In every room full of potheads watching cartoons, there's one guy who isn't high. While the rest of them giggle at the juvenile gags of "Scooby Doo" and "Thundercats," the sober one starts questioning how these bits of pop art would be if they were aimed at those who could really appreciate them.
I'm not saying Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer were always clean, but it's clear they share both a passion for the classics and the keen minds to recreate cartoons for those of us who grew up watching them.
Hammer and Publick's creation The Venture Bros. is "Jonny Quest" all grown up. The genius, the bodyguard and the boys are translated from two-dimensional comedy/action sketches into fully realized, fully human characters.
The show centers on Dr. "Rusty" Venture, a pill-popping genius who, it turns out, isn't that smart.
If the first season was supposed to resolve his daddy issues – his father Jonas Venture was a true scientist/adventurer – it didn't take. In fact, the second season starts with him dealing with his brother (born to him in the last season's finale), who looks a lot like his dad and apparently got all the brains.
The secret star of the show is Rusty's bodyguard, Brock Samson, voiced by Patrick Warburton.
The ultra-violent Brock is often the only voice of reason and about the only one who could make toast without killing himself. He branches out a lot in this season. We learn more about his background with the government and his love/hate relationship with Russian spy Molotov Cocktease.
Brock is fanatically protective of his "family," though less interested in Rusty than he is the two boys, Hank and Dean Venture, the titular Venture Bros. And not in a dirty way. Brock likes the ladies and we see that pretty much every time he's in a room with a lady.
Hank and Dean, who fancy themselves boy adventurers despite their obvious lack of talent, are as different as night and day.
This season it becomes clear that Hank is mean to be Brock's protégé, even though he's a moron. The blonde boy who dresses like Fred from "Scooby Doo," Hank has a lot of messed up ideas about...everything. Brock has to remind him before a date not to use the "See Food" joke.
Smarter, but still pretty clueless, is Dean. He is supposed to take Dr. Venture's place as a scientist. We even see Rusty buying him a "speedsuit" at the mall – the perfect attire for the scientist on the go, he's told.
Of course, no hero is complete without a villain. And with heroes this stupid (Brock excluded), you need a really dumb bad guy. Enter...The Monarch!
A butterfly-themed baddie, The Monarch and his hapless henchmen are constantly after Dr. Venture, who still isn't sure why his winged foe won't just leave him alone.
This season also focuses on a much more capable villain, the fearsome Phantom Limb – so named because his forearms and calves are invisible, but deadly.
Last season, Phantom Limb stole away The Monarch's lover, Dr. Girlfriend – a quick-on-her-feet lady who dresses like Jackie O and sounds like Harvey Firestein. This season shows The Monarch's ineffective attempts to win her back and her growing annoyance with Phantom Limb's cultured ways.
The Venture Bros. – Season Two picks up after the previous season's finale, when the boys were killed. Will they be back? Won't they? Of course they will, but the fun is in bringing them back.
The opening episode, "Powerless in the Face of Death," is a masterstroke. As the episode wears on, the monumental opening takes on new meaning as it becomes clear Dr. Venture doesn't miss his dead sons so much as he doesn't want to deal with raising them again after he's cloned them.
A great bit shows Rusty and Brock reminiscing over all the times the boys have died and it drives home the point – beloved though they are, The Venture Bros. don't have a lot upstairs.
Season Two is a two-disc set of 13 episodes that takes treasured cartoon memories and twists them into horrifying new shapes.
"Viva Los Muertos," in which a team of very familiar grown-up "teen sleuths" break into the Venture Compound and discover a zombie farm, is a good example.
We've all heard the jokes about Shaggy being stoned, but this episode really explores what would happen when those kids grew up. Are they trying to solve a mystery or just looking for stuff to steal? The "Fred" character's turn as a manipulative and violent leader is only topped by "Velma" as a backhanded lesbian.
In "Escape to the House of Mummies (Part 2)" (there is no Part 1), we get the classic time travel episode and see the havoc it wreaks on the family while Dr. Venture gets into a petty feud.
Sometimes the throwaway lines are worth it all. When Brock waxes joyous over getting Edgar Allen Poe in a headlock, particularly on his pumpkin-sized head, it brings the room down.
