09 November 2009

Aye, There's the Flub: A Venture Bros. Review

 "There is no Hair Fairy, is there?" -- Dean

The 1985 Chicago Bears won Super Bowl XX using the most powerful defense ever to take to the gridiron.  Superstars Walter Payton and Jim McMahon powered the offense, whose job that year was to simply mop up the devastation that the "46" defense brought upon its opponents.  Their only loss that season, a 38-17 defeat at Miami, happened mainly because the Bears had a rotten second quarter.

That second quarter kept coming to my mind as I outlined this post.  Every great champion has at least one episode that simply sucks.  The same is true of television series: there's always at least one episode that's obviously worse than the others.*  The Venture Bros. has had a great run, but "Perchance to Dean" is the first episode that I can claim to dislike.  It's not a bad episode, but with its larger-than-normal plot holes, it's not good, either.

It was nice to track a simpler plot line.  (Simple is good, once or twice a season.)  It was a pleasure to see a VB episode highlight Dean.  Finally, it was good to see movement in the relationship between Doc Venture and his twin sons.  Like the "46" that 1985 night in Miami, alas, none of these meshed very well.

In the core plot line, as punishment for a spectacularly funny insult, Rusty has handed Hank an excessively long list of chores.  Hank chafes, of course, and the arrival of his friend Dermott simply abets his rebelliousness.  Meanwhile, Rusty has decided to start training Dean as a scientist.

The basic Dean line actually works.  At first, Dean is uncomfortable with the idea of becoming a scientist.  It doesn't help when Rusty turns the Panic Room into Dean's mini-lab (no windows!).  But Dean has started losing his hair, and he soon starts experiementing with fallen strands of it.  In a hilarious sendup of progressive rock music, Dean finds even more inspiration in a listening room that Rusty had previously kept secret.

By contrast, Hank gets nothing but contempt, and it's small wonder that he decides to join the annoying (but popular) Dermott on another adventure.  I generally don't like Dermott, whose only interesting feature these days is his mysterious mother, who makes a voice-and-shadow appearance at the end of the episode.  (Right now, Dermott is just a bulked-up Nelson Muntz.)  As a foil for Hank, though, Dermott works well enough this time.

So far, so good.  In other VB episodes, the inevitable complications improve the plot, but here, none of the complications work.
  • D-19, the episode's main antagonist, is a deformed, paranoid and generally sad Dean clone.  Terrible actions notwithstanding, I could only feel sad for D-19.  Circumstances considered, the fate he meets might be kind.  The trouble is that D-19 deserved a better beginning.  From the opening sequence, we are supposed to believe that he (a) survived being literally flushed down a drain as an embryo, (b) made it to the Venture attic and (c) reached even the limited level of intellect he has -- all while undetected by Brock Sampson or the Ventures for at least 16 years.  All three conditions must have been met for D-19 to have any plausibility, but I didn't see evidence that any of them were.  Yes, Doc Venture misses lots of things that happen on his own property, but that doesn't resolve this hole.
  • Let's see if I have the psychic-delivery-man story line right:  Delivery man, inadvertently prodded by a frustrated Hank, alerts the sheriff of a bad feeling he has about the compound.  Sheriff brings in a SWAT team to raid the compound.  SWAT commandos move in, arrest Doc Venture and Sgt. Hatred and Hank, and take Hatred's PC (why not Venture's?), only to let it all go at the end.  In the first place, where have the cops been since the end of Season 1?  In the second, the tip-off from the psychic recalls only bad 1970s made-for TV movies.  Amusing references to the Branch Davidian and Heaven's Gate cult disasters notwithstanding, I didn't see any reason to have this subplot.  Maybe the delivery man will show up again in a later episode.
  • What is Sgt. Hatred still doing on the compound?  As a bodyguard, he's been an abysmal failure, and I'm surprised Rusty hasn't fired him.  His latest protection scheme, involving explosive mockups of Doc Venture, ties all the subplots together, but doesn't prevent either Dermott's intrusion or protect anyone from arrest.
Other issues -- the opening scene as Brock's first day on the job, Rusty's sudden change in behavior towards the twins -- would normally get their own paragraphs.  In "Perchance to Dean," however, these are just minor issues, worth just this little scribble.  The episode isn't as disastrous as some I've seen on other TV series I've liked (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), but I hope this is a low point.

Score: 78/100, including a +5 bonus for J.G. Thirwell's progressive-rock riffs.

*Excepting The Wire, whose clunkers still made great television.

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