Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim produces a number of animated series for adults. One of my all-time favorites of these is The Venture Bros., a take-off of Jonny Quest all grown up, which recently released its fifth season on Blu-ray. The show doesn’t air on a real regular basis, so while season four finished in November 2010, what this single-disc set contains are two specials from autumns of 2011 and 2012, as well as eight episodes from last summer and a minimum amount of special features.
“From the Ladle to the Grave: The Story of Shallow Gravy” is the first episode up by air date, though you’ll have to navigate to the Bonus Specials on the menu to find it. It’s not a traditional installment, being sort of a Behind the Music take on Shallow Gravy, Hank (Christopher McCulloch) and Dermot’s (Doc Hammer) band. There is one pivotal revelation about a character in the special, though, so definitely watch it before the rest of the season, as it informs other moments later.
Also included in this release is the band’s five-track album, Jacket. All five tracks of Jacket are called “Jacket,” basically different versions of the same tune over and over again. But if you’re a fan of this musical group, you’re amply covered here.
Next up, the discerning viewer will have a choice to make. The second special, “A Very Venture Halloween,” actually occurs eleven minutes into the season premiere, “What Color Is Your Cleansuit?” This made for a very confusing holiday celebration, as viewers hadn’t yet seen the set up of the fifth run, in which several characters’ situations had changed, so if you choose to watch “Halloween” first, you may be a tad bit lost. If you really want to do things right, watch the first act break of “Cleansuit,” flip over to “Halloween,” then flip back. Once you get to the second break of “Cleansuit,” though, everything proceeds normally, so you’ll be all set.
There aren’t many shows I would argue are worth such efforts in order to experience the proper flow of the story. The Venture Bros. is an exception. While appearing to be a simple cartoon, it is heavy on continuity and the various players do experience growth throughout. Because of this, I would strongly urge you to watch it all, preferably in chronological order.
As the season begins, Doctor Venture (James Urbaniak) begins a new secret project. Things go horribly wrong, of course, and Dean (Michael Sinterniklaas) ends up right in the middle. It’s too bad Team Venture isn’t up to set the situation right, the group being overall pretty ineffectual since Brock Sampson (Patrick Warburton) left to join S.P.H.I.N.X. But it all shakes out OK enough that the plot doesn’t take up the whole season.
Instead, we get a series of zany adventures with all the familiar faces, including Sgt. Hatred (McCulloch), The Monarch (McCulloch), Dr. Mrs. The Monarch (Hammer), Billy Quizboy (Hammer), Gary, a.k.a. the former 21 (Hammer), and many more. A new secret group arises, a hero is born, an abomination is discovered, the past is dredged up, and various factions continually get in one another’s way. It’s all very complex, so it’s hard to summarize without giving anything away, but long-time fans should be quite pleased. New viewers may find the show too dense, and should start back in season one to figure out what’s going on.
The real disappointment is in the extras. There are audio commentaries for every episode, which is fantastic and rarely seen any more, but then there’s are some deleted scenes and that’s it. I’d really like to see some behind-the-scenes stuff, but I guess that’s harder to do with cartoons, there being no set to tell stories about, and the commentaries sort of fill that void somewhat.
As far as deciding between the Blu-ray and the DVD, there isn’t a strong argument one way or the other. The Venture Bros. is not known for highly advanced special effects, using animation that matches an earlier era, and the soundtrack, while fun, is not anything demanding the intricacies of full surround sound. Being that the images are digitally created, shades and colors are likely similar between the two. But if you like having the best quality available, as I do, go for the Blu-ray.
Overall, The Venture Bros. – The Fifth Season is a rollicking good time, and the quality of the episodes has not lessened five seasons in. This title is available now.