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Danger Zone: On Archer's Underground Comix Roots
April 27, 2013 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Charles Bock examines how underground comics helped give rise to TV's Archer and reviews the series in a post-Sideshow Bob world. (First link contains NSWF embedded YT videos.)
posted by Room 641-A (79 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
As you can see, Archer is so outrageous it’s hard to believe the show even airs. Beneath its filthiness, however[...]

The fact that he describes Archer as particularly "outrageous" leads me to believe the author has not seen any other animated program in the last 10 years. Archer, while excellent, is completely par for the course for the whole genre in terms of outrageousness.

To wit: South Park, Family Guy, American Dad, Venture Bros., Harvey Birdman, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Squidbillies, and on and on. There's like a hundred of them. They're all like that.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:04 AM on April 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


Cartoons for adults — or, rather, for those above the age of consent — are a separate phylum from the one featuring tights and superpowers that was born, in 1933, with a certain do-gooding native of the planet Krypton. Adult cartoons began later, in the exploitative soil of the late Forties and Fifties — in the horror, true crime, and sex and splatter offerings of Entertaining Comics, which published titles like The Vault of Horror, The Haunt of Fear, and A Moon, A Girl . . . Romance, and whose allegedly nefarious influence keyed the 1954 congressional hearings on juvenile delinquency.

We have to locate the start of something somewhere, and EC Comics is a pretty good starting point, but I want to add that we can go back further, as many comics historians do, and find the origin of Underground Comix with the Tijuana Bibles, which actually predate superhero comics.

Also, EC published Psychoanalysis, which I only mention because it comes from such a different world than the one we now live in, and I have read it, and it's sort of great. There's one online here.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:04 AM on April 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sploosh! This show just keeps getting better. Although, that's an interesting little timeline, I would think the fact that the Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and cable tv's ability to play a bit loose would have some kind of place. Also, playing Sealab's original tone against itself spawned it's populararity.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:05 AM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


READ AN UNDERGROUND COMIC BOOK FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE!
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:11 AM on April 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


The fact that he describes Archer as particularly "outrageous" leads me to believe the author has not seen any other animated program in the last 10 years.

No, in the second essay (the review), he shows familiarity with all this stuff.
posted by neuromodulator at 11:16 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


To wit: South Park, Family Guy, American Dad, Venture Bros., Harvey Birdman, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Squidbillies, and on and on. There's like a hundred of them. They're all like that.

Frisky Dingo and Metalocalypse should be at the top of the list, of course.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:16 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Okay universe, fine I'll finish that spec script by this week, sheesh.
posted by The Whelk at 11:22 AM on April 27, 2013


Yeah, that second link is the money link.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:39 AM on April 27, 2013


Hmm, that Psychoanalysis link seems to end at a Rapidshare file that's disappeared. Pity.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:40 AM on April 27, 2013


He stitches-together a brief history of anarchic or surrealistic comics/cartoons and he doesn't cite Herriman's Krazy Kat as pretty much the precursor to all that followed? And doesn't even give a nod to key Warner's creations like Duck Amok? The boy didn't do his homework.

Archer is the funniest thing on tv right now. Though, the latest "season" sure seemed ridiculously brief.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:41 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was reading something about Archer recently (the AV Club, I think) that accurately pointed out how perfect the vocal performances are, and how a lot of the strength of the show comes from that. Particularly Judy Greer, who is just amazing as Cheryl. I love Ray, too.
posted by neuromodulator at 11:45 AM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


READ AN UNDERGROUND COMIC BOOK FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE!

I would prefer not to.

Anybody? "Bartleby the Scrivener"?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 11:46 AM on April 27, 2013 [13 favorites]



I was reading something about Archer recently (the AV Club, I think) that accurately pointed out how perfect the vocal performances are, and how a lot of the strength of the show comes from that.


