impossible to deny that change is the engine that keeps the show fresh. With every shakeup, revamp, retcon, introduction, and evolution we must move away from at least some of the things that made the show great to begin with, but, ideally, we’re moving toward other things that will keep the show great in their own ways.

In fact, major shakeups are built into the space between seasons. Season one, remember, ended with the on-screen murders of the title characters…and the unexpectedly affecting breakup of The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend. The former shakeup was addressed by the very first episode of season two, but the latter gave the second season its entire emotional throughline, culminating in the two of them reconnecting, and marrying…another shakeup in itself, especially as the nuptials intertwined with the neutralization of Phantom Limb, The Venture Bros.‘ lone example of villainous competence (and therefore danger).

Season three ended with Henchman 21 dying, Brock quitting, Sgt. Hatred joining the family, and the cloning lab being destroyed, so…yeah, shakeups left and right, there. This fed, I believe, into the scattershot nature of season four. Instead of one central theme to explore, it had a lot of loose ends to tie up. Some of them revealed themselves to be deeply effective, and others were kind of dead-ends. As much as there was to enjoy about season four (and there was, indeed, much to enjoy), the show felt a bit like it was rounding the bases rather than sowing new seeds. And its finale — the incredible “Operation: P.R.O.M.” — was less a shakeup than a grand collection of the show’s many themes. To a good number of viewers, it felt like it could have worked as a final episode…and that’s something that couldn’t possibly have been said about any season finale before.

Season five didn’t get a proper finale until “All This and Gargantua-2,” which deposited us right where we are today: with Dr. Venture heading up a successful, thriving, important iteration of Venture Industries.

The fact that he’s doomed to fail, to destroy the company, to squander his fortune without learning anything, does nothing to detract from the importance of the shakeup. In fact, it just means there’s another inevitable shakeup at the end of this story; his old compound is a pile of ashes. When this new — ahem — venture fails…where can he possibly go next?

“Hostile Makeover” doesn’t even pretend Dr. Venture is going to succeed. His very first order of business, it seems, is to fire absolutely everybody. Who are these people? He doesn’t care. What did they do for Venture Industries? He’s not interested; he just doesn’t want any of his money going to them. The new phase of his life has only just begun, and he’s taken active steps to ensure it won’t go anywhere.

Which, if I didn’t laugh so much at the episode, I’d be tempted to turn into a criticism about “Hostile Makeover” in general; it really doesn’t go anywhere.

That’s fine, however, because — moreso than any season before it, including the first — it’s laying one hell of a lot of groundwork. There’s the new setting (though we’ve spent a bit of time here before, notably in “Twenty Years to Midnight” and “Bright Lights, Dean City”), of course, and Dr. Venture’s obviously fleeting clout, but that’s by no means all of it.

There’s the return of Brock…and the unhappy discharge of Sgt. Hatred. There’s the Council of 13 scraping itself back together, and — perhaps — returning the Guild to an earlier, more democratic incarnation. There’s Dr. Venture and the boys blowing through money, there’s Dean giving college another try, there’s Hank meeting an according-to-Hoyle mermaid, there’s The Ambassador and Steve McQueen, there’s a wealth of new character introductions, there’s a new arch enemy for Dr. Venture, there’s The Monarch and Gary infiltrating the Ivory Tower, there’s the sea captain relapsing…and plenty that I’m already forgetting.

It’s a lot of work for very little payoff, but I’d be surprised if they intended it to be a stand-alone story at all. It’s the first chapter in a new book, and we can’t complain too much if most of that time is spent on buildup…especially with season five ending in a very literal and very deliberate scorching of the Earth behind it.

No, “Hostile Makeover” can’t really be evaluated until we’ve seen what it builds to. What that is, specifically, is anybody’s guess, but the episode spends a lot of time convincing us that there’s a great deal of mileage in the show’s new configuration. I agree, but I wish there was a little more evidence on display.

In fact, here’s an exercise.

Here are all of the post-shakeup season openers. They each have a lot of cleanup to do and a lot of dominoes to arrange, but can we still find an identifiable plot amongst the logistical maneuvering?

Powerless in the Face of Death: A distraught Dr. Orpheus searches for the souls of the deceased Venture boys while The Monarch plots an escape from prison.

Shadowman 9: In the Cradle of Destiny: The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend must answer for their behavior to The Guild, while we learn through flashbacks what brought them together.

Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel: Sgt. Hatred attempts to assert himself as a suitable bodyguard for the Venture clan while a group of Nazis force Dr. Venture to clone Hitler.

What Color is Your Cleansuit?: Dr. Venture is contracted by his more successful brother to build a ray shield for Gargantua-2, and his interns pay the price for his cut corners and incompetent management.

Hostile Makeover: …Dr. Venture picks up some clothes?

Obviously more happens than that, but it’s telling that that scene might actually be the closest thing we get to a plot.

Am I disappointed? Nah.

Or…maybe a little, if only because The Venture Bros. has so successfully balanced shorter stories with longer arcs from the beginning. It’s rare that we get an episode like this, in which we really are meant to see it as nothing more than a small part of a longer journey. In fact, I can’t think of any episodes previously in which that was the case. (Disagreement is welcome; examples are even more welcome.)

There may not be much plot, but there is, however, one strong central theme to “Hostile Makeover”: conflict.

Just about everybody is at somebody else’s throat…or nearly so. There’s such tension in the air between characters that the biggest laugh of the episode — HELPeR pushing J-Bot off the roof — is the one time it comes to a head.

Dr. Girlfriend puts tension on her relationship with The Monarch by bargaining their arching rights over Dr. Venture away. Dr. Venture puts tension on his relationship with the Pirate Captain (possibly the sole remaining employee of Venture Industries) by firing the rest of the staff. Colonel Gathers puts tension on the already-rocky relationship between Brock and Sgt. Hatred. And all of this is on top of the normal levels of tension that exist in the show already, being as it’s packed with misanthropes and monsters.

When HELPeR finally snaps, it’s not just well-deserved; it feels necessary. It’s the smallest, lowest-stakes example of the tension breaking, which means we have one hell of a lot to deal with in the coming weeks, but it’s a start.

I don’t know what the coming weeks will bring, which is both the best and the worst thing about “Hostile Makeover.” It leaves all of its doors open, but doesn’t provide much in the way of direction. It has so many options, which is great, but it doesn’t suggest a way forward. By this point I trust the show, which is the important thing. But it’d be nice to have a sense of what comes next, rather than a tangle of things that may or may not build to anything interesting.

My biggest concern, to be frank, is the introduction of Wide Wale, Dr. Venture’s new arch enemy. While there’s every chance he’ll turn out to be a great addition to the huge roster of villains in this show, it’s worrying that he’s immediately being given a spotlight role, and I’m not sure I saw anything this week that indicates he deserves one.

Perhaps I’m a bit worried because of characters like Torrid, Dr. Quymn, or Augustus St. Cloud, who became important characters because the show forced them to be important characters…and then realized that it can’t think of anything to do with them. Even Sgt. Hatred, whom I love, had a confusing, fitful ascent to “important character” status.

So, Wide Wale, prove me wrong. Please.

Overall, I’m excited by season six, but I think that’s in spite of rather than because of “Hostile Makeover.” It’s only fair that I treat this season of The Venture Bros. like I treated season four of Arrested Development: if I tuned in to this show by chance, and it had nothing to do with The Venture Bros., would I still like it?

It’s hard to say. I think I’d be interested in it. I don’t know if I’d be impressed. But I’m about 99% sure I’d tune in the next week to give it another chance.

And ultimately that’s what matters…whether or not people can get invested in what they’re seeing, even if it doesn’t make much immediate sense to them. If “Hostile Makeover” is disappointing, it’s only disappointing because The Venture Bros. set the bar so high to begin with.

In conclusion, Dr. Venture picked up some clothes.

The Simpsons, "The PTA Disbands"

In my spare time (I HAVE SO MUCH OF IT) I am preparing a study regarding The Simpsons. I’ll share it here when it’s done, but, for now, I need your help with a little background data.

I’ve prepared a very quick 10-question survey that I’d like you to answer if you’ve ever seen The Simpsons.

Seriously; it should be damned quick. If it’s going slowly, it’s because you’re driving yourself insane trying to be comprehensive…so don’t do that. Say what comes to mind, give it a little bit of thought at most, and submit.

http://goo.gl/forms/1qNLH3OOxl

Again, just to be clear, this is not the study itself. This is information that I’ll need before I can actually begin. Share away on social media, and direct your Simpsons fan friends here to help.

I will be taking responses until August 1.

Get your answers in! The more you can tell me the better, but all responses are helpful. Do not, however, submit multiple responses yourself.

Please take a few minutes to help out and share your opinion. Thank you!

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