07 December 2009

I have scorched the snake: A Venture Bros. Review

Now I'm all out of dreams.  -- Action Johnny

It's back to the mundane as The Venture Bros. returns its focus to Rusty himself.  "Self-Medication" doesn't question the idea of the boy adventurer.  With help from first-time guest stars John Hodgman, Seth Green and Patton Oswalt, it positively trashes the notion, and embraces the implications.  A parallel story-line centers on Sgt. Hatred's struggle; and for once, I didn't mind. 

Rusty Venture didn't really want the therapy session he has to attend.  In a flashback, we see 12-year-old Rusty in therapy, complaining about his treatment by his father... to his father.  Of course, that turned Rusty off to the idea of therapy.  But when a new Guild regulation lets Rusty stop The Monarch's latest attack on him, he goes happily.

Joining Rusty at the group-therapy session are other one-time boy adventurers:
  • Drug-addled Action Johnny (reprised by Brendon Small's voice) is attending on a court order.  Although Rusty is often compared to the 1960s cartoon adventurer Jonny Quest, it's Action Johnny who's the explicit analog.
  • An earlier version of Wonderboy (voiced by Oswalt) is fighting a losing battle with bulimia.
  • Cute lil' ol' Ro-Boy (series regular Christopher McCulloch) plays on Osamu Tezuka's classic Astro Boy, who just had an American-made movie released.  Ro-Boy has lost control over his obsession with giant robots.
  • Last, but not least, are boy detectives Dale and Lance Hale (Hodgman and Green).  The Hales, puns on the Hardy Boys, are still dealing with the only case they failed to solve: their own father's murder.  Umm, there's a reason they haven't solved that case.
Whatever benefits this group-therapy session might have had vanish when the unnamed psychiatrist running it falls victim to a snake bite.  Soon enough, these patients find themselves in the middle of a new adventure, complete with a barroom brawl, a visit to retired villain Dr. Z, and (in between) hilarious "sound" effects like Groin! and Cower!  Although the adventurers don't solve the crime, but the episode's coda does reveal the culprits to us.

Meanwhile, a trip to the cinema turns catastrophic for Sgt. Hatred.  Well-meaning Dean convinces him to watch the last movie he should ever want to.  Unfortunately, Hatred's OSI-prescribed medication has run out, and so is his hope, period.  It's Dean who has to clean up the mess, and with Henchman 21's help, he executes a brilliant plan just to get Hatred through the day.

The main line is full of gags, the best of which involve the Hales.  They're revealed to resemble the Hardy Boys far less than the Menendez boys of true-crime fame.  Ro-Boy reminds us of the dangers of taking children's-show heroes too seriously, and writer Jackson Publick appears to be making fun of himself with some of the Ro-Boy jokes.  Action Johnny is his own goofy self, while the older Wonderboy is intentionally pathetic.  A step back and a few days worth of reflection told me that, funny as these men are, they're also just plain sad.

Which brings me to Sgt. Hatred.  I can imagine that some viewers were laughing at his scenes, but once again, I wasn't among them.  If the end of "The Revenge Society" didn't make Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer's point clear, Hatred's plight here does:  His pedophilia isn't supposed to be funny. 
I was, for once, rooting for Sgt. Hatred.  That's a lot of progress from the beginning of the season.  Here's hoping the writers let him actually find the road to redemption.

And how about Dean?  For the first time in perhaps the entire series, he gets the chance to be the hero.  I'll expect him to fail again in some future episode, but for once, a Venture scores an unqualified success.

Score:  96/100.  Hooray, Dean!

No comments: