Monday, August 25, 2008

R.I.P., Henchman #24

The "Venture Bros." season finale aired last night, and by the end of it, I actually shouted, "Holy Crap! They killed Henchman 24!"

My girlfriend looked up at me and said, "Wow, you're really upset, aren't you?"

"No! No," I answered. "It's just...I didn't expect them to do that. It was a funny gag."

This was a lie. I was, in fact, a little upset.

"Venture Bros." is the last of Cartoon Network's old-school "Adult Swim" shows. It came in at the tail end of the first batch that mocked old Hanna-Barbara shows - "Sealab 2021," "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law," etc. - and just before the newer batch like "Tim and Eric Awesome Show" and "Squidbillies," - shows you'd have to be really, really stoned to find funny.

"Venture Bros." is the apex of the old-school because as it's gone on, its nerd jokes have become more obvious and esoteric all at once. By which I mean, they'll throw a "G.I. Joe" parody out there, and that might be funny for what it is. A newbie might laugh at it.

But by this third season, the joke itself is really more of a capper to a series of other jokes from earlier seasons. And so the newbies might be wondering why the big fans are laughing so much harder.

It's a bizarre turn of events, when a show that started off as a riff on the quick-punchline idea, "What would Johnny Quest be like if we followed him into his middle-aged-failure years?" has actually developed a huge supporting cast, a plethora of important thematic devices, an assload of running gags, and an alarming detailed sense of continuity. "Venture Bros." has officially become the "Lost" of Adult Swim.

As a result of the audience's investment in the characters and mythology, "Venture Bros." can do something a show like "Metalocolypse" can't - it can pull the rug from under the audience and provoke a genuine emotional reaction.

Case in point, the Henchmen. Half-assed supervillain The Monarch has had a giant band of nameless henchmen throughout the series, but two of them - portly, squeaky-voiced #21 and skinny, Ray-Ramano-sounding #24, both audience-surrogates - have managed to survive onslaught after onslaught of absurd violence, though what The Monarch refers to as "that rare blend of expendable and invulnerable."

Until last night, when #24 was accidentally blown up. REALLY blown up - #21 actually caught his flaming head.

That the season ended with Brock quitting his bodyguard job didn't really matter. FUCKING #24 died!

That this is both hilarious and upsetting is why "Venture Bros." is the best Adult Swim series. And maybe the only Adult Swim show where you'd hear someone say, "...Actually, you should just start with the first season. Everything will make more sense after that."

Rest in Peace, Henchman #24.

(Oh, also? Last season, they revealed that the head of the shadowy villainous organization was, well, David Bowie. really should put "Venture Bros." in your Netflix queue, just for that, right?)


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with your sentiments and lamentations! I just watched the final episode on my DVR and I think I actually proclaimed.."Holy Crap, they Killed 24!"

I too didn't think too much of Brock leaving. He will be back somehow, but So much so I just had to google the dirty deed and wound up here. Thanks for the co-misery. :-) Long live 24!!! (I might just have to get that damn shirt..)

thechicgeek said...

It's a shame that Adult Swim doesn't have as much meaning today as it did years ago. I can still remember watching the first episodes of Cowboy Bebop, gathered around our ancient television at 96.

But hey, at least Meagan watches the shows with you. Lisa just sleeps.

Charlie said...

I like the "audience surrogates" idea.

How about a post-modern Greek Chorus?

Enjoyed the post. Thanks.

Charlie M.

Anonymous said...

I miss him so much it hurts.