So here we are–part one of the two part climax that ends the third season of Venture Bros. Feels a little weird, doesn't it? We only started a few months ago; seems too soon to be saying goodbye.
Which, really, is my biggest criticism for this season as a whole. Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer are clearly in love with the world they've created, and as viewers, we benefit form the care and attention they put into the small details; making sure each character has a back story, connecting those back stories in often surprising ways, and, of course, the references to off-hand remarks in earlier episodes that's been a show hallmark from the very beginning. There's craft at work here, basically, and nerds at play.
That's not an inherently bad thing. But as we run headlong into the finale, there are a few niggling doubts that stay with me. While all the meticulous attention rewards close viewing, it also means that there's precious little time to stop and relax. There have been some brilliantly funny bits in this batch of episodes, but you can't help wishing the writers would let a few chunks of mythology pass by the wayside in order to give us more time to simply enjoy the characters and their interactions. It's an easy enough problem to overlook when there are still more shows left in the season, but knowing now that time is nearly up, I find myself wondering about all those disparate threads, and how so many moments of potential were left hanging just so we could move on to something shiny and new.
For instance, remember Rusty's apparent change of heart back in "The Doctor Is Sin"? Maybe "change of heart" is stretching the point, but there was a clear indication of a character shift, that maybe, just maybe, he might grow up a little. There's a nod to this in "ORB," but that's about it Every other appearance he's had, he's been just as grasping and selfish as ever, and given the way part one of "The Family That Slays Together Stays Together" plays out, he doesn't seem to be changing any time soon.
That's not to say "Family" isn't bitchin'. Turns out the death car ("Adrian") attack last week wasn't a fluke. Brock gets the bad news from Molotov Cocktease that OSI has issued termination orders, and they've hired three crack assassins to do the deed: Herr Trigger, a German psychopath who really loves his work, Go Fish, specializing in sea-based kills (and there's always a canal, or an inlet, or a fjord), and the too-cool for a codename Le Tueur, who collects Silver Age comics and has an elephant chestpiece. Brock determines the best thing to do is to get the Ventures to Spider Skull Island to keep them safe and give him elbow room to protect himself. But since Dean, Hank, and Rusty all have the survival instincts of a horny Crystal Lake pothead, things probably aren't going to work out as planned.
"Family" has some terrific action sequences, with Brock having to kick three asses in a row in a variety of gruesome and/or comic ways. Not all the jokes land–Herr Trigger's fetishism got old quick, as did the second trip in as many weeks to Hunter Gathers' strip club–but the ultra-violence was great. Having Brock back in fighting form is always a good thing, and the way he interacts with Hank and Dean throughout "Family" was sweet without ever getting overly sentimental. (The whole "I don't love you, boys!" moment works because it wasn't overplayed; in most shows, there'd be a beat with Brock looking all sad after the jet left, but that didn't happen here because it simply isn't necessary.)
Plus, some of the jokes were great. The subplot with the Monarch finally making an assault on the Venture compound, only to find the whole place deserted apart from a distraught (and half-naked) Sgt. Hatred, had the Moppets in their usual form (pity their stuffed animals), and Monarch, as always, struggling in vain against the incompetencies of his staff and reality itself. And for once, it was nice to get to the end, think, "Oh man, there's no way they can tie all this together" and actually be right.
Still, my problem with this season isn't that Rusty's spiritual awakening (or whatever) got shortchanged, it's that in giving over so much time to mythology and plot, some of the connection between the audience and the Venture family was lost. With some shows, a thirteen episode season would be a blessing, but here, I wish we could have a few more shows; because there's a potential here, that potential I first mentioned way back at the premiere, for Venture Bros to be something more than just an extended series of in-jokes and dark parody. There's a depth to the cast that the creators haven't completely engaged with yet. It's a good show that could be a great one; it just needs that one last push.
Who knows? There's always part 2. Maybe we'll get some orb-time, and maybe Rusty'll be less of a dick. We'll just have to wait and see.
Looks like Fat Guy Stuck In Internet is bidding us farewell, at least for now. That'd make a perfect segue into some sort of "Please god, may it be forever!" type comment, but I'll give 'em this much: the show went out on a high note. "Gemberling's Requiem" has the closest thing to visual excitement that the series has yet produced, and it even flirts (in a few brief moments) with actual pathos. It's quickly undermined pathos, and the episode's ending is as much a buzzkill as anything else the show's done, but for a couple minutes, I actually found myself engaged.
