Venture Bros.: Season Five (US - BD RA)
Gabe favourite dysfunctional family of adventurers is back on Blu-ray...
With two years and seven months between seasons, Venture Bros. may have terminally lost its pop culture momentum. Season five contains eight of the strongest episodes in the entire series run, yet none of its brilliant quips, hilarious images, or charming character interactions seem to have broken through the crust of geek community zeitgeist. It’s truly unfortunate that co-creators Eric ‘Doc’ Hammer’s and Christopher ‘Jackson Publick’ McCulloch’s quality control standards may have cost the season its place in the sun. The good news is that these episodes are now available on home video, giving viewers that may have strayed another chance to re-enter the fold.
What Color is Your Cleansuit
‘I knew it! He’s stepping up his game! We must match his game with…much more game!’
A whole lot of stuff happened during season four – Brock Samson (Patrick Warburton) joined a reconstructed S.P.H.I.N.X organization, leaving Sergeant Hatred (McCulloch) in the position of Venture bodyguard; 21, aka: Gary (Hammer) found solace in physical self-improvement while dealing with the death of his best friend, 24 (also McCulloch); and Dr. Venture’s (James Urbaniak) enemies started a Revenge Society – but Hank (McCulloch, again) and Dean (Michael Sinterniklaas) Venture’s steady growth into adulthood really took center-stage as far as the latter episodes were concerned. With all of their secret clones destroyed at the end of season three, the brothers were finally forced to think about their lives outside of their father and grandfather’s shadows. Dean is aware of his status as a clone and responds with frustration and resentment. Hank is unaware of the secret and continues his life as expected, morphing from an excitable child into an equally excitable man-child.
Season five opens with Dr. Venture’s half-assed, last-minute construction of an ionic ray shield that his brother J.J. (also Urbaniak) – one that was paid for months (possibly years) earlier. To get the project in on time he ‘hires’ an army of interns who mutate into monsters and create a violent caste system that includes ritual sacrifice and cannibalism. A black-adorned, ultra-emo Dean, fresh from a break-up with Triana Orpheus (Lisa Hammer, though she does not appear this season), befriends one of the interns, Thalia (Kate McKinnon), and finds himself doing battle with the interns’ mutant leader, Martin (Aziz Ansari). Meanwhile, Hank starts Hank Co., a convenience store for the interns, with Hatred and secret half-brother Dermott ( also Hammer); Gary finds himself in charge of S.P.H.I.N.X. when all the other members return to the O.S.I. fold; Billy Quizboy’s (Hammer) ex-rival Augustus St. Cloud (McCulloch) officially signs on to ‘arch’ him and Pete White (McCulloch); and The Monarch (McCulloch) schemes to take advantage of the Venture Compound’s mutation crisis – though his wife, Dr. Mrs. The Monarch (Hammer) secretly generates an antidote to solve the situation. What Color is Your Cleansuit might be the best Venture Bros season premiere yet, juggling introductions/re-introductions with jokes and a solid action/adventure premise. It’s rare that a single episode of any show can establish new themes, reinforce old themes, and tell a full standalone story in such a limited time span (it is a 44, not 22-minute episode).
’Ugh, I hate the jungle. It’s hot, it’s damp, everything’s alive. Here, look at this – see this stick? No you don’t, ‘cause guess what? It’s a bug. It’s a stick bug.’
Dean’s angst keeps him at home while Venture, Hatred, and Hank journey to Central America to find Venturestein (McCulloch) – a Monarch henchman that Doc re-animated back in season three and sold to the military. It seems that during a zombie-raid gone wrong, Venturestein read Che Guevara’s biography and decided to start a nation where other genetic experiments can find asylum from their mad scientist fathers. Meanwhile, Dean tries to fix H.E.L.P.eR., who was permanently fused to the ‘walking eye’ last season; a really aggressive congress woman goes looking for Team Venture in hopes of securing Doc’s vote; and Hank, blasting on a caffeine high, dons a jungle-made Batman costume and rescues his father and Hatred. Apparently, every animated series with any kind of adult audience needs to do a Heart of Darkness episode, though Francis Ford Copolla has changed the trope enough to call them Apocalypse Now episodes. Venture Libre mixes elements H.G. Wells’ similarly jungle-set and revolution-themed The Island of Doctor Moreau, which makes a whole lot of sense, especially since film versions of both properties included incredibly strange Marlon Brando performances.
