Going through the catalogue of Adult Swim shows, both finished and currently airing, is to delve into the most eclectic series of shows ever produced for television. I remember that moment when Cartoon Network would suddenly switch over to the late night block of animation, when the kid friendly program was suddenly swapped for a swearing meatball or a former Hannah-Barbera superhero turned talk show host. But after a hiatus of TV-show consumption, and returning to an updated Adult Swim catalogue, I discovered The Venture Bros.
I was not hooked immediately. Instead it took the second episode I watched to fully win me over. Initially, the macho-hilarity of Brock Samson (voiced by Patrick Warburton – a voice I never tire of) was what got me to watch the second episode in the first place. But what made me stay for the next six seasons was the unique take on “arching” the show utilized.
Although The Venture Bros. was initially a parody of Johnny Quest following the tradition of repurposing old (and somewhat forgotten) Hannah-Barbera characters (albeit with more original input by not utilizing old animation cells), it quickly becomes a sporadic yet cohesive work, filled with a string of references on the trove of pop-cultural and pulpy goodness geeks treasure: comics, cartoons, you know where I’m going with this. I was hooked because, like Rick and Morty, which came after, the show was open to a series of stories, characters, and relationships that came from a cultural cannon I was incredibly fond of, meaning so long as the writing was good, I would be treated to seasons upon seasons of entertainment.
As I mentioned before, one of the critical structural elements that allow for this system is the mechanic of “arching.” In the world of The Venture Bros. villains and heroes are clear-cut on a vocational level, focusing on the absurdity of adults wearing spandex and fighting each other. Oddly enough, the arch villains hardly kill the heroes or non-heroes they arch. Instead, the show plays it out like a game of cops and robbers between adults – making some characters, like Rusty Venture, jaded by the entire experience.
How could one be jaded by adventure, by a life of villains and heroes? Well Rusty was a child adventurer like Johnny Quest, and now he is just a washed up second-rate super-scientist (and many other things which I will not reveal because…spoilers). Even Johnny Quest makes a cameo experience as Action Johnny. He is a nervous wreck as an adult because his father dragged him along on absurdly dangerous adventures. Sucks to know I’d probably be the same if I ever went on those insane adventures. Really kills the dream. Or does it?
Essentially the arching structure allows the show to consider the absurd world of fictional heroes and villains, never hesitating to utilize legally safe knockoffs of beloved characters like Spider-Man (Brown Widow in the show – he shoots webbing from his anus). Perhaps the meta-effect of the show would be far better aligned had I seen this show when I was younger. But the effect of the creative choices is still appreciated. The Venture Bros. geeks out. It has its fun with all the nostalgic and beloved pop-cultural icons that we all adored. But it is simultaneously giving it all a fresh spin while simultaneously providing a world that is the apotheosis of childish wet dreams and an adult tragicomedy. It is a world of disappointment, a horror-show, which I still kind of wish would exist. Is that messed up? I guess the child never died in me, but the older perspective…that’s new, and if the child in me has lasted this long, I do not see my older self leaving its set of keys on the kitchen counter any time soon. The dream never dies.