Archer does an insane number of takes and line readings for a show of it's size and length.
posted by The Whelk at 11:48 AM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


... pointed out how perfect the vocal performances are,

That just crystallized something for me. Previously I would have said that animated shows were about the drawings, but for a lot of them the vocal performers are key, and the images are just there to give our eyes something to do. It's Radio on the Television!

(Your comment just perfectly intersected with an earlier Bob's Burgers thought I had that what I really wanted was to listen to Kristen Schall and Eugene Mirman yell at each other while watching colored blotches move around.)
posted by benito.strauss at 11:56 AM on April 27, 2013


I have a hard time watching some animated shows these days because the voice acting is so atrocious. Compare some of the beloved dubbed anime with a really well directed show like Archer and you'll hear the huge difference in talent.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:57 AM on April 27, 2013


I finished the review wondering if Mr. Bock was familiar with Tom Selleck's oeuvre, in particular the Magnum P.I. episode "Did You See The Sun Rise?"
posted by infinitewindow at 12:00 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Archer does an insane number of takes and line readings for a show of it's size and length.

Do you not?
posted by dhens at 12:32 PM on April 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think he kinda misses the point on other stuff -- calling Metalocalypse and The Boondocks "so disposable"... and then saying they're only funny if you're well-versed in black metal or "hip hop culture", respectively. And it seems to me that... not really? I mean, Boondocks in particular seems to be more political than anything else. (He also has a snide comment about needing your sense of humor surgically removed to enjoy that show -- while I'm not a HUGE fan, I think it's kinda obvious that that's not what Boondocks is really going for?)

Archer, though, really is a magnificently written/performed show. I love that it's not only not afraid to be smart, but not afraid to be, like, Masters-Level smart. I love that sort of thing of including the one-percenter jokes. If you don't get it, no biggie, but if you do, it's hilarious.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 12:32 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rev. Syung Myung Me: Yeah, the Chekov Gun joke in the second episode is when I knew this series was something special. (I also liked the Gilles de Rais reference in the episode where ISIS goes undercover at Anthony Bourdain's restaurant).

Also, in the "Rake's Progress" article, which details the evolution of this kind of adult-oriented animation, there is no mention made of The Critic. That show was doing cutaway gags (and doing them well) before Family Guy was a twinkle in Seth MacFarlane's eye.
posted by dhens at 12:38 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I also must admit to being really annoyed at the "Ha ha, adult swim/early CN stuff/absurdism and détournement in general is for stoners!!" trope. It comes up SO goddamn much (including in this article!), and I really don't think it's entirely true. A lot of folks watch this stuff stone cold sober and care a lot about it, and how it's put together. (I'm not denying that some people do prefer to partake while watching, of course.)

I did an interview with one of the folks who works at Adult Swim (and created Off The Air), and mentioned this too -- and here's what he's said:
KS: The cliche about the [Adult Swim] audience in general is that they’re stoners — what do you think of this association?

Dave Hughes: I think it’s probably partially true, but also kind of a bummer. Like if they weren’t stoned, they would have the sense to change the channel or something. It implies a laziness or passivity in our viewers that I don’t see at all. People who watch [Adult Swim] seem very engaged to me. And very passionate. Often, they feel offended when we air something that they don’t think is up to snuff. Where else do you see that kind of passion for a network as a whole? HBO used to have it a bit, but not as much now. I think [Adult Swim] has done an incredible job of talking to its viewers, and also listening, and the viewers become invested in the network itself. But back to the pot thing, it just makes me sad that an appreciation for anything absurd or out of the norm can’t be taken at face value. Like you must be on drugs to either make this stuff, or to enjoy watching it. How fucking lame and narrow-minded is that?
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 12:44 PM on April 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


PENGUINS CAN'T FLY
posted by The Whelk at 12:44 PM on April 27, 2013


"I don't care how many stewardesses you've bagged!"
"Waaak wak wak wak."
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 12:49 PM on April 27, 2013


South Park, Family Guy, American Dad, Venture Bros., Harvey Birdman, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Squidbillies,

Notice, all but one of those aired on Adult Swim. It really is the television haven for that kind of thing, for better or worse. Better, because it certainly is a nascent movement. Worse, because I cringe when passing that channel, and really don't enjoy Aqua Teen any more, or Squidbillies at all, or Robot Chicken. And god will someone please tell Seth MacFarlane to please go home now.

