TV RECAP: ‘The Venture Bros: The Diving Bell Vs. The Butter-Glider’

Welcome back, Venture Bros., you’ve been sorely missed during your 9-month absence (has it really been that long?). I’ve tried filling the void with other obscuria-laden shows (*cough* Rubicon *cough*) before lapsing into a befuddlement that left me wandering around in a zombie-like daze for several weeks. So, glad to have you back.

VB season 4.5 premiered with last night’s episode “The Diving Bell versus the Butter-glider,” (a reference to the book/movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, though the similarities pretty much end at the title) which throws us right in the middle of Sgt. Hatred, Hank, Dean, and Dr. Rusty Venture’s high-speed escape from the Monarch’s henchmen. And creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer prove they’ve lost nothing in the too-long interim by characteristically downplaying the action by having the viewer experience it from the PoV of the most passive character in the show, Dr. Venture—and a comatose Dr. Venture at that.

One of the delights of Venture Bros. is how far out of their way Publick and Hammer will go to invert the action-boy-adventurer genre. A simple car chase between a super-scientist, his sons, their bodyguard and several hundred goons dressed as butterflies isn’t enough; no, the scientist has to be a passed-out drug-addled failure (who wouldn’t give a damn about the situation even if he were conscious), the boys have to be clones in a perpetual state of arrested development, the bodyguard has to be a recovering pedophile, and the biggest threat has to come from two midgets dressed as pupae. Go, Team Venture!

The episode begins proper with the Venture gang trying to patch up Rusty after the opening scuffle. Venture Industries apparently doesn’t have much going for it in the way of a health-care plan, so that leaves Sgt. Hatred and the boys to pass the job of healing Dr. Venture on to Master Billy Quizboy and Pete White, who propose a Fantastic-Voyage solution of shrinking down the Venture Bros. and former bodyguard Brock Sampson, along with a borrowed S.P.H.I.N.X. submarine, to venture (had to) into the bowels of Rusty (literally, as we’ll find out).

Back at the Monarch’s cocoon, geek-turned-go-getter Henchman 21 is busy working on a henchman armor upgrade proposal only to have it shot down by second-in-command Dr. Mrs. The Monarch, who explains that such frivolities as bullet-proof vests just aren’t in the budget—before adding that the cocoon also needs to go easier on bandwidth usage. (On what other show would you see the day-to-day bureaucracy of professional super-villainy?) And, almost as if on cue, The Monarch chooses that moment to cruise in with his latest purchase, a Green-Goblin-esque golden glider.

Incensed by The Monarch’s carefree spending, the henchmen decide to go rogue and storm the Venture compound themselves while Brock, Hank, and Dean discover that the cause of Rusty’s coma is yet another mini-submarine piloted by the skeletal remains of clones Seven.

As usual, adventure takes a back seat, and VB uses the bulk of its time having fun with the characters’ personal lives. 21 is still accompanied by the Great-Gazooian ghost of his fallen colleague Henchman 24, who’s taken it upon himself to hook 21 and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch up (though his “tips” on how to score are about as developed as your average frat-dweeb wingman’s); The Monarch himself takes a quick time-out from his own raid to reconnect with White, who hosted a radio show at the college they (and apparently everyone else in the Venture-verse) both attended; and we even get a surprise visit from the cancer-stricken King Gorilla (and yes, he is an actual gorilla), freshly released from prison and tethered to an oxygen tank.

Finally, uniting the two stories is the ever-relevant theme of costly-yet-ultimately-useless gadgetry: The Monarch’s glider, shrinky-dink submarines (what was the purpose of the first one anyway? Anatomical joy-rides?), and, of course, White and Billy’s $10-million motorcycle whose sole purpose is to look cool de- and re-attaching. Boys love their toys (in the case of The Monarch, who takes to sleeping with his glider, a little too much) regardless of any practical purpose they serve, and that ties nicely into the show’s ongoing suggestion that heroism and villainy are ends unto themselves. There aren’t many other shows (even on major networks) that provide such a wide and varied range and depth of character let alone (and I apologize for the term) thematic density in addition to consistently delivering a ton of laugh-out-loud moments.

So, again, welcome back, Venture Bros.! Glad to see you hit the second half of the season running. Here’s another fan who’s already giddy with anticipation for next Sunday at 11:30.

  • Capt. Reginald T. Albright
    September 25, 2010 at 4:58 am

    The Venture Bros. used to be a very humorous show. Now it is unrecognizable to all but the most oblivious of fan-boys and girls. Have fun watching cartoon nonsense after the second season finale.

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