(The following contains spoilers. You have been duly warned...) After three years off the air, 'The Venture Bros.' have returned. Popular media has never been geekier, with two of the most highly watched dramas on television based on comic books. However, Season Five's premiere proved once again that no show is geekier than 'Venture', with an episode themed around...well...geeks.
Picking up the morning after Season Four's dramatic finale (and then somehow fitting the plot-relevant Halloween Special in there somehow), Season Five begins cleaning up after Prom Night by either continuing or undoing the finale's plot developments. Molotov Cocktease, in the great tradition of super-spies, survived her apparent death, along with Monstroso. After Hunter Gathers' promotion to head of OSI, Sphinx is made defunct, left to the now jobless and homeless Henchman 21 (Is he still Henchman 21 if he's no longer a henchman? What, we should call him Gary?). Sargent Hatred is cuckolded once again by his former girlfriend Princess Tinyfeet, who isn't actually getting back together with him, leaving him to mopily resume his duties as Venture bodyguard.
And then there's Dean.
As alluded to in the final moments of Season Four, Dean is becoming a new man by way of actually surviving to being a teenager. Burned by his failed crush on Triana, Dean rebels and gives himself a new look with black hair to match his new black speedsuit In a great purging front yard fire kindled by his old Learning Bed he burns his past belongings (even his much abused stuffed giraffe Mr. Reachy), signaling the start of a search for independence and identity that should provide excellent fodder for the rest of the season.
Dr. Venture doesn't react much to all of this but maybe it's because he's got other things on his mind. Jonas Jr. is continuing his tradition of mimicking his father's greatness by building a new Gargantua Space Station and has commissioned Thaddeus to build the shield to protect it from space debris. Thaddeus, continuing his tradition, has already spent the advance and has not even toyed with progress. With a deadline approaching, Dr. Venture hastily organizes an army of college interns to build the shield for him, organizing them with color-coded jumpsuits for different important jobs like running simulations, formulating theoretical equations, and cleaning his kitchen.
For safety reasons the students sleep on site, but the combination of condensed living conditions, rigid'Metropolis' like work structure, and the massive amounts of mutating radioactivity the shield emits, the interns quickly devolve into a cannibalistic tribal culture complete with laws penned on flayed human skin and Ewok village.
Alongside of this, Pete White and Billy Quizboy's lives get more interesting when Billy's deep-pocketed and geeky nemesis Augustus St. Cloud joins the Guild of Calamitous Intent to officially arch Billy. The best material of the episode comes from Billy and Pete, containing their greater status as series regulars from the previous season. I sincerely hope St. Cloud is a regular presence on the show, what would happen if Mark Millar's bored billionaire supervillian 'Nemesis' was Comic-Book Guy from 'The Simpsons'under the costume.
Over all, it's nice to be back, but the episode didn't exactly blow the door off its hinges. Many of the dramatic shifts from the previous season are sidelined for the funny but far from extraordinary plot. There isn't the huge altered dynamic that seasons two and four began with, feeling more like season 4.5 than new frontiers. It's far from bad by any means, but it leaves later episodes to actually chart what the future course of the Venture clan will look like, which at the end of the episode isn't quite clear.
There's also the problem of the Monarch. Like the last half of season four his relevance is still up in the air. His subplot of missing Henchman 21 feels shoehorned in amongst the rest of the episodes anarchy, and excepting one great gag involving some hilariously bungled 'Game of Thrones' sexual role-play it feels as if The Monarch could have been absent all together to no detriment. It's a real pity when great episodes like 'Shadowman 9: In the Cradle of Destiny' could be entirely Monarch and Dr. Mrs. the Monarch centric and I hope this season eventually returns the costumed couple to their former glory.
However, despite my cool overall reaction to the episode there was one thing I particularly appreciated. It gets back to what I mentioned at the beginning of the review; that the episode is geek themed. A quick scanning of the events would suggest the episode was themed after 70's sci-fi dystopias, with Rusty's irresponsible company practices leading to winking allusions to 'Soylent Green' and 'The Time Machine'. However, it doesn't quite seem to be the episode's central theme. In an amusing turn, it's revealed that the accelerated decline to violent tribal society was as much a symptom of the geek culture of the nerdy interns as it was the radiation. As one ill-fated prisoner notes, “You're talking about a bunch of geeks from State University. You mutate that kind of outcast and it gets all "SyFy Channel Original Feature" real quick.”.
In addition to that, St. Cloud, who serves a semi-central role in the resolution of the main conflict, is thegeek supervillian. His sprawling manor is decorated with high profile sci-fi props and uses a movie Batmobile as his 'getting-around' car. Even the battle of wits with his arch-rival is a test of obscure geek trivia that one might overhear standing in line to meet the cast of 'Firefly'. It's something only a fellow geek would love, and creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer know it.
So was it groundbreaking? No. However, it is comforting. In an time when Green Arrow finds himself on the same network as 'Gossip Girl' and Star Trek has been blended into glossy audience-friendly explosion porn, it's nice to know that there's a show out there that will hinge life and death on a contest of semantics regarding fictional artificial beings.
It's nice to know that someone still writes stories for geeks.
Writers: Christopher McCulloch and Doc Hammer
Director: Christopher McCulloch
Channel: Cartoon Network
Air Date: 6/2/13