There aren't enough words to explain 'The Venture Bros.' to those who haven't seen the show. It's probably the most bizarre series on television today, routinely outdoing even the most "out there" sequences in 'South Park.' Hell, 'The Venture Bros.' makes 'Robot Chicken' seem somewhat sane. Of course, it also easily trumps 'Family Guy' by having some horrible, crude pop culture references that are funnier by being mentioned out of the blue rather than cut away to for a minute to try to sell the joke. After debuting on Blu-ray in its third season, I knew this was a show not to miss. Sure, it was tough as nails to try to figure out at first, how the narrative of a season often alternates entire episodes between a few branching story arcs, but it always comes together at the end.
With the fourth season, the narrative splinters even further. Of course, the Venture family (including patriarch, former child star Rusty, and his twin sons Hank and Dean) is still the primary focus, but longtime bodyguard Brock Samson (voiced by the great Patrick Warburton!) has left the family, and filling his void is a past arch-nemesis to the Venture family, Sergeant Hatred. The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend, along with their entire squadron of henchmen, are still seeking to destroy the Venture name, whether their methods follow the Guild of Calamitous Intent's guidelines or not. They aren't alone, as the Revenge Society, headed by the Phantom Limb and Professor Impossible (think a Mr. Fantastic rip-off), are also seeking to destroy Venture and company. The OSI and SPHINX are constantly there to protect, serve, or do whatever it is they're supposed to be doing, and the end result is sheer insanity, as allegiances cross, characters change, and the presence of a dead henchman (Number 24, to be precise) is haunting every waking moment of his best friend, Number 21.
If you can't keep up with the ridiculous twists and turns in the story, don't worry, you probably aren't alone. There really is no perfect point for a newcomer to the show to "jump in," as, really, this show is about as cracked out as it can be. After a few episodes, it does start to make sense, regardless of where you start, though the entire storyline between 24 and 21 wouldn't quite make sense to someone who didn't at least see the third season. There is about as much continuity in this show as there is explanation, and the first episode alone may scare off first time viewers, as it is told in reverse, a la 'Memento,' with only a comic book's CGC rating and value giving us a clue of what is going on.
'The Venture Bros.' is a superb parody of numerous shows, particularly the entire superhero genre, as well as animated actioners like 'Johnny Quest.' It's crude, rude, and fantastic, an Adult Swim show that actually has balls and goes for the cheap, horrible jokes, rather than referential humor, even if there is a little bit of that. Characters are amazingly deep, and often quite hilarious, with a world completely run by imbeciles and selfish assholes, apparently. There isn't a single recurring character that appears this episode that isn't worth his or her weight in gold, not a single annoying, stupid waste of time.
It's hard to be somewhat coherent when trying to describe what makes this show so damned interesting, because it's so bloody out there that even praising the series makes little or no sense. For example, if I were to say the rip-offs of the Fantastic Four characters were absolute laugh riots, with The Human Torch receiving one of the cruelest fates in history by the hands of his own brother-in-law (at least, in the comics), that a faux-Spider-Man shoots webbing out of a duct just barely above his sphincter, that there's a superhero with a penchant for molesting his assistants, who casts them aside once they reach legal age of consent that wasn't named Batman, you'd think I were insane. The shows being parodied throughout this season are also so amazingly eclectic, it's hard to get a real sense of it, as we see entire episodes dedicated to 'Fantastic Voyage' and black and white noir flicks, as well as superb uses of Brundlefly, Teddy Ruxpin, David Bowie, Cthulhu, and even the premise of the vastly underrated 'How to Get Ahead in Advertising.'
