We're well over halfway into the third season of Venture Bros, and it's fairly obvious the focus is; while the first season was about introducing the main characters, and the second about expanding their world, season three is all about the mighty back story. From seeing the first romantic entanglements of the Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend, to finding out how the Phantom lost his Limbs and where Billy got his robot hand, this has been the summer of filling in the blanks, some large mysteries, others barely even considered assumptions. It's like an animated version one of those Comic Book Encyclopedias that give us not only the height and weight of the main heroes but the aliases, appearances, and distinguishing marks of even their most obscure foes.
It's a creative choice that runs of the risk of being overly incestuous, putting out episodes that could collapse under their own obsessive attention to minutiae. But while the third season has occasionally gone a little overboard, the overall impression has been of a show working to shore up its base before (hopefully) moving on to larger matters. An obsession with the past has been an important theme on the series since the very first episode; giving the audience a chance to see just what that obsession entails makes our connection with the characters all the stronger.
"Now Museum, Now You Don't," has us back on Spider Skull Island, Jonas Venture Jr.'s base, formerly home to the Fraternity of Torment. In the pre-credits open, we see the Fraternity in its heyday, with Manotaur, Brainula, and a "suspiciously hirsute Occidental" under the leadership of the dreaded Scaramantula. The fraternity is determined to bring down Dr. Venture, and they've kidnapped young Rusty to prove their intentions; but it's all for naught, as the good doctor has snuck himself into the base, along with the original Team Venture. Fisticuffs ensue, with Scaramantula managing to turn on the self-destruct before he makes his escape. The self-destruct dies on the vine, though–but it'll probably be important later.
In the present, Jonas Jr. is opening a museum on the island to his late father, and he's invited everybody alive who might be interested to take part, including Team Venture (and the not-as-dead-as-we-thought Colonel Gentleman), Scaramantula, a supposedly senile Brainula, and, of course, Rusty, Brock, and the boys. It's an awkward evening, with Doc's usual talent for taking every thing the wrong way in full swing, and Jonas' controlling nature pushing his ex-pirate staff to the brink of mutiny. Plus, Mr. Impossible is there, a drunken mess desperate to make good with Sally, and nobody can get Ned to put on his pants.
Jonas's prickliness is worth noting, as it's the first time since his appearance in season one that he's actually been a jerk. Usually his purpose is to show the man Rusty could've become, a confident, brilliant scientist who makes waves with the ladies despite his diminutive status. In "Museum," we finally see him on edge, even to the point of takin petty shots against his brother. The cause of that pettiness is finally revealed during a filmstrip at the evening's climax, made of edited together home movies and interviews with the late Jonas himself. When Dick Cavett asks Jonas what his greatest achievement is, he says, "My son"–and you can't help but feel a little sorry for Jonas, Jr. at that moment. Even with all his failure and selfishness, Rusty is still his father's only true son. All JJ can do is hope overshadowing the present will eventually mean getting back some of the past.
The usual little touches abound in "Museum," from Paul Entmann's presence as Humongoloid in the opening battle, to his smaller self perched on Brock's shoulder at the start of the party. Billy's fanboy-ism continues, as he salivates over Ventures merchandise and pays through the nose for autographs, and just to put more on the Dr. Quymn theory, Colonel Gentleman refers to her as his "step-daughter." Which is probably about as much confirmation as we'll ever get. (Random thought: have we ever met Rusty's mom? Jonas certainly got around enough that it could've been anyone ) Not much Hank and Dean action here, but the handful of scenes between Rusty and Brock are choice, especially Rusty's fake-out on the jet-ride home. My only complaint isn't so much a criticism as a disappointment: after last week, I was hoping the Monarch might put in an appearance, but he's a no show. We'll just have to wait and see what next week brings.
The new episode of Fat Guy Stuck In Internet, "Belly Of The Skrales," was surprisingly painless. Maybe I'm just an easy touch for Stephen King references. The opening has Gemberling and Chains pushing through a doorway onto a beach, ala Drawing Of The Three--the number of the door is even 19, which is an important number for the Dark Tower series as a whole. And the end of the ep has yet another doorway on yet another beach, this time with the number 237, the number of the room with the dead woman in the tub in The Shining. (In the book, the room number is actually 217, but the hotel Kubrick filmed at actually had a Room 217 and didn't want him using the number in case people got scared away.)
It doesn't hurt that the main story of "Skrales" is actually not completely terrible. When Gemberling and Chains find themselves on the beach, Gemberling looks out over the ocean and decides he has to cross it. A ship appears on the horizon, captained by a fairly twitchy man named Skrales and his bearded clam first mate, Mr. Roberts. Gemberling and Chains climb aboard; unfortunately, Skrales is crazy and in love with a giant sea monster named Lorelei. He takes our heroes captive, but Mr. Roberts offers to save them. Gemberling takes him up on his offer. Unfortunately, the clam is crazy in love, too.
Some of the bits weren't half bad, and Skrales made a nice guest spot. The episode design clearly took a lot of work, from the garbage bag ocean to the miniature work with the ship and the giant squid-face thing. All the practical effects were a nice change of pace from the Trapper Keeper look of most of the computer world. Fat Guy still doesn't seem to have a purpose or a real center, but at least they chucked the tediously dull-headed film parodies for now.
And then there's Tim And Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job!. Man, I thought Shin Chan was hard to comment on. Tim And Eric has a couple connected sketches and some recurring characters, but each episode works to create a vibe that is hard to accurately describe, and even harder to assess in any meaningful way. I don't enjoy it in the same way I enjoy Venture Bros, but the mixture of comedy and outsider art can be awfully fascinating. Or just plain awful, depending on your mood. At the very least, you can't watch an episode expecting standard sketch and satire–there's some of that there, but it's at an almost Kaufman-like level of alien self-mockery.
"Resurrection" follows Tim's 'death' from last season with an appropriately awkward resurrection. Interspersed with the rest of the episode, we chart Tim's return to acting alongside Eric, his discovery of a new power (if he says "Tiger," he creates a cheesy tiger statue out of thin air), and his and Eric's immediate desire to exploit that ability. One crappy TV ad later and the two of them are moving their product out of a rundown store to lines of enthused customers. But the tiger creation takes its toll on Tim, and he eventually asks Eric to kill him by putting a clothespin on his nose. Not to worry thought–Tim is like Jesus. He'll be back.
Between the main story is an assortment of commercial parody–Dick Dousche's ("It's my real name!") penile douches, probably the most blatantly funny moment of the episode–, some uncomfortable face time with an apparently brain damaged Dr. Brule (he's never been a genius, but I'm wondering if all the wine from last year did something to his head), and a bizarre music sequence called "Afternoon Review." These last two bits seem less about making you laugh (although John C. Reilly as Brule has his moments) and more about getting under your skin. The "Review" stuff in particularly is hypnotically creepy, like a David Lynch dream sequence.
I can understand the objections to the series; it's often aggressively unpleasant, and doesn't really match up with anything else in the Adult Swim line-up. Not even Fat Guy's dull stupidity can match this level of squirminess. But there is something there, something unique and worth watching. The question isn't where do they go next, but how can they possibly keep this up much longer?
Venture Bros, "Now Museum, Now You Don't": A
Fat Guy Stuck In Internet, "Belly Of The Skrales": B
Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, "Resurrection": B+
--First appearance of Mr. Impossible, post Colbert. Chris McCulloch (aka Jackson Publick) has taken over the job, and the change wasn't that distracting.
--They really need to hire some new voice actors. Hearing Monarch speech patterns coming out of Brainula was sort of distracting.
--Colonel Gentleman's speech about getting brought back to life? Pretty ewww.