premiered in 2004 as a straightforward parody of Johnny Quest, but quickly transformed into something much greater. The titular brothers are the
hapless teenage sons of Dr. Thaddeus S. "Rusty" Venture, a balding failure of a "super scientist" living off the reflected glory of his childhood, when his
father, the late, great Dr. Jonas Venture, dragged him along on a series of super-science-ey escapades that were immortalized in a Quest-style
Child celebrity and super science turned our antihero into a damaged wreck of an adult. This isn't the life that Rusty might have
chosen for himself. But for deep and plainly Freudian reasons (check out a Season Three episode called "The Doctor Is Sin") it is the life that he's chosen
for his children, the lovably inept Hank and Dean, who are conscripted into their father's dangerous yet often-pathetic misadventures and live on a '60s
space-age super scientist's compound that they're basically never allowed to leave unsupervised. But this protectiveness might be for the best, as the
Ventures have to fight off occasional attacks from The Monarch, a deeply neurotic and butterfly-themed villain who harbors a pathological hatred of Dr.
Venture that I really hope the show never gets around to fully explaining—the most fascinating thing about Venture Bros. main villain is the
simultaneous intensity and utter pointlessness of his rage. Luckily for the Ventures, the family bodyguard is a killing machine named Brock Sampson, the
show's moral center and an agent of the hilariously named Office of Secret Intelligence, who is himself stuck in a bit of of a mid-career rut.
These core players live within a sprawling, Simpsons-like world. In Springfield, even a throwaway line from the Comic Book Guy could carry a universe of pathos. Similarly, it's hard to
think of a recurring Venture Bros. character—of which there are several dozen—who's totally one-dimensional, or conjured simply to be the butt
of easy jokes. Venture Bros. works hard for its laughs, so instead, viewers meet the likes of Dr. Henry Killinger, a freelance business consultant
and Nietzschean ubermensch toting a Mary Poppins-style flying umbrella, and Billy Quizboy, a former boy genius who's repeatedly kidnapped in order
to perform illegal surgeries. There's Dr. Jonas Venture, Jr., a (rather insufferable) super scientist badass who is everything his half-brother Rusty will
never be. There's Dermott, Hank's doofus best friend, and Triana, dean's unrequited crush and, the closest thing to a normal person in the entire series—a self-aware inclusion that a lesser show might have found unnecessary.
Venture Bros.' brilliance lies partly in this ability to connect its Saturday morning cartoon zaniness back to things that are normal and tangible, much in the same way
that say, The Larry Sanders Show used the absurdities of celebrity as an entry into psychological territory that was often disquietingly familiar.
Behind everything, Venture Bros. is about a family coming to grips with itself (the Season Three finale is appropriately entitled "The Family that
Slays Together, Stays Together"). I'm not really that interested in whether Monstroso and Molotov survived their tumble off a mountaintop in the
fourth season finale. For me, the real cliffhanger had to do with Hank and Dean, interchangeable dunces who grow into frustrated, hormonal young men over
the course of the season. In Season Four, we learn that, contrary to his dad's expectations, Dean would rather be a newspaper reporter than a
super-scientist. An increasingly moody Hank spent all of the last season in open rebellion against a father who seemed to have given up on him—even as
Dr. Venture starts to show some actual love for his problematic offspring, thanks to developments that are too complicated and spoiler-laden to explain (OK
mild spoiler alert: clones are involved). Venture Bros. concerns itself with universal themes, but never in a way that's eye-rolling or mawkish.
It earns its references to lowbrow sci fi, action cartoons, and The Human League—it can pull off convoluted in-jokes, because it isn't primarily about the in-jokes.