It’s not often I get genuinely excited over the return of a TV show anymore, but there is one notable exception. On June 2, one of the best television series currently in production — The Venture Bros. — returns to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block for its fifth season. I’m totally geeked to say the least.
Since the show debuted in the summer of 2004 (not counting an earlier pilot), it has evolved from a goofy satire/pastiche of mid-’60s action animation shows like Jonny Quest to a highly original, deeply rewarding series with its own rich universe of characters. Creators Jackson Publick (Christopher McCulloch) and Doc Hammer have woven themes of personal failure, family dysfunction, and superhero bureaucracy into the fabric of The Venture Bros., and in the process have built a show that delivers emotionally powerful and memorable moments on a regular basis. Oh yeah, and it’s funny as hell too.
So as we get ready to embark upon the fifth season of The Venture Bros., here’s a look at what I consider to be the show’s ten best episodes to date. I’m sure there will be absolutely no disagreements on this list, naturally. Go Team Venture!
#10. “Ghosts of the Saragasso” (Season 1, Episode 6)
I had to include this if for no other reason than this is the episode that hooked me on this show for good. This is a prime example of how the first few seasons of the show deftly combined parody — in this case, Scooby-Doo — with an original mythology. It also features key elements of the show’s early days — Dr. Rusty Venture’s ineptitude and bitterness over his father, Hank and Dean Venture displaying their unique brand of goofy cluelessness, and Brock Samson kicking tons of ass.
Best line/moment This bit of dialogue, as a pair of ghost pirates debates how to retrieve a key that Brock has swallowed.
Ghost Pirate 1: We need that key that starts your boat, Mr. Big Stuff, let’s have it.
Brock Samson: It’s up my ass.
Ghost Pirate 2: Are you serious?
Brock Samson: Why don’t you check?
Ghost Pirate 2 (to Ghost Pirate 1): Well, check.
Ghost Pirate 1: What if he’s lying?
Ghost Pirate 2: If he were telling the truth, that would be better?
#9. “The Doctor Is Sin” (Season 3, Episode 2)
Any time you can get Dr. Orpheus and The Alchemist (Dana Snyder) into an episode, you’ve got a winner. But throw in a fascinating and mysterious new character, Dr. Henry Killinger, and you’ve got an all-time great. Dr. Killinger did what no one in Dr. Rusty Venture’s life had ever been able to — make him feel competent. But of course this is The Venture Bros., and so that new-found confidence comes at a huge price.
Best line/moment: I’m not usually a fan of pratfalls or slapstick, but Dr. Venture getting repeatedly run into the door on the moving walkway was pure awesome.
#8. “Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman” (Season 3, Episode 6)
Much of season three was spent expanding the Venture Bros. universe and delving deeper into the characters’ backgrounds and fractured psyches. So this standalone episode was a real treat. This one jam-packed with hilarious sight gags, one-liners, and tons of sexual innuendo.
Best line/moment: I can’t pick just one, but I’ll go with this line from Brock after we see Hank and Dean — at their father’s behest — trying to teach an orangutan to box: “So no more teaching chimps to box, huh? By the way, thanks for that new personal low.”
#7. “Handsome Ransom” (Season 4, Episode 2)
OK, so maybe going for the rather obvious play on the whole homoerotic nature of a relationship between a costumed superhero and his young sidekick isn’t the most original angle. But hey, if Led Zeppelin can make great music ripping off the blues then why can’t The Venture Bros. mine the old Batman & Robin trope for comedy gold? And as if that wasn’t good enough, the coup de grace is the casting. For this episode’s protagonist, Captain Sunshine, is voiced by none other than Kevin “Batman cartoon voice” Conroy. Score!
Best line/moment: Captain Sunshine apparently does not like to be teased by villains about losing Wonder Boy (his sidekick) and proceeds to pound the ever-loving crap out of Scorpio after some vicious taunting.