But... the channel also gives us Venture Bros., Boondocks, Black Dynamite, and they brought Toonami back (which I can thus resolutely go back to not watching unless Cowboy Bebop is on, because a lot of their anime sucks right now). And you can see them trying to broaden their appeal. This may actually explain why Archer is on FX; the word is that creators Reed and Thompson, who created Seaquest 2021 and Frisky Dingo, were told of the cancellation of Dingo after the next season was already in production, resulting in the sudden demise of their development company.

Lest I seem too knowledgeable here though... I have yet to catch a single episode of Archer. Any good? And advice on where to jump in? Should I bother at all?
posted by JHarris at 12:52 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Archer is amazing (esp if you think of it like a radio drama almost) I have no idea where to start however.
posted by The Whelk at 1:01 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


(and if Adult Swim gave us nothing but The Venture Brothers, it would've been worth it.)
posted by The Whelk at 1:01 PM on April 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Any good? And advice on where to jump in? Should I bother at all?

Absolutely, yes. I think starting at the beginning is mildly important, but it really is in the second season where the secondary characters start to become extraordinary. But it's pretty solid from the get-go.
posted by neuromodulator at 1:03 PM on April 27, 2013


Honestly, most eps of Archer would be good to start. Either starting from the beginning or probably just tuning into FX sometime when it's on.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 1:04 PM on April 27, 2013


Season one episode Skytanic is worth it just for HJB's reading of "Oh the humanity!!"
posted by Lorin at 1:07 PM on April 27, 2013


I have yet to catch a single episode of Archer. Any good? And advice on where to jump in? Should I bother at all?

I'd start at the S1E1. It's all good, but there are definitely strings of character development that shouldn't be missed. Oh, Krieger-San...
posted by Thorzdad at 1:14 PM on April 27, 2013


I finally accidentally caught my first episode of Archer (the one with the dog) a few weeks ago, after years of meaning to get around to it -- I watch a bunch of other FX shows, so I constantly see the promos for it -- and having people harangue me to give it a try. I'm just not into 30-minute shows at all anymore. But yeah, it instantly convinced me that I need to see every other episode ASAP.

I think part of the problem is the promos make Archer himself seem like merely some dumb frat-rat asshole, and he's really a lot more interesting than that.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:18 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Griphus said Archer is an interesting example of a character with high INT but no WIS, that is he's not dumb - he's very well educated and dedicated to things that interest him - it's just his interests are all a 12 year old's fantasy of being a super-tough agent guy and he's actually good at his job when he wants to be, so he gets away with being a jerk 90% of the time.

I mean a good half of his character arc is his macho facade breaking when he's actually forced to admit he has human feelings. Which is super interesting for a show with space station fights and choking fetish jokes.
posted by The Whelk at 1:23 PM on April 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also yes the promos wouldn't tell you that everyone knows what a douche canoe Archer is.
posted by The Whelk at 1:27 PM on April 27, 2013


Previously I would have said that animated shows were about the drawings, but for a lot of them the vocal performers are key, and the images are just there to give our eyes something to do. It's Radio on the Television!

This really goes back to early TV cartoons where they never had the budget for 'good' animation (even for Prime Time shows like The Flintstones) and strong character voices and good voice performance was essential. As a kid, I owned LPs of Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound that were essentially the soundtracks to specific cartoons with bits of narration added in. And they were almost as fun as the actual cartoons. When Adult Swim started, one reason so many shows copied 'vintage Hanna-Barbera style' was to keep the budget down. After all that, my jaw dropped when I first saw Venture Brothers.