Gemberling and Chains have finally (after a journey in which no actual progression was ever indicated) made it to the CEO's Dark Tower fortress. After passing through the Field of Delights–Gemberling and Chains' buffalo chicken induced dreaming, with the fat guy longing for home and the bounty hunter finally finding a cure for "ass cancer," was a hoot–Gemberling confronts the Big Bad on his home turf. The CEO sends the evil Byte to do his dirty work, and the fight here isn't half bad, ending in a not-entirely-lame Fellowship of the Ring nod. The climactic battle between Gemberling and the CEO is pretty good too, with lots of swooping camera angles and even some tension, a definite rarity for the show. And the climax to the climax, with the candle gag that opened the ep finally getting a pay-off, wasn't too shabby either.
But then it gets all dumb again, cutting through the weak suspense with a Back To The Future nod that's not all that amusing. I dunno. My prejudices as a reviewer have always been a problem for me when it comes to Fat Guy, since I'll always be pulling for story to take precedence if one ever shows itself; but given the fairly successful attempts to be funny and halfway-plotted in the minutes leading up to that final, limp punchline, I don't feel like I'm entirely to blame for getting annoyed.
Outside from the nominal framing sketches that follow the two title characters each episode, Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job! isn't about "plot" at all, and more power to it. While I wasn't a huge fan of the rascal-based sketching of, um, "Rascal" last week, "Spagett" managed to hit some traditional beats without settling into a rut. Calling back to an earlier sketch about a freakish balding man with a penchant for pasta and spooking people, the ep finds Tim in high spirits; as he tells Eric, Steven Spielberg wants to make a Spagett movie, which is the first step to fame, fortune, humiliation of your best friend, etc. There's even a pre-made poster: Spagett and the Golden Treasure. (Tag-line: "Spagett about it.") Things get more embarrassing when Eric visits Tim on set, disrupting the shoot and getting the cold shoulder from Brian Posehn (actually Brian Posehn) and Spielberg himself (not actually Steven Spielberg). There's some karmic justice when the movie tanks, and Tim undergoes plastic surgery to make himself look like Spagett permanently without knowing the franchise is doomed; but the kids still love him, and Eric is still the guy on the sidelines who gets photoshopped into a fern.
In between all this, we get a brief moment with Steve Brule ("Take your sister to the prom!"), an ad from Steve Schirripa for a product that makes eggs grow in your large intestine, a quick bit with Video Match ("When I lend you a diaper, make sure you return it"), and a biology class on the nature of penises that leads to the music video, "I Got Chubs For You."
"Spagett" felt pretty solid to me. While the green-screen jokes in the main sketches were a little old, the outfit Tim wore made it work; and just the fact that Spagett is a hideous, hideous frigging thing gave the Hollywood-doesn't-get-it stuff more of an edge. And all the other bits were fine too–the eggs ad started off as standard (and gross) Mr. Show style comedy, but the brief flurry of edits near the end changed the tone, and the "Chubs" video was just all kinds of wrong.
Tim & Eric is the kind of show you enjoy without ever being able to tell anyone else you like it; the more indefensible it becomes, the more it sticks with you. This one was only about a 7 on the Off-Putting Meter, but while there was nothing like the "Not Jackie Chan" boardgame buzzer moment (the chicken-hatching bit came close, due largely to the grainy video), there wasn't anything as dull as "Swingtown." All hail the middle of the road. (Or, in this case, that part near the side where all the dead squirrels end up.)
Venture Bros, "The Family That Slays Together Stays Together, Part 1": A-
Fat Guy Stuck In Internet, "Gemberling's Requiem": B+
Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job!, "Spagett": A-
--There's an extra two minute scene with the Monarch and crew if you watch "Family" at Adult Swim.com. It doesn't add much to the plot, but it's funny.
--Loved Brock's howls of pain after dismantling his car. Also, H.E.L.P.E.R.'s response.
--Hank's really coming into his own this season, isn't he?
--I caught James Urbaniak (voice of Doctor Venture and others) on an old Law & Order: Criminal Intent. It's very weird hearing Rusty's voice come out of a non-cartoon.
--"I can barely hear you because I'm not listening."