Posted on Friday, September 11th, 2020 by Jacob Hall
The Series: The Venture Bros.
Where You Can Stream It: Hulu
The Pitch: What if a raunchy parody of Jonny Quest and other old school adventure cartoons grew into one of the richest, funniest, and most human shows on television? What if two pop culture geniuses and their tiny crew spent 17 years and seven seasons crafting a show that quickly grew tired of making fun of its world and instead chose to invest in it with layered mythology, complex characters, and fascinating mysteries? What if the crude animation of the early seasons evolved into quietly beautiful work, showcasing stunning action, brilliant character designs, and a downright cinematic framing? The Venture Bros. was the quiet miracle of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line-up, an always-evolving magic trick that was never content to sit still. A silly cartoon that learned to let its characters, and stakes, matter.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: They’ve done it. The bastards did it. The Venture Bros. has been canceled before its eighth season, leaving its cast of dozens and their overlapping narratives dangling. And while we wait to see if someone, anyone, will rescue it and give it more a second life, all we can do is look back on one of the greatest achievements in American animation.
If you’re new to The Venture Bros., if you want to see what the fuss is all about, you may need to power through the early episodes. That first season (and especially the pilot) represent the show at its crudest, both aesthetically and comedically. While sometimes very funny, the initial stretch is very much “What if Jonny Quest, but full of dick jokes?”, a premise that cannot sustain an entire television series. Not all of it has aged well.
But then The Venture Bros. does something remarkable for an animated American comedy series: it grows up. It refuses to sit still. By season 2, its seemingly static characters are evolving, making choices that can’t be undone while the show refuses to ignore the ramifications of their actions. It would’ve been so easy for creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer to reset the status quo every time the credits roll, to always default back to “a family of sad idiots go on adventures.” Instead, these sad idiots grow. Sometimes by inches. More often by millimeters.
If you look at the entire cast – the heroes, their villains, their friends, their allies, and everyone in-between – from the start of the series and compare them to where they end up in season 7, it’s shocking. The Venture brothers themselves grew up before our eyes. And they dragged everyone else, sometimes kicking and screaming, along with them.
That “everyone else” is vital to The Venture Bros., because the title may refer to Hank and Dean Venture, intrepid teenage adventurers, but the show was about their entire universe. Inspired by classic pulp stories, ’60s adventure cartoons, superhero comics, ’80s action movies, and literally every single thing that Publick and Hammer ever loved, the world of the series proved as complex, and as fun to explore, as anything from Marvel and DC. What begins as a pastiche of pop culture transforms into something wholly unique in tone and intent.
Just look at the characters assembled in the image at the top of this article. I know all of their names. I know their backstories. I know their relationships with one another. I know who they have worked for, who they have worked with, who they hate, who they love, and what they want. I also know they are a tiny, tiny fraction of the characters who matter to both the show and to me. To make a list of individuals, organizations, teams, and companies that carry dramatic or comedic weight in the Venture Bros. universe, I’d need a Wiki to do it justice. And the show makes this world-building look easy. And yes, it does it all alongside very good dick jokes.
Canceling a show this good is unthinkable. Canceling a show with so many unresolved threads and storylines is a crime. While we hold out hope for a hero to step in and save the series, we can revisit the whole thing on Hulu and just remember that we were blessed with this masterpiece for seven seasons and 17 glorious years. That’s remarkable.
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