It's hard to hate on a show with a main character conflicted by his own personal demons that are completely polar opposites of themselves (an ex-wife who is now into BDSM, and his own penchant for underaged boys that he takes Nomolestol to try to subdue), a villainess modeled after Jackie Onassis to counter a rogue hero who is shockingly similar to Hunter S. Thompson, as well as the numerous side characters, like Dr. Orpheus, a quasi-Doctor Strange, Jefferson Twilight (the Blade parody), and even Action Johnny, what we'd expect to see of the real Johnny Quest as he aged and grew chemical dependancies. It's hard to hate a show that dares, no, strives to be as insane as possible, with story arcs twisting poor Yorick, Hitler's soul in a dog, a forbidden love triangle amongst the villains, evil supervillain lawyers, and the masterful tag team of an albino and a former quiz show genius midget.
Nothing is sacred, but damn near everything is hilarious. The fourth season of 'The Venture Bros.' is a great success, even if it ends on a bit of a low note. A low note capped by the revelation that Rusty Venture is now the term for the most insane, disgusting sex act people can imagine. Now that's a legacy!
The Disc: Vital Stats
'The Venture Bros.: The Complete Season 4' arrives on Blu-ray on a single (single!) BD50 disc with no packaging frills. This is a bit of a shock, as the previous season on Blu-ray had a free CD soundtrack, as well as a nice slide-out box that had great faux-Atari game box artwork. The DVD releases of this show split the season in two, but there is only one Blu-ray release. The back of the package is hard to read, as the art for the second DVD release is there, and blue text over a bloodied blue shirt is difficult to read.
The final episode of this release has the option to be played with censored or uncensored audio. Go with the uncensored...
Well, if you ever wondered what it would be like if you crammed sixteen episodes (one double length), totaling over six hours of high-def footage, onto a single disc, on top of everything else, like extras, commentaries, and, ya know, audio tracks and the like, check out 'The Venture Bros.: The Complete Season 4' so you can understand what the word compression means. This is the reason most Blu-ray season sets are spread across a few discs, unless they're short as can be.
The VC-1, 1.78:1, 1080p encode here could have been pretty damned good, if it weren't for the fact that the disc is quite literally bursting at its seams. Sure, the Blu-ray release of the third season was a single disc as well (the CD soundtrack doesn't count), but it was about 100 minutes shorter.
The problem isn't the sometimes thick, thick rings surrounding characters that make them appear glowing. It isn't the stairstepping, shimmering, or other aliasing-like issues that pop up in static, moving, and panning shots alike. It isn't the few random speckles, or the cheap animation that has the SPHINX logo stay stationary and hover above some clothing articles, instead of changing angles with them. The problem is artifacting, and holy shit is it everywhere. The interrogation scene at the end of the first episode has to be one of the worst artifact-riddled moments I've ever seen on Blu-ray. It gets super heavy, discolors, adds movement to pictures that shouldn't have it, constantly draws the eyes, and the less I say about the banding, the better. It's a crying shame.
Yes, I enjoyed the (mostly) solid colors in this season of the show, and detail was often top notch, but this entire season is a bit darker than the previous one, which also doesn't help matters. I don't think any star rating can explain the problems with this release. If I could replace the stars with a giant bold texted marquee that says "ARTIFACTS!!!," I would.
Compression again proves to be the one overarching problem with this release, as the sixteen Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks hardly sound all that great. In fact, far from it. Dialogue is usually fine (a few shouting lines are a tad too harsh), but never localize, despite more than a few instances that they should have. Rears do get some light presence, and good soundtrack bleed, but it isn't enough, as there isn't enough motion or localization to even bother much with them. Bass presence is super light and weak, and the same can be said about the high ends for these mixes: super light, and weak, lacking any power whatsoever. Also, I caught one audio drop out, at the 2:11:16 mark, in the "trick or treat" scene. It's brief, but it's there, damn it.
Ever since I first laid eyes on 'The Venture Bros.,' I was hooked. That said, I'm not 100 percent sure this season would be a good entry point for newcomers. The twists for a few pivotal characters are just too out of the blue. It's awesome to see some of the better characters in the show getting so much attention, and even with a bad final episode, this season is great fan service. The Blu-ray? Not as much. Too much for one disc, video and audio suffer for it. This one is for fans only, solely because non-fans won't quite get it.