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The Venture Bros. returns with a new look and the same style

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When last we left Team Venture, some major shit had gone down. The Venture compound was in flames, courtesy of the Monarch; the Sovereign, having murdered most of the Council of Thirteen, was apparently (and inadvertently) killed while escaping his compound; Dr. Mrs. The Monarch had been shot; Dean and Doctor Venture had a moment together; and Jonas Venture Jr., the Arnold Schwarzenegger to Rusty’s Danny DeVito, was dead, sacrificing his cancer ridden body in the explosion of the space station that served as the culmination of his scientific exploits. The status quo had been more or less destroyed.

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As “Hostile Makeover” reminds us, though, that’s par for the course with The Venture Bros. Nothing stays the same for long, not bodyguards, or subplots, or home. We get a quick glimpse of Jonas’s funeral (including a shot of Rusty paralyzed with joy, clutching his dead brother’s will in his hands), and then it’s off to New York where our heroes will begin their new life funded on the billions of a dead man. If Rusty and the boys seem to acclimate to their surroundings with surprising ease, well, enjoying the largesse of the deceased is not a new experience for them. The life of a former boy adventurer and his no-longer-clone-protected sons is like a stick on a river, floating with the current and hoping to avoid the rocks. (Especially if those rocks have lasers.)

The premiere also shows us how the Guild is trying to rebuild in the wake of the Sovereign’s betrayal. Dr. Mrs. The Monarch, Phantom Limb, and a handful of others now sit on the Council Of Thirteen (Which Is No Longer Thirteen), and they’re in a precarious position. The Sovereign’s absence has left the Guild on edge, and their efforts to calm the collective of neurotic super-villains go, if not disastrously, at least not well. The Sovereign ruled in part because whatever his lies, he had the air of a proper villain; master of convoluted plots, disinterested in the opinions of others, willing to kill those who served him without warning or mercy. Phantom Limb is a peevish twerp, and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is, while more competent than most anyone else, almost too reasonable to be a proper baddie.

Which puts the Guild in a quandary. Phantom Limb’s plan is to team up with Wide Wale, a rich New York bastard whose penthouse sits opposite Team Venture’s new home; and to land this, er, whale, Limb sends in Dr. Mrs. What initially looks like a super creepy attempt on the Limb to force Dr. Mrs. to sleep with Wale in exchange for his support instead turns out to be something far more interesting (and potentially emotionally painful): he wants her by his side when he arches Dr. Venture. We don’t get a chance to see how the Monarch will react to this, but given that he spends most of the episode in a series of increasingly doomed attempts to “reconnoiter” Rusty’s new digs, it’s doubtful he’ll take it well.

As always when it comes to reviewing this show, I end up spending so much time trying to pin down the plot that it’s hard to find space for actual commentary. (And I haven’t even talked about the Crusaders Action League and their attempt to shake down Rusty for protection money.) But the flurry of action, and the rush of characters old and new, allows little room for breath. “Hostile Makeover” doesn’t tell a specific standalone story in and of itself. It’s dedicated instead to establishing the new base of operations for each major character, from the Venture Compound to the Monarch’s crappy digs in the house where he grew up, and then introducing the conflicts that will run through the next seven episodes. Conflicts like Wide Wale and his plans, and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch’s efforts to hold the Guild together (it’s fantastic how’s she become more and more of a major figure on the show—and it’s also great how her relationship with the Monarch, while the source of a lot of humor, is also the most stable romantic pairing on the series.), and how Dean, Hank, and the Doc will deal with their riches.

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Still, some themes creep in. On The Venture Bros., the point of all that furious action—the twists, turns, betrayals, double-crosses, and of course the seemingly endless number of one-off hero/villain parodies—is that as much as the surface keeps moving, things underneath remain more or less the same. Brock Samson is back as the Ventures’ bodyguard, against Sgt. Hatred’s fervent protests (I counted two pedophile jokes this time out, and they were kind of funny? Maybe I’m just too used to it to care anymore), and Hank is still a goofball, albeit one who seems to have figured out how to get the most from life far more than his brother or his father. He even meets a girl! (It’s Wide Wale’s daughter, I’m guessing, which should be fun.)

And of course the super heroes and the super villains all manage to make everything more chaotic and ridiculous than it needs to be. The Crusaders jump into action when Hank does something stupid, only they jump without knowing what’s actually going on, and waste most of their efforts on trying to stop an increasingly furious Brock. There is good and evil in the show’s world, and heroes and villains, but the latter isn’t as a directly corrected to the former as they’d like to believe. Having powers and wanting to wear a costume doesn’t give you automatic moral authority in either direction, and the result is the same as it always is: punching (or shooting foot arrows) first, asking questions second.

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It all moves fast, and the best advice is just to enjoy the rush and not get too hung up on the details. But some things linger. While trying to get directions to a nearby college, Dean accidentally summons Jonas’s voice from his J-Phone, doing his version of Siri. It freaks him out a little; even Rusty says “Too soon.” I don’t want to give the moment, which is as much a gag as anything else, too much weight, but it does serve to remind that how ever fast things move, dead people stay dead. You can distract yourself with comic book stories, fist-fights, or giraffes, but some things don’t change.

Stray observations

  • Admittedly, it’s possible that Jonas could come back, but that would undermine his death; besides, while the character had his moments, he never really got beyond the “Isn’t it funny that I’m so small and yet I’m super competent and handsome!” gag designed to nag at his brother.
  • Nathan Fillion is back! And the gag about his spider sense is deeply satisfying to anyone who grew up reading Spider-Man comics.
  • Brock meets a new potential love interest in Warriana. Her lasso of truth forces him to admit some things.
  • Hank is saved by Night Dick. (snicker)
  • Gary and the Monarch make a terrific team. I realize this isn’t a new development, but I love how that relationship has become one of the show’s storytelling go-tos.
  • Hank starts dressing like Justin Bieber. Oh Hank.
  • Rusty uses his new money to settle an old score, returning to a tailor he once dodged to pick up The Ambassador. It’s a speed suit. I don’t really have much to say about this scene, but I enjoyed. (Actually, I will say this: I love how Rusty has become somewhat more comfortable in his own skin over the run of the show without ever losing his core nerdy-ness. Or whatever you want to call it. He manages to get a win in just enough to keep him from being pathetic; at times, he’s even the closest thing the series has to a voice of reason.)
  • H.E.L.P.eR. is really not happy with the family’s new robot.
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