While HBO and FX continue to get tons of positive press and critical acclaim for seemingly every new TV series they produce, tiny Cartoon Network has quietly gobbled up an enviable share of cable TV's coveted 18-34 demographic. In fact, the network's late-night “Adult Swim” programming block regularly beats out cross-town rivals “Late Night With David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Recently, the network added another night of original Adult Swim programming, debuting the long-awaited “Venture Brothers” series on Saturday nights. Cartoons may never be the same.
“The Venture Brothers” is a rude, rollicking riff on the old “Johnny Quest” TV series. Baldheaded, goatee-wearing Dr. Venture is an egotistical, out-of-touch superscientist with a couple of hopelessly naïve sons (Harry and Dean) and a testosterone-driven, violence-prone bodyguard/superspy named Brock Samson. Altogether, this scientifical gang is called upon to battle assorted international supervillains and to defeat the occasional menace from space.
The show is one of the most “adult” of the Adult Swim titles, unafraid to confront such issues as the awkwardness of puberty, the confusion over Tijuana hookers and the pain of acute testicular torsion. The show traffics in some of the naughty toilet humor of other adult toons like “South Park.” (Brock claims, at one point, the only way to defeat a mummy is to “befoul the corpse” by urinating on it--although that doesn't quite explain why he urinates on all the other enemies he confronts.) “Venture Brothers” goes way beyond this, though, heading straight for the questionably mature. (“Face it,” mumbles a disgruntled Dr. Venture. “My looks are going down the toilet faster than an unwanted pregnancy on prom night.”) Nasty. But what do you expect from a show featuring a character called Molotov Cocktease?
Though the show borrows a lot (some might say too much) from the acclaimed “Johnny Quest,” it's an equal opportunity offender, mixing in spoofs of Thunderbirds, The Fantastic Four, The Hardy Boys, The Six Million Dollar Man, and just about every other kid's adventure tale in the last 40 years. Hard to believe, but this is a real adventure show, featuring some exciting action and the best animation in all the Adult Swim lineup. (Not that it's hard to outshine intentionally stiff Hanna-Barbera rehashes like “Sealab 2021.”)
The voice work is superb. Hank and Dean (Christopher McColloch and Michael Sinterniklaas) seem to have stolen most of their “gee whiz” dialogue from “Leave It to Beaver.” James Urbaniak (Henry Fool, American Splendor) and Patrick Warburton (“Seinfeld,” “The Tick”) contribute their own offbeat flavor to Dr. Venture and Brock Samson. An assortment of colorful superfoes (such as the megalomaniacal Monarch and his sidekick Dr. Girlfriend) only adds to the pageant of preposterous action.
So, buckle yourself in and fire up the old Adult Swim for a fast and furious dose of action, sexual innuendo and endlessly quotable comedy. “The Venture Brothers” is Cartoon Network's newest ratings thief.