DVD Review

[DVD Review - The Venture Bros.]

Adult Swim\'s "The Venture Bros." is a cult phenomenon. If you haven\'t seen the show, it\'s a delightful satire that combines "Jonny Quest", "The Hardy Boys" and most comic superheroes, with an added splash of 1960s futuristic optimism, all underscored with a retro-industrial jazzy score by J.G. Thirlwell. Hank and Dean Venture are the sons of Dr. Thaddeus Venture, former child genius who is now a pill-popping failure of a scientist. They have a bodyguard in the form of Brock Sampson (voiced by Patrick Warburton), and an emotional but loyal robot named H.E.L.P.eR. SoundtrackNet takes a look at the first two seasons of the show, now available on DVD.

Season One

As the first season unfolds, we learn about the supporting characters in the show. Dr. Venture\'s arch-nemesis The Monarch is a member of The Guild of Calamitous Intent, although Venture has no idea why The Monarch is set to destroy him. There are other villians out to attack the Ventures, including Baron Underbheit (who is missing his lower jaw), Phantom Limb (who is missing his arms and legs), and Dr. Girlfriend, who has a deeply masculine voice, and is caught in a love triangle between The Monarch and Phantom Limb. There are also supporting roles on the side of the Ventures: Dr. Orpheus is a necromancer with a flare for the theatrical, and Dean has a crush on his Goth daughter Triana. Computer scientist Pete White and Master Billy Quizboy (a hydrocephalic ex-"boy genius") are two of Dr. Venture\'s college friends who make regular appearances as well.

For the most part, the episodes in the first season play out in a linear fashion, taking us through the increasingly complex relationships and introducing us to more supporting characters that are clearly influenced by pop culture. The jokes come fast and furious, but, like fans of Dennis Miller\'s comedy, it\'s important that you have some background knowledge of the pop culture references being satirized - otherwise, the topical humor will be lost on you. As such, "The Venture Bros." isn\'t for everyone, but it certainly worked for me. It\'s amazingly quotable, and hardly for children. By the time the season ends, Hank and Dean are killed, The Monarch loses Dr. Girlfriend to Phantom Limb, and Dr. Venture discovers he has a twin brother who he had absorbed into his body - and who is much smarter than him.

The show was created by Christopher McCulloch (aka Jackson Publick) and Eric "Doc" Hammer. Both these men cut their teeth as writers on "The Tick", and the lessons learned from that show are applied to "The Venture Bros.". Fans of both shows will undoubtedly notice a design similarity between The Tick\'s Arthur, and The Monarch\'s Henchmen. Even Ben Edlund, creator of "The Tick" has contributed writing to "The Venture Bros.".

The music for the show is created by J.G. Thirlwell, who might be best known for his work combining elements of industrial music, big band, punk rock, acid jazz and more. The resulting sound that he came up with for "The Venture Bros." is a retro-styled one, with high energy and plenty of winks-and-nods to musical history. There is no score album at this time, but it would be great if one were to come out.

Extras for the first season include commentary for six of the episodes, with Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer providing some interesting, if occasionally rambling, details about the productions of the show. There\'s even a "lost commentary" which you can download online. There are some deleted scenes, mainly with voiceovers and storyboards, and some rather bizarre featurettes, including a "Behind the Scenes" segment done as if the show were a live-action bit, as well as an "Animating Hank and Dean" segment which spoofs the idea of motion capturing the characters for animation. While it\'s nice that a lot of thought went into these fake behind-the-scenes bits, it\'s unfortunate that they don\'t also provide us with any real behind-the-scenes featurettes.

The extras also include the original pilot episode for the show, which gives us some insight into a few of the inside jokes, as well as the Christmas Special, a 15-minute quickie episode that is rushed but entertaining.

Season Two

The second season starts off right where the first one left off, and hits the ground running. Hank and Dean\'s death gets resolved in the first episode, The Monarch breaks out of prison, and Dr. Venture and Dr. Orpheus\' rivalry starts to heat up. Through the season we meet even more characters. We meet Brock Sampson\'s rival Molotov Cocktease, a sultry Russian spy. Dr. Orpheus starts to build up his own team of crime fighters, including Jefferson Twilight, a Blade-esque Blacula hunter, and The Alchemist, a gay sorcerer. We also meet Catclops and Girl Hitler, members of an underground resistance group, and Dr. Killinger, the Guild of Calamitous Intent\'s Number 2 man.

On the pop culture side, there are spoofs and satires galore. Jonny Quest shows up as a reclusive drug addict in "Twenty Years to Midnight"; Walt Disney is spoofed in "The Incredible Mr. Brisby"; Star Wars is heavily referenced and satirized in most of the episodes; The Manchurian Candidate is spoofed in "Guess Who\'s Coming to State Dinner?"; all the "Scooby Doo" cliches are torn up in "Viva Los Muertos!", and David Bowie, Klaus Nomi and Iggy Pop are all present in the big two-part season finale showdown.

This is arguably a much funnier season, with the quips and jokes coming at a faster pace. Like the first season, if you\'re not up on your pop-culture references, then much will be lost on you. It\'s musically tighter too, with J.G. Thirlwell creating some great action-heavy moments, and some of the songs featured in the show are used perfectly. The main one being the use of "Everybody\'s Free (To Feel Good)" sung by Rozalla over the opening sequence of the season premiere episode. As indicated in the commentary track for that episode, they spent 1/8th of the episode\'s entire budget to license that song.

The extras on the second season are similar in keeping to the first season\'s DVD release. This time, though, we are treated to commentaries for every episode of the season. Be forewarned, these are not your typical commentaries. They\'re very adult - and for the most part, uncensored. It\'s not often that you\'ll laugh a lot during commentaries, but these were very funny to listen to. I\'m not sure they have repeat value, however.

The only other extras appear on the second disc, and contain numerous deleted scenes, and then a "Tour of Astro-Base GO". This satire on educational videos runs about 20 minutes long, and gives use a rather fantastical view into the working process of the show. How much is real, and how much is fake, can only be determined by your level of gullibility. Unfortunately, there is nothing else, and I couldn\'t even find the easter egg that they mentioned in one of the commentary episodes.

The packaging for the set is great - it\'s got a "distressed" look, like an old poster that has been folded, and even has water stains and smudges as though it were an old Hardy Boys book that you found in the attic. Similarly, the menus are styled after those old projection filmstrips that you would watch in elementary school.

It\'s a shame that the extras are generally geared towards making fun of the creation process rather than actually showing us the process, but hopefully for the Third Season DVD release, we\'ll get some juicy extras that satisfy the craving for knowledge.

Both seasons of "The Venture Bros." are available now on DVD from Warner Bros. Home Video.