The importance of cartoon voices is something Wendell wrote about years ago (pen-name self-link) when the dichotomy between theatrical toons (which are now way too dependent on marquee names) and TV toons (where Billy West and Maurice LaMarche are the new Mel Blanc and Daws Butler, and June Foray is still making little girl voices at 92!) was something new.

But I digress. Archer? Uses the format well, and it probably wouldn't be as funny if it was as 'fully animated' as Venture Brothers. But I can't help imagine that "Mad Man" would be more interesting animated in this style.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:35 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is fully "animated", and looks fantastic, now. They've been doubling down on the animation every season since the third.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:40 PM on April 27, 2013


They do a lot to keep all the production in Georgia, I still think its a bit static but the detail keeps going up ( and the background gags)
posted by The Whelk at 1:43 PM on April 27, 2013


I love that sort of thing of including the one-percenter jokes. If you don't get it, no biggie, but if you do, it's hilarious.

I think MST3K first demonstrated this principle can work. If you have a high enough rate of rapid-fire jokes, you can afford to throw in some really obscure ones, and for reasons that I can't quite articulate, these tend to have far more comedic payoff when they hit home.
posted by dephlogisticated at 1:58 PM on April 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I must be the only one in the thread who thought this season wasn't as strong as the previous ones.
posted by wittgenstein at 2:10 PM on April 27, 2013


I think MST3K first demonstrated this principle can work. If you have a high enough rate of rapid-fire jokes, you can afford to throw in some really obscure ones, and for reasons that I can't quite articulate, these tend to have far more comedic payoff when they hit home.

Exactly, I was thinking of MST3K too...8) And I think part of the reason why those 1%ers hit so hard is that there's this... camaraderie aspect? Sort of like "oh shit, someone ELSE knows about [X]?!" Like "Oh man, someone else knows that Dali's ocelot was Babou?!" or whatnot -- kind of like if you're out and about and see someone with a shirt of your favorite band, and you smile or give the metal sign or whatnot. (Or even talk to/befriend them!) Just... on TV! Which is extra amazing! Because TV usually doesn't make references/jokes about [X]!

(Like, I always liked the "Look, i'm a Resident!" joke in The Venture Bros.)
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 2:11 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hm -- so far, I think Season 3 is the strongest, but S4 was still pretty dang good. There were a few weaker eps than normal, though... but even lousy Archer is better than about 99% of everything else.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 2:12 PM on April 27, 2013


From the second article: Now in its fourth season, it is the first significant step forward for animated comedy since South Park

Archer is funny and all, but I don't really see how it's revolutionary. It's hardly the first cartoon directed at adults, surrealism is part of pretty much any other recent animated show, and the character development is presaged by the Venture Brothers. (The Venture Brothers has a better claim to being a significant step forward in animated comedy, I think.)

These articles are strange. The author cites some random pieces of animation and comics history, and then claims that they are waypoints en route to Archer. But he doesn't really say what makes Archer so special (except for saying that it's the first cartoon thoroughly for adults, which just seems flatly false), and he doesn't really say what makes these particular waypoints worth mentioning. Sure, there are some causal chains that take you from underground comix to Archer... but there are also chains that take you from Buster Keaton to Archer, or the Flintstones to Archer. So what? The author zips about from David Foster Wallace to The Onion to Maus. What am I suppose to take from this other than the notion that everything is connected to everything?

The emphasis on Sideshow Bob's rake scene is especially weird. I don't see much of that style of humor in Archer at all. In fact, I can't think of a single scene that is funny because it's artificially extended. (Possible exception: the show likes to extend long awkward pauses before Lana explodes at Archer. But those are funny because of the seething tension between the characters. They're not funny because of the principle "when something’s funny, and then you do it so much it’s not funny, if you keep doing it, it might get really funny.") Why did the author emphasize the Sideshow Bob scene so much, and why did he title the article after it? I don't get it.
posted by painquale at 2:37 PM on April 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is probably much cheaper to keep things static but the plotting does generally revolve around the characters gabbing away. The big thing for me is that there is actual depth and it isn't just some cutouts with articulation at the elbow and mouth.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:41 PM on April 27, 2013


Why did the author emphasize the Sideshow Bob scene so much, and why did he title the article after it? I don't get it.