#6. “The Diving Bell Vs. The Butter-Glider” (Season 4, Episode 9)
You really can’t go wrong with any Monarch-heavy episode of The Venture Bros., and this is as good as any I’ve ever seen. In it we see the Monarch — completely tone-deaf to the needs of his own organization — squanders some of his seemingly endless supply of money on a mechanized glider that vaguely resembles the one used by the Green Goblin. Meanwhile, Henchman 21 continues his entertaining upward character arc and there’s a great homage to Fantastic Voyage. So yeah, tons of great story elements and some of the best lines in the series.
Best line/moment: “I am not letting those clowns shrink my $40 million, secretly funded nuclear submarine to go fight the fucking cavity creeps.”
#5. “Self-Medication” (Season 4, Episode 6)
“Self-Medication” is one of those episodes of a show that gets better each time you watch it. Had I compiled this list a few years ago I might have left this one off entirely. But there are so many touches that I really love. Let’s overlook the fact that we get guest appearances from both Patton Oswalt and Seth Green… on second thought, don’t overlook that because they’re hilarious. But what really brings this one home is another step forward (maybe) for Rusty, who wins back some of his dignity the hard way — by seeing how much better off he is than a bunch of washed out former boy adventurers.
Best line/moment: Torn Meniscus!
#4. “Love-Bheits” (Season 2, Episode 7)
It’s not that I disagree with Jackson Publick or Doc Hammer that the Doctor Doom-esque Baron Ünderbheit is a one-note character. It’s just that it’s such a hilarious note, I have to have more. And while the whole Ünderbheit marrying Dean in a Princess Leia bikini subplot is a little skeevy for my tastes, the rest of this episode is too good to leave off this list. Incompetent resistance fighters, Empire Strikes Back and Flash Gordon references, and Girl Hitler — what’s not to love?
Best line/moment: The opening sequence aboard the X-1, after Hank blows everyone’s chances at a costume contest, is classic. But the moment when Brock finds a lump while squeezing a hapless henchman’s groin is just too much.
#3. “Twenty Years to Midnight” (Season 2, Episode 5)
Wall-to-wall awesome, this one is. We’ve got the return of the Impossibles, led by Prof. Richard Impossible (Stephen Colbert, voicing the character before he got too big for his britches). We’ve got a great appearance by Jonas Venture, Jr., who just can’t help but make Rusty look like a complete loser. We’ve got a cameo from a disturbingly grown up and strung out Jonny Quest. And lastly, we’ve got the mysterious Grand Galactic Inquisitor, who looks like a character from a mid-’60s Marvel comic.
Best line/moment: I need to get my hands on Col. Gentleman’s diary, which includes a list of toys he wished he owned as a kid but that weren’t invented yet — including the AT-AT Imperial Walker.
#2. “Tag Sale – You’re It!” (Season 1, Episode 10)
The early episodes of season one all managed to touch on the idea that the amped up heroes and villains of the Venture universe fell rather short of their ambitions, but “Tag Sale” really drove that point home. In a desperate bid to raise much-needed funds for his scientific compound, the Ventures hold a yard sale and try to unload all manner of gadgetry. The sale attracts just about every costumed nemesis in town, but especially the Monarch — who hatches one of the absolute lamest revenge schemes imaginable. But not before a climactic showdown between one of his henchmen and Brock Samson.
Best line/moment: The Monarch’s somewhat less than epic exit from the Venture compound.
#1. “The Lepidopterists” (Season 3, Episode 10)
For me, The Venture Bros. is ultimately about laughs. Don’t get me wrong, I love the universe-building and character exploration, but I come for the funny. And I can’t think of an episode that brought more funny than “The Lepidopterists.” Hell, there’s more great stuff in the opening sequence alone than a lot of shows pack into an entire run.
But don’t take my word for it. Just watch this clip of the Monarch attacking his new arch-nemesis, Jonas Venture, Jr. and team.
Best line/moment: You just watched it!