Much as I love the big, genre-spanning adventure episodes of The Venture Bros., the ones that stay closest to home tend to be my favorites. While the show gets a lot of mileage out of Publick and Hammer's loving deconstruction of their pop idols, it needs the solid character work at its heart; part of the joke here is, after all, these people are "real" in their own very weird and special way. That's why their failures make for such terrific entertainment—they have a specificity that makes them easier to relate to, an honest, confessional feel that means you're wincing in sympathy while you laugh.
"Perchance To Dean" gives us our first entirely Venture-centric ep of the season, sticking with Doc, Hank, Dean, and Hatred at the compound as they have their respective crazy adventures. Dean has started to lose his hair ("There is no hair fairy, is there."), and Doc is seeing this as a perfect time to push him into the mysteries of super science and prog rock. Hank, grounded for calling his dad "The President of the United States of Boogers" (the contrast between Hank's rebelling, shaggy-haired exterior and his third-grader's mind is never going to stop being funny), is angry about his place in the family, and when Dermott, Brock's equally rebellious (and pathetic) bastard son shows up, the two of them do some joy-riding. Hatred's busy putting together a set of exploding Rusty Venture statues. And there's a failed clone of Dean, introduced being flushed in flashback, who lives in secret, pining for the love of the father who aborted him for being ugly so many years ago.
It all ties together in the end, even the seeming throw-off delivery guy who Hank decides is psychic. (Doc: "Just because he's black doesn't mean he has 'the shining'!") The pacing is, as always, incredibly tight, and just the precision with which every plot-thread came together at the climax had me laughing as hard as anything else. Just from a story-telling perspective alone, Venture Bros.is a joy to watch. At their best, Hammer, Publick, and the rest approach a level of balance and effectiveness that, honest-to-god, reminds me of Fawlty Towers. It's writing that manages to be mechanical without being lifeless, that can still somehow seem organic despite being so clearly and beautifully orchestrated.
Structure-aside, while I could take or leave the delivery guy sub-plot (it wasn't a bad idea, but the joke was done once we realized that Holloway actually did have psychic powers; the sheriff's involvement worked into the main storyline, though), everything else was gold. It's always great when Doc Venture gets a chance to not be a complete asshole, and as misguided as it may be, watching him force Dean into following the family legacy worked well. I mean, the prog rock section alone was perfect—is there a musical form closer to this show's stunted, overblown heart than the over-baked stylings of Yes? Hank's always been the "edgier" brother (ie, the spork to Dean's spoon), which makes him easier to characterize, so it was nice to see Dean get a chance to shine. And that clone thing… Damn. I mean, when you're skinning dead clones in order to put together a suit that will make you worthy of your dad's approval, you're not a good place, head-wise. As is customary on the show, Clone-Dean, a sad, tragic figure who's never hurt another living thing, is brutally killed at the episode's end. But at least he dies thinking Doc likes him.
Nice to see Dermott again. Hank is always looking for potential role models in bad-ass-edness, and it's hilarious seeing him and Dermott's acts bounce off each other. Because while Hank keeps turning to Dermott for advice and approval, it's obvious as always that Dermott is just a sad, stupid phony, the kind of kid who would put roadkill in his backpack and tell other kids he was killing cats during recess, wanna see? What makes this even funnier is how it contrasts with Hank's essential sincerity. While Dermott is unquestionably a poser, Hank, for all his goofiness, is basically stumbling towards honest coolness at times. The way he and Dean have developed past caricatures over the show's run has been well-handled, and bringing Dermott back this season is, in a way, a reminder of how far Hank has come. Sure, he freaks out when he thinks he's run over his brother (he's actually just run over one of the clone corpses—and by the way, that thing probably doesn't smell so great by now), but it makes him a lot less of a joke than Dermott's pathetic attempts to play Fight Club.
Anyway, it was cool seeing how life has been changing for our heroes ever since the clones were destroyed. Sgt. Hatred is growing on me, even; it's not really the same without Brock around (and where was Orpheus?), but it's an interesting spin on the family dynamic. And having an inactive pedophile on staff isn't completely bizarre. I mean, I did a show once at a community theater, and the music director was a guy who got fired from his job for molesting students, but he was on medication, so it was-
Ah. Hm. Well, come back soon, Brock.
- Man, I used to think Shrinky Dinks were awesome. Until I realized they weren't.
- Excellent pay-off on the air-drumming gag.
- Dean, realizing his destiny: "No, Dad—I need to science!"
- "He's in a Floyd hole!"