‘…you get your cover blown by a ‘Gary’ that kills Shortdivision with another guy he killed and then you fill up Gary’s pillowcase with Snickers bars and send him home?!’
Sick of no one taking him seriously, Gary decides to recruit new S.P.H.I.N.X. members on ‘Guildlist.com,’ a social networking site for the kind of stuff that happens in the wacky Venture Bros. universe. Unfortunately, his ad attracts the aging ex-members of the original S.P.H.I.N.X. – a group of terrorists that battled O.S.I. in the ‘80s. They’re very much a spoof of Cobra from the ‘classic’ G.I. Joe cartoons, right down to S.P.H.I.N.X. Commander’s Christopher Collins-esque screeching voice. They commandeer the mission from Gary and try to attack their old O.S.I. enemies. Meanwhile, The Monarch and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch dress in elaborate costumes and enter the compound to plant explosives as ‘beaver inspectors.’ Taken in by their ruse, Rusty gabs their ears off, eventually showing them family pictures (including one with The Monarch’s parents in the background…). The slow process of turning a random, literally nameless background character into one of the most well-rounded and vital pieces of the series’ puzzle may not have been planned from the beginning, but it is among the show’s most endearing aspects. Gary/21’s progress as a person helps keep season five strong.
‘Fun in the sun? Sparkling seas? Do I have to spell it out for you people? I am an albino! This isn't a fashion choice! My body literally hates the sun! On, like, a molecular level!’
Hank (who is still wearing the ladies strength suit he found in S.P.H.I.N.X. headquarters) and Dean (who is still stewing in existential sorrow) choose to stay home from Doc’s annual trip to the Greek Island of Spanakos for their ‘Spanakopita’ celebration, so he invites Billy and Pete in their stead. Unfortunately, St. Cloud also hears about the trip and beats them to the island in hopes of buying his way to Spanakopita victory. Meanwhile, Hatred suspects that the celebration may be a fraud. While digging for answers, he discovers that, many years ago, the people of Spanakos accidentally kidnapped a young Rusty Venture. When his father didn’t answer their ransom calls, they felt bad for the boy and pretended that the hostage situation was part of a game. Then, when Rusty returned to the island in his 20s, they chose to continue the ruse for his benefit and Spanakopita was born. Spanakopita is among the season’s sweetest episodes, but it’s still brimming with the usual sense of deep-seated ennui that defines The Venture Bros.. Though we have our hearts warmed by Doc and company’s ‘victory’ over St. Cloud, the reason for the celebration is thoroughly, deeply depressing (Venture Sr. was so involved with his super science that he barely noticed Rusty was missing). Unrelated to the emotional component, episode four also features some charming stop-motion animation during Billy’s Harryhausen-inspired fever dream.
O.S.I. Love You
‘Argghh! Get to the panic room. Stay in the X1. Don’t pee in your strength suit. Ugh, I’m sick and tired of the grown-ups always sticking me in the corner when the action calls. No one sticks Hank in the corner!’[I]
Brock and his O.S.I. team finally catch up to Molotov Cocktease (Mia Barron) and Monstroso (McCulloch), who eluded capture at the end of season four. The fugitives are captured, but complications arise – Monstroso disappears from a flying interrogation room and Brock appears to kill Molotov after she steals Hank’s strength suit. But all is not as it seems and government agents are dispatched to discover the truth. Unfortunately, Team Venture is also aboard the O.S.I. Hoverquarters and complicate the investigation. The season’s first particularly Brock-heavy episode doubles as big ol’ a series mythology exposition dump. The occasionally over-loaded interviews include information about The Guild of Calamitus Intent (it introduces evidence that The Sovereign is not actually David Bowie) and a look at Brock and Molotov’s first meeting (they were both working undercover at the ‘Goodwill (Good Will?) Games’ and Brock killed her father, Siberian Husky). The animation here is typically limited by the show’s modest budget, but [I]O.S.I. Love You features some of truly epic action sequences that give live-action superhero movies a run for their money.