I admit this is an uncharitable reading, but part of me thinks he came up with the title (referring to a famous series of paintings) and decided to structure an article around it.
posted by dhens at 2:43 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Archer does an insane number of takes and line readings for a show of it's size and length.

Bear claws! Raaawrrrr!
posted by painquale at 2:49 PM on April 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Considering that Sealab 2021 and all the Space Ghost stuff predates Venture Brothers, I'm pretty sure Archer's creators didn't take their cues from it.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:53 PM on April 27, 2013


I can't think of a single scene that is funny because it's artificially extended

I'm not sure to what extent I agree with the author, but the point about the rake scene is not that it's artificially extended, but that the supposed punchline ("and then he walks into a rake!") is not what's actually funny about the scene. It's about playing with joke set-ups and expectations, etc.
posted by neuromodulator at 2:59 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


On a tangent, I've been enjoying Aisha Tyler's Girl on Guy podcast. She's the one with the freakishly large hands.
posted by polyhedron at 3:20 PM on April 27, 2013


I can't think of a single scene that is funny because it's artificially extended

The scene where Archer makes Cheryl pay for Chinese food? The one where he beats Pam with stuffed Dolphin? The running "Danger Zone" gag?
posted by zippy at 3:43 PM on April 27, 2013


I just came here to say that Archer is awesome. Just like the old gypsy woman said I would!
posted by buzzv at 3:48 PM on April 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Seriously, you have to stop going to her.
posted by The Whelk at 3:55 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


But Other Barry thinks we should keep going!
posted by P.o.B. at 4:08 PM on April 27, 2013


The Sideshow Bob rake scene was done because the writers realized they were short like a half- or full-minute of material for the episode, so they extended the gag. Which makes the author's reference even weirder, since it was an act of desperation, not a deliberate attempt to subvert a genre.
posted by nushustu at 4:13 PM on April 27, 2013


I can remember seeing the rake scene as a kid when the Cape Feare episode first premiered. I can also remember laughing so hard I couldn't breathe.

The article is (somewhat clumsily) describing the ascent of meta-humor as a dominant force in animated TV shows. The rake scene is a cheap physical gag that transcends itself through implausible repetition. It takes a traditional and bland sort of joke and adds an absurd spin to it—becoming a joke about a joke. The Simpsons wasn't the first show to do this sort of thing (and the rake scene isn't the best example), but it was arguably the first US show to popularize this brand of humor with mainstream audiences.

The Adult Swim line-up has really focused on using and developing meta-humor, and Archer is a great example of how it's progressed (others have mentioned The Venture Brothers, and I agree it's on par or better). There's the usual sarcastic banter, raunchy jokes, and pop culture references, but in their best moments, these shows subvert and deconstruct the common tropes of popular media rather than simply utilizing them.
posted by dephlogisticated at 4:15 PM on April 27, 2013


The scene where Archer makes Cheryl pay for Chinese food?

No, that isn't funny because of the artificial extension, that's funny because "Just the tip!" extends the sequence we just saw in a series of flashbacks—so while it presumably isn't a callback Archer is making to Cheryl, it functions that way for us—and because it's immediately undercut by his claiming (perhaps truthfully) to have forgotten his wallet (or whatever it is).
posted by kenko at 4:33 PM on April 27, 2013


The most amazing thing about Archer is how they animate it. They don't use a standard Flash setup, instead using After Effects, Illustrator, and Photoshop. They get a lot of mileage out of a single drawing.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:50 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Coach McGuirk just isn't a convincing secret agent to me.
posted by scose at 5:57 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Spawn TAS.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:12 PM on April 27, 2013


On a tangent, I've been enjoying Aisha Tyler

PHRASING!
posted by gwint at 6:44 PM on April 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


We love Archer in our household. We devoured all the episodes on Netflix. I'd suggest you start at S1E1 as the narrative does flow better that way.
posted by arcticseal at 7:01 PM on April 27, 2013


Family Guy owes so much more to the rakes than Archer does. Family Guys is 22 minutes of rakes, 20-odd times a year for 9 years.
posted by Old Man Wilson at 7:12 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Coach McGuirk just isn't a convincing secret agent to me.

