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Venture Brothers 5X01 What Color is Your Cleansuit?

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Character has always been The Venture Bros. secret weapon. The show draws you in with its Byzantine plotting and clever references, but the depths of its characters, and the way those characters develop over time, is what holds everything together. All the frantic conspiracies and wheels within wheels work because of the deeply flawed fools stuck in the middle, and all the nods to the pop culture detritus of the ‘70s and ‘80s are effective because they serve as a sort of language for the world’s saddest Lost Boys. When Billy Quizboy talks about the Staff of Ra, or Dean dreams of having a PG-13 rated Lady And The Tramp experience, this isn’t just to make us feel warm and fuzzy for catching the gag; it says something specific about both, about the lens through which they see their lives. That’s why it’s funny: because it’s sad, and goofy, and weird, and because it means something. Comedy needs stakes to work, and the stakes here are, for all the madness surrounding them, pretty straightforward. We really hope these losers will find some peace of mind, because at some point or another, we’ve all been this pathetic. We’ve hidden in basements, pored over Evlish script, memorized the Konami code, clung to our high scores, tapped our lands, and polished our glaives. We’ve been heroes, if only in our own mind, and struggled to deal with what happens when that phony heroism is forced into the light of day. And even if you don’t get all the jokes (and I rarely do), the hope remains. Maybe, just this once, it might not suck to be a freak.

It’s not that everything’s sunshine and rainbows. Rusty is still a self-pitying schlub, Brock is still pining over the one woman he can never have (Molotov is alive, looks like), and the Monarch is missing 21, in between bouts of sexposition with the missus. But there’s a reality to the show’s world that hits the balance between misery and triumph, modulating both, even as college kids vanish into the ether and devour each other whole. As always, the genre stuff is just the fun, chaotic color that attracts our attention: underneath is a surprisingly heartfelt appreciation for just what it means to be a fucked up nerd. Looking closer, it becomes obvious that the characters who come closest to succeeding—who actually do sometimes get what they need—are the ones who accept who they are. Dean, after a lifetime trying to play along with what everyone tells him, starts to rebel, and manages (even in his goofiness) to beat the bad guy and briefly get the girl; when it comes time for a showdown, he uses the edge of what must be decades worth of kidding around with Hank, to Indian burn Martin (guest voice Aziz Ansari) out of the top spot. Billy uses his brains, 21 gets to be a hero, and even Rusty walks away without losing everything.

Maybe the key moment in the entire episode (and one of the better jokes) comes when Sgt. Hatred has been taken prisoner by the cannibalistic Oranges. He finds a Green, one of interns Rusty had assigned to basically the servant class (which makes them soft), and asks him what the hell happened. The students have all been genetically mutated in various ways due to Rusty’s usual carelessness, but not only have they turned into monsters; they’ve started coming up with their own mythology and world-conquering goals, all in the space of about three months. The Green, Tommy (Wyatt Cenac) says, you get a bunch of sci-fi geeks together and mutate them, things are bound to get crazy. The joke is, the extra arms and lizard skins and mind-control powers are all filtered through a couple decades worth of fantasy lit and movie nights, because that’s how all of these guys can think. It’s why the Monarch and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch like to do bedtime role-playing, even though they already spend most of their lives in costume. This, all the esoterica and trivia and nitpicking, is a kind of language, and this show’s genius for simultaneously mocking and celebrating that language—and in turn, mocking and celebrating the characters who chose to live in this world—is what makes it so oddly affecting.

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That entire episode was amazing. Billy's new arch is awesome. Also Monarch and Girlfriend roleplaying as Drago and Rocky was the god damn best.



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