‘And I’m Enrico Matassa, Latin playboy and insane egomaniac. My name means Hank Hank and I’m using a hank of yarn as a weapon. Also, this is a huge hanky.’
The sixth episode is almost too high concept and plot-heavy for its own good, but scores points for being so strange and character-driven. Hank and Dermott use a Teddy Ruxpin-like toy bear and a cell phone to distract Rusty so they can sneak out at night. When ‘Teddy’ stops answering Doc’s calls, he enlists Hatred in a rescue mission. Rather than fessing up to their prank, Hank and Dermott enlist help of their own when Gary tells them that the man who voiced Teddy has been institutionalized. The trio hatches a plan to get themselves committed to the same asylum by posing as insane criminals. Unfortunately, Dermott and H.E.L.P.eR. are sent to regular jail and forced to enlist the assistance of Dr. Orpheus (Steven Rattazzi), who realizes Dermott’s cry for help is the same he senses when one of the Venture boys are in danger. Meanwhile, Dean has been in contact with Myra Brandish (Joanna Adler), Dr. Venture’s crazy ex-bodyguard and the woman who may or may not be Hank and Dean’s mother. When he goes to visit her at the asylum, the two stories intersect and more of the show’s longstanding questions are answered (specifically that Myra is not the mother of the Venture Brothers).
Bot Seeks Bot
‘So what is this, your Fortress of Brockitude? Your secret Brock Cave? Shouldn’t you have blindfolded me before letting me in? Gas me or something?’
Following the events of O.S.I. Love You, Brock and O.S.I. have some information about the identities of The Guild of Calamitous Intent’s Council of Thirteen. While collecting intel, they recognize the evil cyborg Vendata (Hammer) and find his online dating profile. They set up an elaborate sting using a civilian superhero named Ghost Robot (McCulloch), who they disguise as Galacticon, another robot in the gay supervillain dating pool. The sting goes awry when the date is moved to a secret supervillain nightclub, where the Council of Thirteen also happens to be partying. Meanwhile, assuming that Brock and Shoreleave (Hammer) are having fun without them, Rusty and Billy sneak into the nightclub, too, putting themselves in mortal danger. Bot Seeks Bot features the most celebrity voice cameos of the season, including John Hodgman as Snoopy, Bill Hader as Headshot, and Kevin Conroy as Captain Sunshine (an amalgamation of the silliest parts of Superman and Batman that was introduced last season). It’s also a really cute episode that includes a number of adorable character interactions. Ghost Robot and Vendata’s awkward date is especially endearing, though nothing evokes a giggle quite like Ghost Robot’s reaction to being retrofitted with articulated digits as part of his Galacticon disguise (he is distracted, muttering ‘Fingers’ quietly to himself).
The Devil’s Grip
‘After I write these notes, I plan on shooting myself and burning the Venture estate down. Not really! But, again, that would be the worst and I want to prepare you for the worst, because I love you both.’
Following Doc’s giant disco ball near-death at the end of Bot Seeks Bot, the Venture boys are sent to live with their godparents – Hank is sent to live in the retirement home with Action Man (McCulloch…or maybe Hammer) and Dean is sent to live in Tangier with Colonel Gentleman (definitely Hammer…or McCulloch?). Having survived his ordeal, Rusty is kidnapped by The Monarch, who tries and fails to torture him (he lets Venture go and claims that he has broken his spirit). Hatred and Gary team-up to rescue him, giving Gary a chance to confront the Moppets for killing 24. The season five finale is typically full of stuff and all of the stories are very well integrated. More importantly, it ties up a lot of emotional threads in a sentimental manner that is legitimately touching, not cloying or lame.
Adult Swim’s Blu-ray releases have all been worth the upgrade from standard definition releases. It’s just too bad that they aren’t more common, since just about everything on the channel now airs in 1080i, but at least Metalocalypse and Venture Bros. still get the treatment. This set’s 1.78:1, 1080p transfers are consistent in terms of clarity, colour vibrancy, and element separation from episode to episode, generally matching the last two Venture Bros. Blu-ray season sets. It even has a slight advantage, as only nine episodes (including the Halloween special, ten episodes if you count the fact that the premiere was a longer episode) are squeezed onto a single BD50 disc, instead of thirteen (season three) or even sixteen (season four). The biggest minor compression effects that slightly sullied those other releases are mostly gone, as is the macro-blocking within the more vivid warm hues. Edge haloes are also uncommon this time and the overall colour contrast is strong. The darker episodes, like Venture Libre and A Very Venture Halloween, remain sharp and dynamic enough to differentiate the more subtle hue changes. A number of jaggy jpg artefacts flutter throughout a couple of episodes, but all of these appear to be post-production effects, specifically zooms into material that can’t quite handle the close-up and some very purposeful faux-film grain. I suppose it isn’t perfect, but it might be the closest thing to it we’ve seen from the fine folks at Adult Swim.
The lower episode count also helps with the compression of this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. The previous release was so comparatively quiet that I would’ve believed it was a standard Dolby Digital track. This mix is still a hair softer in terms of overall volume than expected without particularly problematic, either. It does seem like the sound design was a little underwhelming this season, I suppose, but it’s easy enough to blame the more intimate scope of the episodes for this ‘problem.’ There just wasn’t as much call for big, blasting aural moments. That said, highlights usually include a number of on and off-screen vehicles, like The Monarch’s flying cocoon, O.S.I.’s Hoverquarters, and Hatred’s flying tank, all of which shoot noisy things of their own. O.S.I. Love You is one of the more action-packed episodes and, in turn, features more aggressive directional enhancements, while Bot Seeks Bot has a fair amount of bassy crowd and club noise. The dialogue is consistent, save a few of Patrick Warburton’s lines, the slightly crackly quality of which makes me assume that he recorded some of his lines via the phone or Skype or something. Composer J.G. Thirwell brings the pain all over again and assists in opening up the sound scale of each episode, though the music’s overall LFE is lacking the more aggressive, big budget punch. It seems there are fewer new cues this season.
The extras begin with a series of Hammer and McCulloch commentary tracks, one for each episode in the set. The subject matter follows the suit set by previous Venture Bros. commentaries in that it is often only tangentially related to the onscreen action. Listening to these things is like hanging out with your heroes and discovering that their attention spans are just as short and their interests are just as random as yours. It’s both thrilling and disappointing, which feels appropriate, given the show’s themes. The most interesting information actually comes very early, following the first commercial break in the first episode. Here, it is verified that The Devil’s Grip was not really intended to be a season finale as much as a center point in a bigger series of episodes and that the Halloween special takes place between said commercial break. The recording quality is better than some of the older Venture Bros. tracks, though you can still hear traffic in the background.
Up next are two bonus episodes. The first, A Very Venture Halloween (22:30, HD), is actually a pretty vital episode (it is production coded as 504) that includes the only appearance of The Order of the Triad on the set, features voice acting from J.K. Simmons, and is the episode where Dean discovers he is a clone. The second, From the Ladle to the Grave: The Shallow Gravy Story (11:50, HD), is a silly Behind the Music spoof starring Hank, Dermott, and H.E.L.P.eR.’s band. The disc also includes deleted/extended scenes (5:50, HD) and Fax My Grandson, unused dialogue (3:10, HD).
Another incredible and unique show is slowly coming to an end. This is the penultimate season of Venture Bros. – and it’s only half a season at that. But it is a really great season, one packed with densely-plotted, funny, and sentimentally satisfying episodes. This Blu-ray’s Dolby TrueHD soundtrack sounds slightly compromised, but features a fantastic transfer and a number of extras, including eight episode commentaries and two bonus episodes.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 4th March 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Extras: Creator Commentaries, A Very Venture Halloween, From the Ladle to the Grave: The Shallow Gravy Story, Deleted Scenes, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer
Cast: Christopher McCulloch, Doc Hammer, James Urbaniak, Michael Sinterniklaas, Paul Boocock, Patrick Warburton, Aziz Ansari, Kate McKinnon, Mia Barron, Bill Hader, John Hodgman, Kevin Conroy
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation, Comedy and Fantasy
Length: 200 minutes
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