This, and the fact that there doesn't seem to be a single character I can sympathize with / root for, is basically why I haven't been able to get into Archer. Everyone just seemed like such a shitheel.

Admittedly, I've only watched the first three episodes. Everyone seems to love it so much, I guess I should give it another chance. Venture Bros, which I think is basically the pinnacle of cartoon writing and characterization, didn't really take off till after the first season.
posted by rifflesby at 7:18 PM on April 27, 2013


Oh everyone is a shithead, but they're so GLORIOUSLY INTO being Shitheads, everyone is fucking up with such gleeful abandon. It's kinda like Ab-Fab in that regard.
posted by The Whelk at 7:26 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, if we're talking about genre and meta and critique, then Venture Brothers wins cause it's nothing but that - you can't separate the show from its world of Boy Adventurers and superheroes and such. It's all about that, the mid-century genre media landscape and following the implications of living in that kind of world to the bitter end. I joke that it's the best adaptation of Watchmen and that's only kind of a joke. It takes place in a comic book universe all about winning but every major storyline is about failure, dashed hopes, and unfulfilled potential - all that amazing World Of Tomorrow stuff turns out to be pretty freaking awful and curdled.

Whereas I can almost forget sometimes that Archer takes place in a Cold War Spy universe, despite the very literate and keyed in references it makes to the genre it supposedly exists in. Archer is more character focused, by the second season the personalities are so strong that they could be running a bakery and it wouldn't change the dynamic much, the setting just allows them to have more robots and lasers and holograms but it's not really about the whole spy-genre STUFF as much as Venture Brothers is about Johnny-Quest stuff.
posted by The Whelk at 7:36 PM on April 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is it bear claw Monday yet? rawrrrrrrrr
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:38 PM on April 27, 2013


Coach McGuirk just isn't a convincing secret agent to me.

I thought that'd trip me up too (though to me, H. Jon Benjamin will always be Ben Katz), but, well, it's really not that huge of a leap, especially from Coach McGuirk. Archer's an oaf (isn't that a band?) and a drunk and a fuckup, too.

He just looks better, is all, and I like to think that's just because all the characters go through a makes-everyone-good-looking filter -- beer goggles, or whatever's the melon ball equivalent of beer goggles -- as evidenced in the Bob's Burgers crossover episode.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:10 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, if we're talking about genre and meta and critique, then Venture Brothers wins cause it's nothing but that - you can't separate the show from its world of Boy Adventurers and superheroes and such.

The review, at least, is decidedly not talking strictly about that.
posted by raysmj at 8:11 PM on April 27, 2013


Considering that Sealab 2021 and all the Space Ghost stuff predates Venture Brothers, I'm pretty sure Archer's creators didn't take their cues from it.

But the thing that makes Archer a lot better than Sealab 2021 is exactly the thing that The Venture Brothers excels in: deep characterizations and a willingness to let characters develop and change.

Archer is more character focused, by the second season the personalities are so strong that they could be running a bakery and it wouldn't change the dynamic much, the setting just allows them to have more robots and lasers and holograms but it's not really about the whole spy-genre STUFF as much as Venture Brothers is about Johnny-Quest stuff.

