"ORB/Boogie Baby, Boogie/Rascal"

"ORB/Boogie Baby, Boogie/Rascal"

Let's see if we can get this straight: in the Venture-verse, Jonas Venture was a real person, and along with his son Rusty and a team of trusty adventurers, he traveled the world in the name of super science and spreading the word of the white man. His exploits were so popular that they were adapted into "Rusty Venture," an animated series that exists in a world that's also a cartoon, but isn't acknowledged as such. Quiz Boy Billy is one of the show's biggest fans, and he's devoted an unhealthy chunk of his lifetime to decoding what he thinks are secret messages found in each episode, hidden in drawings of ancient Mayan temples, or in the puff of smoke off a fired gun. Which is a lot like the rest of us, poring over clues that probably only exist because we want them to–the difference being that Billy's actually right.

Venture Bros has always maintained a delicate balance between satirizing Johnny Quest-style heroics and embracing them, and like the best parodies, the show's ridicule is based largely on a love for its target. "ORB" skews towards the heroing side, although much like "Twenty Years To Midnight" it still manages to undercut its leads' dignity at nearly every turn.

Billy's deductions lead to the Venture Compound, and it's nice to be back. For the first time in what seems like ages, Doc, Brock, and the boys get to play along. A box is discovered with a secret riddle inside, and while Rusty and Billy take a trip to New York to hunt down the answer, Brock is doing some investigating of his own. He's found a cylinder recording that leads to a neat, sepia toned flashback; apparently, one of the Venture forefathers (a Colonel) was a member of an early variant of the Guild of Calamitous Intent whose intentions were far from calamitous. That group included Fantomas, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and a fat magician who gets thrown off the ship for suggesting they dare use the ORB–a mysterious sphere whose powers are as immense as they are indeterminate.

More revelations ensue, including the discovery that Brock's assignment to the Ventures wasn't to keep Rusty safe, but to make sure that if Rusty ever found the orb, he'd be enough of a grown-up to deal with it responsibly. Otherwise–well, bye-bye Rusty. After a brief detour to Studio 54 (whose bathroom has a changing table for some reason that I really don't want to contemplate), the riddle is solved with an assist from the Alchemist, and Billy and Rusty find the orb in a museum study. Brock waits in the shadows, ready to slay the good doctor should he prove less than morally pure; but for the second or maybe third time in his life, Rusty decides to do the decent thing. Which ends up simply being "put the Orb in the safe in the den," but it's a start.

There's a lot to like in "ORB," from Brock's struggles against his beloved Charger to Billy's insistence that he and Rusty be in costume while they treasure hunt to the possibility that Jonas Venture might have been killed by his own trusted bodyguard when his intentions towards the orb turned evil. The flashbacks were a nice visual change of pace, as were the brief glimpses of the "Rusty Venture" show, what had a bit of the lined look that the original "Quest" series had.

Probably the most striking moment of the ep is when Rusty turns out to have a conscience; it's a call back to "The Doctor Is Sin" that shows us, despite his many (many, many, many) shortcomings, the Doc does have a heart beating in that sunken cave he calls a chest. But unlike "Sin," the build in "ORB" felt rushed. Like every episode this season, there was a lot of going on, and it didn't all sit together as well as I would've liked. The reveal about Brock's real job could've used more time, and while I appreciate that Rusty has a soul and everything, his speech about his dad existed largely in a vacuum. It was a terrific piece of writing that really could've used more lead-in–some more time spent on Rusty himself, instead of the usual series of gags about his selfishness, would've given his decision to be a good person more weight.

Speaking of singing (Oh crap, I edited that line out. Damn. Have to fix it in post.)(This was not fixed in post.-Ed.), "Boogie Baby, Boogie" continues the Fat Guy Stuck In Internet tradition of parodying films its target audience fondly remembers in order to appear relevant; in this case, it's the Jennifer Connelly jail bait classic, Labyrinth, with David Bowie and his magical package pants taking the brunt of the abuse. Gemberling and Chains get tricked by the Maze Master into entering The Maze, where they have 72 hours to escape or else find themselves doomed to turn into one of MM's "Dancing Sweetie Boys." Lots of not entirely unpleasant singing follows, as well as a pretty funny tip of the hat to the Dumbo crows, and a confrontation with a pair of logic doors that goes about as well as you'd expect.

The attention to detail on the parody was fairly impressive for once, especially in the "costume ball" sequence that serves as the episode's climax. There was an actual reference to Gemberling's abilities as a programmer, and Chain's antics were more amusing than tiresome. (Favorite bit: "You tricked me.") The show really needs Bit and Byte back, as this whole "wandering without progression" progress is wearing thinner each week. But "Boogie" at least gives you the impression that its creators give a damn about what they're doing, and that's definitely a good thing.

This week's Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job!, "Rascals," opens with perhaps its most disturbing image: the face of Patton Oswalt superimposed over a child's body, singing about taste and tits. The grainy video combined with the not entirely convincing green screen ratchets up the awkward level to biting-on-tinfoil levels, but having such a recognizable actor in the role keeps everything in the safe zone. Freakish as he may look, hey, it's Patton Oswalt. That dude would never kill us in our sleep, right?

The main Tim and Eric arc of the show follows the pair's fractured friendship after Tim takes a lead pipe to Eric's beloved rascal. Bob Odenkirk magically arrives to offer counseling, leading to a friendship arbitration with a lot of harsh words and suit-coat taking offing. Bob floats the idea that Eric needs to kill Tim's best friend–but since Eric is Tim's best friend, well, you see where that's going.

The rest of the sketches were more miss than hit tonight; the "Swing Dancing" stuff fell flat, and while Zach Galifianakis does his best to sell the joke, "Tairy Greene's Acting Seminar For Kids" never really got any momentum going. On the hit side, the Cinco-Phone ads, for a revolutionary cell phone that only has one button and causes second degree burns on its user's face, were great. Watching Ed Begley, Jr. straight-face it through a series of increasingly improbable pitch lines ("It can't receive incoming calls, so you'll never bothered again!") was hilarious, as was his apparent infatuation with the cooling gel the company provides its customers with to soothe their burns.

The resolution of the Tim and Eric storyline was decent–hey, who hasn't wanted to see Bob Odenkirk dressed up like a Furry and beaten to death with a pipe–but like the weaker parts of "Rascal," it was too traditional for its own good. I miss the bizarre heights of "Resurrection" already, and as freaky as Mini-Patton is, nothing here compares to the buzzer-based creepiness of last week. Not a bad episode, but not nearly threatening enough.

Grades:

Venture Bros, "ORB": A-

Fat Guy Stuck In Internet, "Boogie Baby, Boogie": B+

Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job!, "Rascal": B

Stray Observations:

--"John Bonham Rocks."

--I wonder who left the clues in the "Rusty Venture" show? It included a website address, which couldn't have been relevant when the series first ran.

--"Simply press NO times for 0."