People go on and on about The Sopranos, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica and other modern, epic series in genre storytelling as the best show ever made for TV. To them I would without hesitation put The Venture Bros. up against them in competition. While handily the aforementioned could win their title for best Mobster, Cop Drama, or Sci-Fi show, The Venture Bros would take best cartoon, best superhero, best adventure, and go mano y mano with Arrested Development or Seinfeld as best comedy. All my opinion of course, but I sincerely believe that this show is absolutely one of the best series ever created.
Season Three debuts with nary an appearance from the titular characters, instead it focuses on The Monarch and his new bride, Doctor Girlfriend, as they are given a thorough brow beating by their superiors in the League of Calamitous Intent. In fact, the machinations of the League is the focal point of this season, with plenty of episodes dealing with the requirements to be an Arch Villain and the rules surrounding the engaging of the Protagonist. It’s applying logic to absurdity, and it’s brilliant.
If it wasn’t obvious before, it is now that the show is about much more than the adventures of Hank, Dean, Rusty and Brock and it’s initial impetus as satire of Johnny Quest. Instead it’s weaving a intricate history around all the characters in the series, as they relate to one another. Dr. Venture Sr. and Team Venture of old are highlighted a number of times, as are the previous generation of villains that he faced. Themes of legacy are strewn throughout. The Monarch has to deal with the fact that he’s no longer allowed to “arch” his hated nemesis Dr. Venture, and his new neighbor Sgt. Hatred gets the gig. Origin stories for Phantom Limb, The Monarch, Quizboy Billy and even (briefly) Baron Underbite all surface, while Rusty’s boyhood traumas and fantasies bubble to the surface. Hank and Dean each manage to grow up in their own way, while Brock manages to avoid finding out he has a son (or so we’re led to believe) and gets himself canned by the OSI. The rich tapestry of characters already introduced come back for more, including Col. Gentleman, Richard Impossible, Johnny Quest, 21 and 24, while also introducing more new characters, including some previously mentioned but never seen (like Truckules). One episode even takes the show back another generation, to the days of Rusty’s grandfather and the gestation for the League.
Yes, the show is dense, but each episode manages to stand on its own, as an adventure piece, an action piece, or a superhero/villain piece, but it’s always an askew take on the genres, loaded with humour and particularly ingenious insight into the absurd workings of genre storytelling. Beautifully animated with a great voice cast (though with the expanding roster of characters involved, some of the vocal talent are taking on too many) and some of the sharpest dialogue ever written for TV, I find myself constantly wide-eyed and smiling wide whenever I have the show on, and no matter how many times I watch an episode I only seem to enjoy it more.
The DVD set of season three is thinner than previous with deleted scenes (recorded audio but storyboard visuals) and audio commentary. The most notable thing about this season’s release is it’s uncensored, which means all the swears are heard loud and clear (and it seems more profound this season than previously) as well there’s quite a bit of mantackle on display. Frankly, and my only quibble, I find it funnier when it is censored.