You know those D&D alignment charts for fictional characters that used to be so popular? Y’know, the ones that would slot the Star Trek: Next Generation cast or some other sufficiently large group of fictional characters into personality types like “Chaotic Neutral” and “Lawful Good” and so on and so forth. I wonder if anyone ever did that for The Venture Bros. Hell, I wonder if Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer might not have done it themselves. It seems like the sort of thing they would do.

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I mention it mostly because the Monarch’s decision to go affiliation ambiguous in tonight’s “Rapacity In Blue” had me thinking for the umpteenth time about super-heroes and super-villains on this show. Sure, the Monarch is just taking Gary’s suggestion so he can take down any other villain henching Doctor Venture, but he’s still doing something suspiciously close to good, and following in his father’s footsteps to do it. Of course his father wasn’t really on the up and up either, but it’s not like Jonas Venture wasn’t a sonofabitch, or that his son is exactly grade A good guy material.

The point being that “good” and “evil” on this show tends to be less a moral concern than a conceptual one. The choice of being a hero or a villain rarely seems like much of choice for anyone; either you’re born into it, or some horrible accident of science sets you on a path of greed and murder. Civilians are only occasionally involved in the fall out, and while we’ve dabbled in vast conspiracy, it never really comes across as something that would matter all that much. Sometimes it feels like everyone on the show, even the “cool” guys like Brock, are really just involved in a cosplay that got out of hand. Life goes on around and between their games, and which side who’s playing for is really just a matter of bookkeeping.

Tonight’s episode saw some movement on various narrative fronts. Brock finally hooked up with Warriana, which should generate some terrifying fan art, and the Monarch embraced the family legacy as a way to keep him close to Doc Venture without having to fill out Guild paperwork. Plot is less and less of a concern, really. I’m curious to see where the Monarch ends up (and is it weird that I hope he doesn’t completely ruin his marriage?), and I wonder how it’s going to work out with Hank dating the Wide Wale’s daughter, and I guess I care about Dean going to college? I dunno. I’m watching less to see what happens next and more because I enjoy all these characters and the world they live in.

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Which isn’t a bad place for a show to end up, especially when it’s as funny as this one regularly is. If this season has a problem so far, it’s that we’re coasting; Publick and Hammer could generate these storylines (and comic book names) till the end of time, and that, plus some endearing characters and good laugh lines, is pretty much everything. I’m not sure there’s a desperate need for The Venture Bros. to keep going—and before you start screaming, no, I’m not saying I want the series to end. More that the main stories that inspired all of this to begin with, namely Rusty struggling with his past and Hank and Dean not knowing they were clones, have been resolved. What’s left is a lot of iterative plotting that doesn’t have much drive behind it.

That’s really the downside to all those good vibes i’ve been talking about. The urgency is gone, and while this was never a show that exactly depended on urgency, it’s probably something that’s going to be more of an issue the longer this goes on. “Rapacity In Blue” remains thoroughly entertaining, just as every episode this season has been, and I don’t want the Ventures to go away any time soon. But there’s not a lot of feeling left in this beyond the low buzz of getting by, and as pleasant as that is, it’s going to put us to sleep if it stays running much longer.

Still, any episode that can throw “Haranguetan” out there for a one-off bad guy is doing something right. And “Rapacity In Blue” was consistently fun. The mice dealing with Billy’s “god gas” was one of the best sight gags I’ve seen in a while, and the Monarch and Gary as Blue Morpho and Kano means we get an homage to yet another brand of pulp hero/villain. (I’m surprised the show has never riffed on Green Hornet before. Am I forgetting something?) It’s good stuff, really. Just not great.

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Stray observations

  • “Reach up my ass and grab my heart.” -Rusty
  • Was that Paul F. Tompkins as the voice of the original Blue Morpho? I believe it was! (Speaking of, that home video of him and Jonas… yikes.)
  • “I am so sick of killing mice!” -Billy
  • Another new credits joke. Funny enough, but maybe that bit should be retired for a while.
  • Much thanks to Kevin Johnson for covering for me last week!

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