Well, I agree that the world of the Venture Brothers is more inextricable from the show (although it draws on so many genres that you could lose everything having to do with Johnny Quest and you'd still have a very similar show. The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend, Brock, Dermot, Sgt. Hatred, the Order of the Triad, the GCI and the OSI... none of these really owe all too much to Johnny Quest). Worldbuilding is one of the things that the show excels at. But I don't think this means that the characters in the Venture Brothers are weaker. It's not a zero-sum game: The Venture Brothers takes place in an amazing world, but that doesn't take away from the amazing characters.

I think the personalities in VB are more complex and better realized. The characters certainly change more, and in more interesting ways. What I like about all of the characters is that it feels like there is something driving them that I don't quite get. I feel like I could describe the general contours of Brock or Orpheus or the Alchemist or Pete White or Doc -- I could present them as caricatures -- but any description would be missing something important about the characters' hidden inner lives. All of them feel like they have motivations that even they don't quite understand, ones it would take a psychotherapist to tease out. Just like real people! I'm not sure this is true of Cheryl or Pam or Malory.

And this is true of almost all the characters in VB, not just the main ones! VB does something that's unique among animated shows: it'll take a background throwaway character and, in a later episode, give them a whole life and complex psychology. They'll take some random Disco Stu and turn him into someone who could have a spinoff show. It's incredible how deft those guys are at making personalities.
posted by painquale at 8:31 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


All of them feel like they have motivations that even they don't quite understand, ones it would take a psychotherapist to tease out. Just like real people! I'm not sure this is true of Cheryl or Pam or Malory.

I think it's more true of Cheryl than anyone on Venture Bros., to be honest. Obscenely wealthy, glue-huffing, choke-sexing chlamydiot who for some reason works as a receptionist? Not even an infinite number of psychotherapists with an infinite number of couches.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:52 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh I'm not saying the characters on VB are somehow less - seriously it's like Mad Men set in the Marvel universe - it's just that in terms of the stories we get about them, it's much more tied into them existing in this over-the-top pulp novel world. The spy agency stuff in Archer feels tertiary to the actual thrust of the stories, whereas VB excels at worldbuilding (like you said) and putting the characters in the context of their kind of world.

The fact that Archer's characters could "be about working in a bakery" and it would be the same dynamic points to how sharp and well-defined they are.
posted by The Whelk at 9:29 PM on April 27, 2013


I think it's more true of Cheryl than anyone on Venture Bros., to be honest. Obscenely wealthy, glue-huffing, choke-sexing chlamydiot who for some reason works as a receptionist? Not even an infinite number of psychotherapists with an infinite number of couches.

I don't get the sense that there is some kind of psychological story that would make sense of her, or that there is some hidden inner motivation that could contextualize her weird behavior. Your description of her as an "obscenely wealthy, glue-huffing, choke-sexing chlamydiot who for some reason works as a receptionist" really sums her up. She's just written as crazy.
posted by painquale at 9:38 PM on April 27, 2013


Cheryl is an ambassador from a far more interesting and dangerous dimension.
posted by The Whelk at 9:41 PM on April 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


(Like Conan O'Brien on why he loved to write for Monty Burns "He's impossibly rich and impossibly old, so he can do anything.")
posted by The Whelk at 9:41 PM on April 27, 2013


Archer did a Rake Scene in the Anthony Bourdain episode. Seriously, I cracked up twice listening to that metal bowl take forever to stop moving.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:00 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, those bowl spins definitely count.

That episode felt kinda shark-jumpy to me. I hope I'm wrong.
posted by painquale at 1:03 AM on April 28, 2013


I don't get the sense that there is some kind of psychological story that would make sense of her, or that there is some hidden inner motivation that could contextualize her weird behavior. Your description of her as an "obscenely wealthy, glue-huffing, choke-sexing chlamydiot who for some reason works as a receptionist" really sums her up. She's just written as crazy.

As opposed to, what, "dumb and sissy" for Dean Venture, and "dumb and butch" for Hank?

What complexity?, I guess, is what I'm saying.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:58 AM on April 28, 2013


That episode felt kinda shark-jumpy to me. I hope I'm wrong.

