Somebody asked last week what Venture Bros would have to do to get a B, and it's something I've been thinking about. Technically, they already got a B–well, okay, a B+--but the average rating for this season has been really high. Much as I love seasons one and two, I don't really think they're all perfect episodes. But that's the tricky part about grading a series without the larger context; I don't think any of us will really know how good season three is until it hits DVD and we can watch 'em all in one block. Get the big picture, so to speak. For right now, the grades are a first impression. I try to rate how I felt while I was watching, say, "Dr. Quymn, Medicine Woman," and if those feelings end up changing a couple months down the road, well, I hope you don't hold it too much against me.
Still, however the winds change, it's safe to say that the consistency of everything we've seen so far this summer has really raised the bar for the series as a whole. The level of complexity, the connective tissue between individual episodes, the trust that the writers put in their audience–it's all top-notch. Whether or not the continuity-jonesing vibe collapses in on itself eventually, it's good to know that you can tune in each week reasonably confident that you're not going to get another "Guess Who's Coming To State Dinner."
"The Lepidopterists," this week's entry, follows up the final moments of "Tears Of A Sea Cow," with Monarch's flying cocoon making an assault on Spider Skull Island. It's like a pure geek injection, from the Monarch's usual super-villain theatrics to the discovery that Jonas' defense system revolves around him, Sally, the Pirate Captain, and Ned getting into flying machines that form into a Voltron rip-off called "Ventronic." (They even copy the Voltron music, in a repeated gag that gets more or less funny as the ep goes on, depending on your tastes.) (I was almost crying by the end.) Jonas plays to win and the Monarch gets trounced, but he throws Jonas off with some reference to Guild by-laws, giving him, Dr. Mrs., the cocoon, and crew time to escape.
Jonas works to find out just what game he's playing, and how far he can bend the rules; the Guild can't help him, and a call to the O.S.I.'s listed number proves fruitless–at least until two suited men arrive on his doorstep, offering their services to help Jonas with his "butterfly" problem, and speaking in the rapid-fire monotone of cops from the forties. (I kept expecting them to mistake Ned for Madman Muntz.) The so-called lepidopterists (Jonas: "You're here to look at my stamp collection?") have called in an expert of their own, a man with years of experience in Guild-dealings: Brock Samson. There's a conference, and it's decided that the only way to handle the situation is with a convenient Death Ray.
The Monarch, meanwhile, is rebuilding the cocoon and laying plans. It turns out that Dr. Mrs.' efforts to get him assigned to Jonas were more complex than initially thought; according to Guild by-law, if Jonas' threat level against the Monarch rises about an "8," Monarch is allowed to attack members of Jonas' family. Which means Rusty Venture is back on the table. All Monarch has to do is survive long enough to exploit the loophole.
Oh, and then there's Henchmen 21, 24, and 1, sent on a secret mission into the heart of Spider Skull. 1 is competent, driven, and focused, but this is his first mission, and he's been paired with two long-established characters (as the Monarch explains to his wife, they're the perfect hench, because they have that "rare blend of expendable and invulnerable"), which means he's pretty much doomed. 21 and 24 take every opportunity to mention this, much to 1's chagrin: "You're the guy who doesn't come back."
Damn, but that was just a twenty minute slice of awesome, wasn't it? Brilliant plotting, inventive sight gags, great character bits, and some of the out and out funniest lines of the season. Jonas' competency once again takes a hit, as he plays the odd-man out role of the one sane person in a world of escaped lunatics; it doesn't matter that he had the Monarch cold by the end of their first fight, because that's just not the way things are done. The Pirate Captain's descent in tranq gun addiction was a beautiful, horrible thing to watch, as was Brock's love affair with Jonas' classic Ray machine. And I find myself liking Ned more and more.
