"The Buddy System/Klokblocked/The Blue Screen Of Death/The Assy Diaries"

"The Buddy System/Klokblocked/The Blue Screen Of Death/The Assy Diaries"

I'm still not entirely sold on Sgt. Hatred being Venture Bros regular. The character design is all right, and the name is solid, but compared to the Monarch and Phantom Limb, I'm just not feeling it. So far, he hasn't really stuck out in his own in any way but one–and that whole "child molesting" thing is definitely not working for me. Hatred makes an appearance at the climax of "The Buddy System" that works decent, but when a bunch of kids attack him and there's yet another reference to the ruling about the Sgt's problem with "sexy" boys, it was a little off-putting. Worse, it's not particularly funny; the molestation gag only really worked as a one-off last season, about a character we rarely saw. Now that he's a recurring, it's just weird.

This week's story: In a desperate attempt to raise some much need cash, Doctor Venture opens up the compound to young Rusty Venture fans eager to follow in the footsteps of their hero. While Quiz Boy Billy gets insulted and the Triad fails to captivate their audience of younglings with a presentation on the dangers of Radon, Hank finds a new friend in a sarcastic, hulking teenager named Dermott. Dermott's lack of respect for Brock throws the bodyguard into a depression–gotta love that Orpheus is becoming Brock's confidante in moments of personal crisis–until he realizes he just needs to get somebody else more age appropriate to vent his rage. Doc takes the kids on a tour of E-Den, an enclosed bio-facility for training astronauts that, after forty years of neglect, has developed a bad case of murderous gorilla. Throw in guest spots from crazy Johnny and old-school super villain Doctor Z(in?), Dr. Mrs. The Monarch's hot new outfit, and Dean finally getting to kick some ass, and there's fun for the whole family.

In some ways, "Buddy" doesn't do much to dispel my reservations from last week. It looks like this season is going to eschew the free-floating approach of season 1 and 2, and have the episodes more immediately connected–apart from Billy's flashback, you can draw a straight thru-line from "Shadowman 9" to now, which gives the show a different vibe. Plus, there were a ton of nods to earlier eps, and apart from one quick line at the end–apparently, Dermott's real father is on the compound, but who is it? And who's his mysterious mommy?–there's not a lot of plot advancement.

But you know what? I loved it anyway. This was a blast to watch, funnier than "Hate" by far and not nearly as busy. Between the Monarch's frustrated attempts to use the Murderous Moppets as hench (and the final reveal that Dr. Mrs. is manipulating things behind the scenes), Dr. Z's gift for EEEEEVIL posturing, Brock's complete inability to deal with a snarky teen, it just popped. And there were some excellent quotes: I particularly enjoyed, "You think you're all hardcore, but you're really Dave Matthews." And hey, there was even another reference to Doc being resentful of Hank and Dean, with Brock running interference, and a cloning gag. I haven't given up hope for more experimentalism, but I can definitely live happy with what we've got.

While it's not a hard-and-fast rule, Metalocalypse episodes generally follow an abbreviated three-act structure. First act, we get a premise–in "Klockblocked," Nathan's coma-girlfriend starts dumps him for another man, so he decides to jump back into the dating pool. There's the opening credits, then a brief explanation from the Tribunal of the situation, as well as a description of a threat to Dethklok that most likely won't be relevant again till the last minute or so of the ep. In "Klock," the threat is Succoboso Explosion, a group led by Lavona Succoboso who's intent on using Nathan's seed to impregnate her legion of followers and create a new race. During the second act, the premise gets exploited–even though Nathan explicitly asks the rest of the group to give him some space while he macks on the ladies, they keep finding ways to, well, read the title again. And in the third act, Dethklok rocks our faces off while the various plot threads climax in a lot of violence and metal.

Predictable? Maybe, but when it works, it works. One of the show's best ongoing gags is the contrast between Dethklok's violent effect on the world and the band members' essential innocence. Murderface and the others are basically twelve year-old boys, and no matter how many of their fans they inadvertently murder, they never lose their charm. Nathan's grumpiness at having his date stolen has the exasperated quality of someone who's slightly smarter than the people he works with and knows it, and watching Murderface get dissed for being a bass player, despite being the bass player of the most popular band in the world, is funny in a way you don't really expect from a series this enamored with evisceration. I wouldn't mind seeing the formula tweaked a bit, though; a predictable structure only gets you so far.

I think I've pinpointed my biggest problem with Fat Guy Stuck In Internet: John Gemberling, the Fat Guy himself. "Blue Screen Of Death" (which is not bad title for a zombie episode, except for the fact that it never actually gets referenced in the show) has some cute ideas–Ken and friends travel to Server City, where they find Chains and a bunch of cyber zombies. While Chains starts a zombie band, Homeschooled Fools, Ken watches Bit and Byte get captured in hilariously repetitive fashion, before he realizes he can fix the virus and save everyone. Which he does. And then Chain kidnaps Bit and Byte and brings them back to the CEO.

Okay, so maybe "cute" was a bit much, but Chains triumphant "Yeah! Rule of Threes!" when Ken is nearly killed was funny. Unfortunately, the show continues to rip-off Tron by using the laziest tech-parodies possible, and while the characters persist in the illusion of a story, I'm not convinced. Gemberling himself is the series' weakest link; as the nominal straight man and hero, he needs to ground things, or at least be charismatic enough that we're curious to see what happens to him next. But he's neither–just a smirking, mediocre performer who seems content to coast his way from each scene to the next. The other actors (especially Bit and Byte) at least put some effort in; Gemberling just doesn't have the ability to match their professionalism.

"The Assy Diaries" is a lousy title, but the episode itself is a nice surprise. Again, we see the show works best when it has a strong plot; here, it's cops extorting nannies. Assy gets involved despite his usual suspension, and when he gets too close to the truth (ie, a strip club), the bent cops hit him with a snake, which leads to the first of two fantasy sequences. The second comes after Assy gets his legs chopped off in a ball pit–he sees himself in heaven and for one brief, shining moment, he actually gets a torso.

The trippy stuff was cool, as is a scene where a legion of nannies descend on their unrepentant extortionist. Plus, there's a great bit where Assy thinks Sanchez is on the take; after Sanchez describes the stuff he's bought for his kid because "Kids love ponies," Assy shoots the nearest horse and tells Sanchez, "I know how much your kids love glue." The shows writers still rely too much on the fact that there hero is an ass for the series to rise above one-note joke status, but during eps like this, something more struggles to rise to the surface. And that gives me hope. A tilting-at-windmills sort of hope, but at 12:45 on a Sunday night, I'll take what I can get.

Grades:

Venture Bros, "The Buddy System": A-

Metalocalypse, "Klokblocked": A-

Fat Guy Stuck In Internet, "Blue Screen of Death": C-

Assy McGee, "The Assy Diaries": B+

Stray Observations:

--Is Triana developing a "thing" for Dean? I'm not sure how I feel about that. It'd be like an A student dating a short bus kid.

--When Billy asks Doc why he didn't take better care of E-Den, Doc says, "My father died before he taught me to care." Which is just totally deep.

--The silhouette of Dermott's mom at the end didn't look familiar, nor did I recognize the voice. Anybody catch it?

--I think this is the first time we got a completely abbreviated opening titles from Venture. Curious.

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