16 November 2009

Alas! poor 24. A Venture Bros. Review

"Return to Malice" heralds the end of Season 4's first quarter, so before I tell how well I liked it, it's time to survey the season so far.

The good: How big a risk was it for Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick to make Brock Sampson's resignation stick? This was the biggest character loss any television series has taken since the murder of Catherine Chandler in CBS's Beauty and the Beast (1987-90). Like Brock today, Catherine's role went to the core of that series. Her death led to the cancellation of Beauty after only 11 more episodes, and Brock's departure could easily have done the same to The Venture Bros.  But this is not CSI OSI: Brock Sampson. Brock had become too central, and it was simply time for him to go his own way. This was the right decision, done for the right reason and handled the (mostly) right way.

Generally, the season has been enjoyable. Even "Perchance to Dean," which I disliked, had some great moments.

The bad: (1) Was it too much to have hoped to see more Triana and Byron Orpheus by now? Maybe it's because she's had less time than the rest of the cast, but Triana has always struck me as the show's most level-headed character. We've been promised an appearance this season. (2) "Perchance to Dean," taken alone, was well intentioned but badly executed. I suspect, though, that we haven't heard the last from the Psychic Delivery Man.

The ugly: Okay, okay, I get it. Sgt. Hatred is a pathetic substitute for Brock. That would be true even if he weren't a pedophile. While I'd like to see less Hatred, that's not going to be the case. All the attention he and his issues have been getting had better lead to a big payoff in the next month.

Henchman 21: What's the password?
The Monarch: I forgot. Oh, wait, I remember. I'm the f**king Monarch! Let me in now!

The Ventures and their friends have had to deal with Brock's loss, but Henchman 21 has had to deal with his own loss: the death of his best friend, Henchman 24. His lengthy mourning period drives Episode 43, "Return to Malice." In the months since 24's passing, 21 has not only bulked up but also, in effect, become the #3 person in The Monarch's crew. Nevertheless, 21 still mourns, and he still plays Hamlet to 24's Yorick. Revenge never left 21's mind, and the time has come to pursue it.

Without The Monarch's knowledge or consent (and in violation of Guild of Calamitous Intent rules), 21 leads a raid on the Venture compound and kidnaps the twins. 21 tries to get information from them using Chinese water torture, but his makeshift apparatus only wakes them up. Ultimately, it's 21 who gives up information, telling the boys about how he's spent the time since 24's death. That story includes a badly executed 21-gun salute, more time stuck in his mother's house, and eventually an acknowlegement of his own role in 24's passing.

Of course, Doc Venture and Sgt. Hatred go to Malice, the town where the Monarch and his crew live. It's also Hatred's former home town, and he ends up spying on his ex-wife and pathetically pitying himself. Meanwhile, a food allergy complicates an interview The Monarch was supposed to give. While his wife handles that, The Monarch lays down the law, first to his wife's infamous Moppets, then to the Venture boys (whom 21 has released), then finally to 21.

"Return to Malice" has fewer laughs than most VB installments, and far less action, but its component sub-plots mix and match well, leading to some nice payoffs, including a (gasp!) meaningful conversation between Doc Venture and the former Dr. Girlfriend. As a bonus, it's also a great way to bring a new viewer into the wackiness that is The Venture Bros.

Score: 95/100. It's a solid 'A,' no more, no less.

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