Let’s get down to brass tacks. There’s really only one television show that has it all: The Venture Brothers. Never before has one show lampooned a concept so hard that they’ve developed their own world that’s just as richly detailed as the concept that they’re lampooning. That doesn’t make much sense. Let’s try and sort that out.
The show revolves around the fact that sometime in the late 19th Century, a group of the most brilliant men in society turned villainous. Fast forward to the 1960s, and this Guild of Calamitous Intent is forever entrenched in a comic system of being arch-enemies to the super scientists of the day. There’s no outright murdering allowed, except when you’re the Monarch, as the Monarch describes it as “a deadly game of cat and also cat.”
Which brings us to present day, where the twin sons of one of the last super scientists are obsessed with the idea of being mystery solving teens, while their dad still has a hard time coming to grips with the fact that he can’t live up to his own father’s scientific endeavors, and on top of that, he has to deal with one of the only Guild-sanctioned arch-enemies who truly has a personal hatred for Doc Venture: The Monarch.
The show was designed to make fun of almost every single comic book, cartoon show, movie, etc. that involves the costumed hero or mystery solving multi-verse. A short list includes: Hardy Boys, Johnny Quest, G.I. Joe, Nightcrawler, Hanky Pym, Dr. Strange, Blade, Astroboy, Walt Disney, Scooby Doo, Frankenstein, Hunter S. Thompson, and on and on. But the best characters come outside of the direct parody. There we get 21 and 24, the bumbling idiot nerds turned henchmen who understand the full concept of how to be the henchmen who never die, or as the Monarch puts it, “that rare blend of expendable and invulnerable.” Or how about The Monarch himself? A smart, cunning arch-villain who gets caught up in the weird rules of being a costumed villain and has a penchant for dramatic monologue as well as plain spoken one-liners, he represents fully the depth of how a character can develop in this strange new world.
Each season has progressed with new information and back stories for most of the characters, and what started out as a great vehicle for jokes about kerchiefs and absentee fathers has become an extremely intimate and fully fleshed out world. Sure, the show is hilarious, but the intelligence of it makes me consistently feel like it’s one of the best comics being written out there. Only it’s not a comic, it’s a TV show. And the draw isn’t just for nerds like me who get every nerd reference. Even my wife loves it.
The show is one of the most versatile pieces of television out there, a vehicle designed to make fun of the very thing it’s established itself as. And right there is the key to the whole dang puzzle. It’s proof that there’s a whole lot of love and devotion to the subject matter at hand from the show’s creators and writers, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick. Which, of course, is the complete opposite of the vapid and horrifying Big Bang Theory, where nerds are the punchline and there’s no attempt to create empathetic, real people behind the stereotypes they try and milk for terrible laughs. Boy do I hate that show.
Gray Area Score: Gunmetal