It's possible to write-off this whole ep as filler–after all, Monarch's arching Jonas lasts less than an hour, and while he's off to bug Rusty with Guild approval, everything is still pretty much the same as it was before. But even acknowledging that, this was an eminently satisfying piece of work. My favorite thing about season three is that moment about ten, fifteen minutes into each episode when you realize the pieces are getting put into place, and you start waiting for the end when it all comes together in one neat click. The result isn't always perfect, but just the buzz of seeing it building and waiting for it to peak is a blast.
And it's a hoot to boot. While the meta-stuff doesn't always work, the conversations between 21, 24, and 1 were genius. (They tell him he doesn't have a name, he gives them his name, and they're all, "Now it's just pathos!") I laughed so hard I was snorting milk I can't remember drinking.
Still no new Metalocalypse this week (the latest schedule has it back on near the end of August, same night as the last new episode of Venture), so back to the Fat Guy Stuck In Internet trenches. "Blaster Of Both Worms" mixes Road Warrior with Dune, and it has some decent moments. Chain getting trapped by the lure of a double deck VCR was cute, as was Gemberling's comment right before getting captured by the people of Data Town: "I'm so sick of new scenarios." (I hear you, bud.) Also caught a Temple of Doom nod–it's a rich tapestry, I guess.
Gemberling and Chains get stuck in this town that's being menaced by a group of Scuzzies for their silicone. Firewire, daughter of the town elder, is convinced that Gemberling will help them find the cry that will bring back the Blaster Worms. Because who doesn't like Blaster Worms? I liked Byte and the head bad guy's interaction, and Gemberling's "Nobody cheats me out of a dry hump," line was good. And hey, the battle sequence at the end probably cost some money. But like Gemberling, I'm tired of this stuff. A little more plot would make all the wandering easier to take.
With "Chan," Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job! pay homage to 100 years of the great Jackie Chan. Which is funny, you see, because Jackie Chan has only been making movies for, um, yeah, I don't think I'm gonna be the guy who explains that joke. I wonder if that isn't part of the idea–it starts of like a satire of the entertainment media's obsession with fawning over its own, but then it's such a pathetically blatant parody that it's almost like it's satirizing itself. I dunno. Overthinking much? Sure, sure. With Tim & Eric, it's hard not to. The way it messes with your head, you spend half the time watching it trying to figure out who's putting on who. And the rest of the time, you're either laughing or wincing or both.
The three piece Tim and Eric sketch that runs through the show, "Sexual Romance," has Tim putting the moves on Eric's sex-pot wife, to the sultry sounds of the kind of cheesy R&B; music they've been playing on easy listening radio since the early nineties. There's also an ad for the It's Not Jackie Chan board game that starts off as straight sketch, and then gets dark when somebody runs the game buzzer too long; a not entirely successful Charlie Rose-style talk show called "Zits"; and a guest spot from Will Forte on "Quilting With Will." Will has issues, and he's made them into a quilt that he expects to be buried in. "This black square represents my father," he says, and it goes downhill from there.
So, we were talking about grades, right? Tim & Eric offers a different kind of challenge than Venture, and I'm still not entirely sure how to handle it. The show exists to elicit a strong response, right? At least, that's the impression I'm getting. How do you articulate that? "Lepidopterists" made me laugh, hung together well, and told a swell story, so it gets an A. "Worms" didn't, so it doesn't, but it wasn't a total loss. But "Chan"? You got me. "Sexual Romance" was all right, but the board game sketch, the ad for "Child Clown Outlet," and "Quilting" were all horribly wonderful. I guess I'll stick with the B+ for now. Worse comes to worst, I can always pretend it's all based on a curve. Or one of those really complicated graphs that need calculus and smart people to work right.
Venture Bros, "The Lepidopterists": A
Fat Guy Stuck In Internet, "Blaster Of Both Worms": B-
Tim & Eric Awesome Show Great Job!, "Chan": B+
--Funny how Brock's appearance was like him doing a guest spot on somebody else's series.
--I'm sure Henchman 1 is probably dead, but I wouldn't mind him popping back up. It was just a little too sad that he had to die.
--Everybody remember Speedy?