For newscomers and old fans alike, the hands down best of the bunch episode is "Victor. Echo. November." Sure, it's better in context, but if you can't love a dying henchman's request to hear a song by Technotronic before he dies, you need a heart.
There's so much going on here it's hard to chronicle it all. Hank and Dean on a date that's doomed from the start. Dr. Venture waiting patiently to watch what he thinks is a Dolly Parton skin-flick and the bickering between The Monarch and Phantom Limb are all classics.
The absurdity reaches new heights when Brock comes to the rescue, in a men's bathroom, completely naked.
When he tells Phantom Limb to skip the "we're not so different, you and I" speech, you get the feeling he really has heard it before.
There's not a clunker in the set and each episode builds on the others while exploring new and weird territory.
Also included are:
Hate Floats – In which The Monarch is almost raped in prison.
Love-Bheits – Where Baron Underbheit tries to marry Dean.
20 Years to Midnight – Bringing back the "Fantastic Four" parody Mr. Impossible.
Assassinanny 911 - Brock must kill him Hunter S Thompson-like mentor.
Fallen Arches - Neighbor Dr. Orpheus brings together his old team.
Guess Who's Coming to State Dinner - The ghost of Abraham Lincoln helps save the day.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Kills - Introducing Dr. Henry Killinger.
Showdown at Cremation Creek (parts 1 and 2) - The head of the Guild of Calamitous Intent is revealed...at a wedding.
For the aging fans of classic cartoons or those who just like a good laugh, The Venture Bros. – Season Two can provide the perverse fun you are looking for.
More importantly, this craftily combines humor with character building and every action, no matter how inane, helps build toward a bigger story.
Presented in "Glorious Extra Color," the entire disc is shown in the original 1.33:1 "full screen" aspect ratio, just like on TV. The Korean animation is not overly beautiful, but it's not especially intended to be. The transfer is clean and seems a little clearer than the show's original broadcast on Adult Swim.
Viewers have the option of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and stereo sound with subtitles in English, French and Spanish. The explosions, the music and the voices are rich, thanks mostly to a talented voice staff and sound engineers. It's all clear as day to the ear.
Here is where The Venture Bros. – Season Two earns it's wings. The extras are plentiful and well worth the time it takes to soak them in.
Each and every episode is presented with cast commentary, generally with Publick and Hammer and one or two of the other actors. While the early episodes tend to ramble a bit (they did commentary out of order), it's very funny and none-too-shy about biting the hand that feeds them.
In the commentary for the first episode of the season, "Powerless in the Face of Death," the group dishes on how Cartoon Network/Adult Swim initially balked on their request to pay for "Everybody's Free" by Aquagen (feat. Rozella), despite the entire opening of the episode being completely dependent on the song.
One warning: While the show is certainly not aimed at young children, the language in the commentaries is not bleeped and does get a little salty at times.
Deleted scenes are many and wonderful, though it's clear why some of them were cut in deference to others. Most of them are accompanied by storyboard sketches, but some have full animation.
Most intriguing is the "Tour of Astro-Base GO," a semi-fictional look at the headquarters for Publick and Hammer. The viewer is taken on a rocket trip to the floating space station where they meet Soul-Bot and watch the creators walk through dozens of twisting hallways before ending up at what is actually a pretty small studio.
The packaging is also top-notch. Each set is covered in watermarks from spilled drinks, folds and tears that make the set look like a well-worn comic from yesteryear. The insert has the "Venture Industries" logo on one side and lists other Adult Swim DVDs on the opposite side.
Making up for a more lackluster Season One set, the makers of The Venture Bros. – Season Two packed this two-disc set to the gills with goodies and insight into their show. But, more importantly, this cartoon retains its odd mix of humor and action, never letting up on the jokes while turning in full and captivating stories.
Looking this set over, I can't think of anything that's missing. The extras are comprehensive and entertaining. The show itself is beautiful and drop-dead hilarious. Even the packaging shows how everyone working on this project put forth the maximum effort to make a truly essential set. No need to buy a special edition later on - The Venture Bros. – Season Two will last you until repeated viewing wear the discs clean. This one is well deserving, I think, of a place in the DVD Talk Collector Series.