Last month, the hit animated comedic-adventure series, the Venture Brothers, returned to [adult swim] with its fourth season, and the Geekline crew have been loving every minute of it. With five episodes having already aired, the fourth season is proving to be a real powerhouse, the episodes are still as hilarious, well-written, and masterfully executed as they have been since the first season, and show creators, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, are certainly in top form. And, yet, in our post-episode discussions, the Geekline crew have all mentioned that, with the fourth season, the tone of the show, the structure of the episodes, and the nature of the characters have profoundly changed and evolved; and, we all agree, the new developments are excellent.
The most apparent of these developments are the changes and evolution the cast is undergoing, and the most visible of these are the progression of Hank and Dean into more complex, less conventional characters and the lack of Brock. In the first episode of the season, "Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel", we watch, albeit out of chronological order, Hank morph from the clean-cut, dopey, Brock wannabe we've known since the first season into a long haired, sass-mouthed, rebellious young adult; and, in "Perchance to Dean", we see Dean taking his first steps on the road to becoming a super scientist, sporting some peach fuzz on his upper lip, and beginning to lose his hair. These changes in Hank and Dean, who, up until this season, have been the most static characters of the series, are attributable to the fact that this is the first time a pair of Hank and Dean clones have survived into young adulthood, the loss of the cloning safety net, and the resignation of Brock and his absence from the Venture Compound. The choice to fill the hole left by Brock's (hopefully temporary) departure with a "reformed" Sgt Hatred was an excellent one. Hatred's bumbling, loud-mouthed ineptitude and emotional problems, which makes the hapless Venture family seem competent and well-adjusted in comparison, is a perfect fit; to paraphrase Geekline contributor breakout2317's comment during our post-episode discussion last Sunday, Hatred's inabilities really emphasize how great Brock was as a bodyguard and as a stabilizing influence upon the Venture family. On further analysis, the overarching theme of season four, so far, seems to be showing how the characters and their situations have evolved (or devolved) in response to events of previous seasons, particularly in response to the events of season three's finale, "The Family That Slays Together, Stays Together": we see Henchman 21 buffed up, assertive, organized, and seeking to avenge the fallen 24; the Monarch is a menacing and successful, yet self-loathing, super villain; the Phantom Limb has descended into highly effective madness over his fall and exile from the Guild of Calamitous Intent; and even Doctor Venture seems to have developed some measure of confidence, some conscience, and even competence.
"The whole structure of the earlier show, which was firmly rooted in convention, has been shed," comments Geekline correspondent, Sylak; "and there's not really adventures anymore, which was kind of a big part of the early episodes." Indeed, the main theme of the series for the first two seasons was to spoof the adventure cartoons and comics of the 1950s and 60s in which Atomic Age technology was the solution to all problems, and to subvert the conventions and tropes found in said series, but season four seems a real departure from this. One common element of the first two seasons was the lack or disregard of continuity, which was the central joke of the season two episode, "Escape to the House of Mummies, Pt. II"; and, though we begin to see a concern for continuity at the end of the first season, it's with season four that continuity and the deep, crisscrossing backstories of the cast become a central focus of the series. This change in tone away from convention can also be seen in the development of the characters from static, stereotypical, and somewhat one-dimensional into unique, dynamic characters with growing, intersecting backstories and complex motivations. And the composition of the episode, too, have greatly changed in season four: The episodes of the first two seasons tended to be mostly self-contained, episodic, and centering around a particular adventure or plot and its resolution, and, though season three saw more serialization, it is season four in which we see a distinctive change: not only are the episodes more referential to previous episodes and there's an element of serialization, but there also seems to be no one central adventure or plot to the episodes; instead, we see in the season four episodes three or four disparate plot threads which, by the end of the episode, have collided and, yet, been woven together masterfully, at a much faster pace than the previous seasons episodes, and leaving cliffhangers and loose ends for further episodes to build upon.
As mentioned above, five episodes for season four have already aired, with three more on the way before a hiatus, and the second half of the season scheduled to air in Summer of 2010. Catch the Venture Brothers Sunday nights at midnight on Cartoon Network's [adult swim] block, and keep checking back at the Geekline blog for more Venture news, reviews, and an episode of the podcast discussing the new season (if we ever get it recorded).
Venture Brothers Links:Venture Brothers Wikipedia PageVenture Brothers folder on as.com's message boardVenture Brothers episodes and clips on the Video section of as.com
The Peoples' Republic of VentureInterview of Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick by Geekline friend Craig "Majikthise" ClarkJackson Publick's LiveJournalThe Mantis-Eye Experiment (an unofficial Venture news and review site)