Seven seasons in, and it’s impressive how the show still manages to feel fresh when introducing information that feels like it should’ve been established ages ago. Which sounds like a backhanded compliment, I guess; but it’s not like I ever needed to see the inside of Guild Headquarters or learn about the Big Villain program. It’s more that this seems like worldbuilding we should’ve had back when the Guild of Calamitous Intent was first introduced. But then, that would be true of a series that was more concerned about traditional dramatic structure, instead of one that started as a simple, limited idea (“Boy, Johnny Quest was kind of bullshit, although we loved it”) and expanded into something far richer and more complicated.
Basically they’ve been making up the backstory as they went right from the start, and one of the brilliant things about The Venture Bros. is how well that works, and how, intentionally or not, the approach manages to mirror the central characters lives. These people don’t really change—at least, not much (although enough to keep this from being a complete tragedy)—they just dig deeper into the past they can’t help living in. It’s like any long-running comic book; there’s always some piece of lore that can be exploited for story ideas, and since the main plot (will the super-hero save the world?) can never really be resolved, you need to make occasional lateral moves to keep finding new areas to explore.
All of which is to say “The Bellicose Proxy” continues the strong run of episodes this season, and is funny as hell to boot. The premise, which has the Monarch and Gary helping Augustus St. Cloud on his first arching, while Billy and Pete freak out at the news that they are about to be arched, is straightforward and very strong, and allows for some clever interworking of what’s presumably the season’s over-arching plot at this point: namely, the Peril Partnership’s infiltration of the Guild. Dr. Mrs. the Monarch offers Agent S-464 a choice: either they torture him (which is bad) or he gives up all he knows about the Peril Partnership and she helps him get back together with Kimberly McMannis.
This is not, as it turns out, a difficult choice, which allows for a third act which pulls in all of the episodes running storylines into an appropriate explosive, romantic, and, again, funny conclusion. I’m not sure we really learn anything new this week, but I certainly don’t expect every episode to push forward some major event; and while “Bellicose” doesn’t have the same emotional punch as last week’s episode, it does have that episode great mix of strong concept and execution. Last season struggled some in trying to match a season-long arc to weekly concerns, but season seven seems to have more or less fixed the problem. It’s just wonderfully consistent so far, and my initial concern—that Monarch was back on his bullshit again—is more or less irrelevant.
Do I have any complaints? Well, this is petty, but: I can’t stand Augustus St. Cloud’s voice. I get that that’s pretty much the point; the Harvey Comics looking jackass is supposed to be annoying on pretty much every level, and his peevish, snobby monotone is the epitome of that effect. (Visually he always reminds me of Herbie Popnecker, albeit without the super powers.) But I find it distracting in a way I often find voice work on the show, in part because so much of it seems to be done by the same handful of people. I don’t know if that’s an artistic choice or a financial one, and I also assume that, for plenty of people, this is actually a bonus; a sort of ongoing in-joke about the insularity of the Venture-verse. So while I’ve brought up the criticism before, I try not to dwell on it. But man, it grates sometimes, and I have to make an extra effort to accept him as a character and not just a conceit—he would’ve been fine as a one off, but as someone who is, in part, intended to support plotlines, it’s a hard sell.
Which isn’t exactly a new angle for The Venture Bros, and at least St. Cloud is just a annoying and not, like, a reformed pedophile or something. The character is used well enough in this episode, as he’s largely there for Monarch and Gary to riff on. And the riffs are very good. Just the back and forth between the two of them trying to teach the hopeless (but insanely wealthy) twerp how to effectively arch, and Brock giving a terrified Billy and Pete a quick course in Never Trusting Anyone, is superb. It both parodies the absurdity of all this, the goofy costumes (Billy’s looks like someone dressed up him as the Slim Pickens robot from The Black Hole) and overly-complicated rules, and revels in all of it. That’s not a new vibe for the series, but it’s one that still works, and watching this play out feels less like returning to a rut, and more like celebrating what made so many people love the show in the first place.
- Yet another fantasy sequence this week—it’s starting to feel like a running joke. Dr. Z accidentally bursts into the room where Dr. Mrs. the Monarch is interrogating S-464, and after realizing that the deal is more or less closed, he launches into a zany makeover montage. Not a bad gag, but it’s weird that we’ve had three different iterations on this concept already.
- “Scams, shams, and oh damns, this is where it all goes down.”
- On why it’s perfectly reasonable to use plastic surgery to make a villain look like Dave Grohl: “Nobody refuses Dave Grohl! He got a Beatle to be in his band!”
- “Ready to pull your first P.E.N.I.S.?”
- “Way to go, Venture! Love the costumes, it looks nothing at all like you stole them from Lidsville!”
- Dr. Mrs. the Monarch’s plan to put S-464 and McMannis back together almost falls apart when she snaps and starts threatening to put a beat down on McMannis; the Monarch shows up just in time to smooth things over, a nice change of pace from their usual routine.
- The end, which has Billy and Pete excitedly telling their adventures to Hank and Dean, is surprisingly cute; even the twist (they were hallucinating the whole time) doesn’t undercut it, somehow.