Do you like Archer’s mid-century modernist aesthetic and fascination with the bureaucratic machinations of superheroes and villains? Do you like Arrested Development’s self-referential callbacks and its obsession with how failure and dysfunction are handed down from one generation to another? And sure, I’ll go there: Do you like The Wire’s complex web of characters whose motivations and relationships are slowly teased out over season-long and even series-long arcs?
Then you will probably love The Venture Bros.
Written, directed, designed, edited, and largely voiced by two men, Eric “Doc” Hammer and Christopher McCulloch (aka Jackson Publick), The Venture Bros., which airs on Adult Swim, is one of the best—and certainly most original—shows on television. In four seasons produced over the course of a decade—the fifth premieres this Sunday—the series has grown from a goofy, oddly specific riff on Johnny Quest cartoons and other pulp adventure stories into an elaborate and wonderfully realized universe.
The premise is complicated enough: Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture (voiced by James Urbaniak) attempts to recapture the fame and success of his world-famous super-scientist father, with his two sons Hank and Dean (the titular brothers) and their herculean body guard Brock Samson (perfectly voiced by Patrick Warburton) along for the ride. And that barely hints at the world of bizarre and hilarious characters, twisting plot lines, and superbly specific referential humor that makes the series so damn exciting.
There’s the self-absorbed, butterfly-themed villain The Monarch and his Jackie Onassis-channeling 2nd-in-command/romantic interest, Dr. Girlfriend; the New Wave music enthusiast Albino and his hydrocephalic best friend, who met competing in illegal underground Quizboy competitions; the secret intelligence officer who bears a striking similarity to Hunter S. Thompson; the family of industrialists who illustrate just how messed up the Fantastic Four might have turned out; Phantom Limb, a villain with invisible appendages who vies for control of the organized villainy union, the Guild of Calamitous Intent, currently controlled by (who else) David Bowie. Actually, there’s a lot of David Bowie.