Calamitous Intent: ‘Venture Bros’ Season 6, Episode 1: ‘Hostile Makeover’
I’ve been given a harrowing assignment by the Guild of Calamitous Intent. More truthfully, I was assigned by ComicsAlliance, and technically I volunteered. But calamity is likely to result, intentional or not, because my assignment is to recap the new season of The Venture Bros, one of the most densely packed half-hour shows in television history. So please stick with me, as I attempt to succinctly recount the events of the Season 6 premiere, “Hostile Makeover.”
The episode opens in the aftermath of J.J. Venture’s funeral, where Rusty Venture has gone catatonic from shock. Not because his brother has died, or because his home has been destroyed, but because he’s inherited his brother’s massive estate and is suddenly, fabulously wealthy. Which explains the grin. No time is wasted in reminding us that Rusty Venture is a straight-up terrible person.
From there we cut to New York City sometime later, where the Ventures are moving into J.J.’s mansion. Everyone’s pretty thrilled with their new situation. Rusty gets to take over J.J.’s company and fire all his employees. Dean is looking at prestigious colleges to apply to. And Hank is dressing like Justin Bieber. The only one who’s unhappy is H.E.L.P.eR., who’s obviously concerned that he’s being replaced by the more sophisticated J-Bot.
Then “Pretty much the Avengers” show up, in the form of the Crusaders Action League. These three characters are by far my least favorite part of the episode. I don’t mind that they’re insurance salesmen who only save those who’ve paid up — that kind of cynical take is right at home in the Ventures’ world. It’s just that the central jokes behind their characters feel old and tired as soon as they show up, and I hope they don’t stick around for the whole season.
The Captain America stand-in is in drag, for no apparent reason except so they can name him Stars And Garters, in homage to the Beast’s catch phrase. But he mostly just feels like a less likable version of Adam Warren’s Maid Man. In place of Thor there’s a Wonder Woman stand-in named Warriana, a muscular straw-feminist who only has one breast (because she’s an Amazon, get it? hilarious). And there’s a Hawkeye-looking guy, except all his arrows have feet, because he’s the Fallen Archer. Okay, actually his deal doesn’t feel old and tired, it’s just profoundly unfunny.
Fortunately this is Venture Bros, so things move on so quickly you barely have time to notice when the jokes are bad. Phantom Limb and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch are hard at work attempting to rebuild the Guild of Calamitous Intent. The Sovereign (like the rock star whose form he preferred to wear) is sadly departed, and the Council of Thirteen has somewhere between five and seven members, depending on how you count Red Mantle and Dragoon, two heads on one body, and Radical Left, an ersatz Two-Face who seconds his own motions.
Meanwhile, Dean visits Stuyvesant University, where he runs into the Brown Widow in his Peter Parker-esque civilian guise, and witnesses him being bullied by his Flash Thompson equivalent, in a scene that’s built on a very funny Spider-Sense gag and a less funny “webbing his pants” gag. I'm pretty sure that Tosh Tompkins, the bully in this scene, is also Stars And Garters. That will probably come up down the road.
Back at the Venture building, Monarch and Gary are dressed as street performers and have a run-in with the Sea Captain, who relapses into tranquilizer dart addiction. Seriously, though, it’s unbelievable how much stuff happens in a half-hour-long Venture Bros episode. And you never know what’s a throwaway gag, and what’s going to be the basis of the next four seasons. I’m doing my best for you people.
For example, I haven’t even mentioned that Brock comes back to be the family’s full-time bodyguard, which leads General Hatred to go rogue. Personally, I think Hatred has had a far bigger role on this series than he ever deserved, and I’d be fine with him just going away. Pedophile jokes: they’re never as edgy or as funny as you think they are, adult cartoon writers.
And then there’s a whole thing where Rusty buys a fancy speed suit from an Italian tailor who looks like Stan Lee, but surely that’s not important (it might be important).
In one storyline that will definitely shape the season to come, Mrs. Monarch is put in the Joan Holloway-esque position of being expected to sleep with a prominent supervillain named Wide Whale, in exchange for his support of the Guild. Seriously, it’s exactly that Joan storyline from Mad Men Season 5, but the villain in question is a riff on Black Lightning’s old enemy Tobias Whale, which makes him even grosser than Herb from Jaguar.
Except, fortunately, that's not actually what's happening at all — we're just set up to read it that way. Mrs. Monarch is pressured into betraying her husband, but it's by giving Wide Whale the exclusive right to be Rusty Venture's official arch enemy, which is going to make the Monarch far more unhappy than if she'd slept with someone else. As we've seen in past seasons, arching Dr. Venture is the Monarch's one true calling in life, and he's lost and angry whenever it's denied to him.
Meanwhile, Hank spies a beautiful mer-girl in Whale’s building (she’s gotta be his daughter, right?), which leads to a fight between the aforementioned fake Avengers and Brock, as well as an appearance by a gritty Spirit type called Night Dick. No, really. And Warriana’s magic lasso forces Brock to admit he wants to sleep with her, which… kind of seems like something he would have said anyway?
And that, at last, is it — the season premiere of The Venture Bros. Well, except for the post-credits stinger in which H.E.L.P.eR pushes J-Bot off the roof. This show remains dense as hell, and pretty damn bad at portraying women. But what it’s good at, it remains very good at, which is balancing absurdism, complex character development, and so many pop culture references that I want to coin a new word for the genre.
With the show moving to New York, most of the previous supporting cast is nowhere to be seen, and I miss Billy Quizboy and the Order of the Triad quite a bit. But there’s no reason to believe that they won’t be back this season. In fact, with the way this show loves cramming in characters, I’m certain they will.
Next week’s episode could go in any direction, although it will likely deal with the Monarch’s reaction to the Wide Whale situation. And as for me, I’m going to spend the week training, or else recapping a show this dense may leave me in worse shape than J-Bot after he hits the pavement.
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