Interfacing in the millennium.
July 21st, 2023. Barbie, by Greta Gerwig. Oppenheimer, by Christopher Nolan. The moviegoing event of the summer. The meme of the year. A phenomenon, as we all know by now. But what’s that? Far away, in the background? That quiet little noise?
The Venture Bros.: Radiant is the Blood of the Baboon Heart! Jackson Publick. Doc Hammer. The aforementioned secret third thing. More touching. More funny. More impactful. More powerful than ever before.
The Venture Bros. premiered in 2004. Seven seasons later, it finally gets its finale, or what amounts to one: one last beautiful episode, beginning to end a showcase of the best the series has to offer, exactly what happens when you give two huge nerds a series order on Adult Swim in the early aughts and let them spiral for twenty-ish years. It’s not a swan song or a huge blowout; it’s not the finale of The Sopranos. It’s another little adventure, much in tune with the specials the show has already done, where the characters we know and love get to do their dance for slightly longer than normal. There are a few tense moments, a few touching ones. A lot of gags. We learn something new, just a little bit more than we’d get on any ordinary day – in this one, to send us off, one of the biggest mysteries of the show ends up as a ten second after-credits screen, an Ohhhh shit! before the screen goes black. And there they go! There they were. One of the most unlikely creations in television, a true and earnest passion project, a thing that never should have happened but did, God bless it.
Here’s the thing: now, when the popular discourse turns to art, it asks what is necessary. Run your finger down a list of NYT Bestsellers and ten bucks says that, if not on the front cover then somewhere on the back, maybe in the quotes before the title page, the book is described as “necessary” – or maybe “urgent,” “relevant,” “sorely-needed,” or another catchy buzzword intended to make the author feel wise and the reader feel important. Elsewhere, social media angsts over the unnecessary, whether it’s sex scenes in movies or experimental prose in novels and then heel-turns and ties itself into knots over the response to those things. Is it necessary to engage thoughtfully with art at all? Why do we care? Can we not Consume Content in Peace, As The Companies Want?
The Venture Bros., from the very beginning, has been unnecessary. The first seasons are riddled with one-off episodes, elaborate plots seemingly constructed to deliver a single joke and pilot/finale pairings almost entirely responsible for what an uninventive viewer might regard as an “actual story”. It was the accidental lovechild of two huge nerds meeting at a party and starting to do silly voices; the fact that it ever got this far is remarkable. There’s no reason for it! There’s no greater goal, no huge meaningful narrative resolution that it’s been building towards – in the era of bigger is better is not enough, The Venture Bros. could almost be mistaken for unambitious. It’s just some things a couple of guys thought were funny.
But that’s what it often feels like we’re missing these days, as craft and technical skill get honed to inhuman sharpness. Audiences are becoming more critical and less forgiving, or they’re becoming less critical and more indifferent. Everything we read, watch and play is made by people, and sometimes people make things because there’s a perfect story they want to tell but more often they make things because they want to share a feeling that they had. Sometimes that feeling is deep and meaningful. Sometimes, it’s just laughter. It’s an immense privilege to have been able to share in that creative process, as a fan, and along the way watch as these jokes, these outlines of characters, become far more realized, sincere and touching than I imagine Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer ever expected they’d be. Because that is what happened: the show grew, and the characters grew, and the jokes stayed funny but along the way a couple of people changed outfits and a couple of settings got switched and there were deaths and jobs and birthday parties and interpersonal drama just like the real world, and all of a sudden all of those things that were just funny were a whole lot more than that.
When I started writing this article, I flipped open Go Team Venture!, a now-out-of-print art book released after the sixth season that I sourced at great personal cost to myself (googling it repeatedly until a copy showed up for $20 at a used bookstore). The beginning of the book is a series of interviews about how The Venture Bros. came to be: Jackson Publick’s initial ideas, how he and Doc Hammer met, and how they began the writing process once the pitch was greenlighted. The pitch document is included, a Highlights-style retro magazine spread containing characters, settings and plot ideas, one of which was a monster called the Pants Golem of 7th Avenue.
That was 2001. It’s a cool 22 years later now. Seven seasons, 81 episodes, across a span of time that would grow a child well into adulthood. And yet, when the Triad show up in Radiant is the Blood of the Baboon Heart, in the year 2023, they’re fighting a giant golem made out of pants. That’s the ultimate indulgence. That’s what it feels like we’re not allowed anymore. It’s personally satisfying, specifically amusing, entirely unnecessary and it got into the script after all this time for no reason other than they liked it then and they like it now and they thought it was funny. Isn’t that the fundamental goal of the creative experience? Isn’t that why we make art in the first place? Isn’t that love?
Maddi Chilton is an internet artifact from St. Louis, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter @allpalaces.