That episode made no sense and was bad.

1. It was a total rehash, plotwise, of the rigid airship episode from the first season. (Malory wants something so she makes a phony threat, but all along there was a real danger coming from the guy in charge!)

2. It sure looks as if they cut a lot of promotional material, etc., for the show. But since the host is, by the end of the episode, known to be a murderer and presumably dead, why bother?

3. Why would the ISIS agents have to cook, answer phones, etc.? (a) there is no reason; (b) no chef or restaurateur would allow that ever.
posted by kenko at 8:21 AM on April 28, 2013


As opposed to, what, "dumb and sissy" for Dean Venture, and "dumb and butch" for Hank?

Those are not even close to good characterizations of them. I mean, yes, Dean is dumb and sissy and Hank is dumb and Butch, but they are more than that. The show is making them actually age and grow out of being caricatures of children. They are both looking around for someone to model themselves on and finding nothing.

Dean is someone who has always done what he's told and lived according to the rules that he gets from his bed. He's known that he's supposed to be a boy adventurer. But all he experiences when he meets his heroes is disillusionment. And he knows that he's not any good at science. And he's alienated, because he recognizes that Hank and Dermot and Triana and Brock are out of his league. Now he even knows that he's a clone. What's left for him? His dad wants him to follow in his footsteps and be the scientist that Rusty never could be, so there's all this pressure from the top, but now Dean's lost the drive to do what his learning tapes have told him to do. He recognizes that he's been making choices almost always out of fear, but he can't conquer that fear. So he's been becoming deeply depressed and alone.

They could have kept his character constant and made him perpetually the dumb and sissy boy adventurer, but they didn't. They are unrelenting with Dean and I find him really tragic; he has no hope. He's doomed to become his dad. I can't imagine a future in which he's happy, and neither can he. It looks like he's dressing emo in the new season.

Hank is kinda jocky and wants the exciting and dangerous life his dad had. Doc Venture hates Hank for it, and Hank recognizes that his dad prefers Dean. He willfully blinds himself to the unfair treatment he receives, and looks to other people as father figures. Brock, his idol, was his first pick, but Brock went on the lam like a runaway dad, which broke Hank up. So, he's banded together with Dermot, another Doc Venture cast-off, and is actively rebelling against the life that was scripted out for him.

Hank is angry. He's angry for having no parental guidance, and not receiving affection from anyone (except Brock, who has had problems communicating his feelings for the boys). But he's too much of a dumb loser to really assert himself, so he does dumb and risky things instead to compensate. He's turning into Dermot, the show's main problem child. But he can also see that Dermot crosses a line. Although he really wants to, Hank has too much of the goody two-shoes in him to really act out. So he's a bottle of extremely suppressed rage with an unclear future. I can see him going down the Gary path and becoming a henchman or something like that.

You can't give a description like that of Cyril.
posted by painquale at 9:47 AM on April 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Pretty good painquale. But I'd add --

The boys' lives, for all the extreme danger and death and repeated cloning, actually seem to have taught them something. They are ill-suited to living in the real world, but they are actually very well suited to living in Venture World, which contains the GUILD of CALAMITOUS INTENT!! and OSI and Sphinx! and super science and Dr. Orpheus and magic powers and other strange things.

That's one of the interesting things about the show, that the real world exists in it and is prominent, but the tropes from those comic books and shows exist too. Most of the people who subscribe to that kind of stuff end up being failures in some way or another, except for the few who are really really good at it -- Jonases Sr. and Jr, The Sovereign, and... I'm not sure who else. Dr. Killinger? Even Phantom Limb, who was such a ringer in the first season that I hated him, has been neatly deconstructed and made wonderful.

All these characters have created their own alternative reality, of super villians and super spies and super science and super magic, and although some of its underpinnings work the world they made around it has been largely shown to be a dead-end. The Guild is a paper tiger, basically a way of reining in dangerous psychopaths, and OSI fights them in name only -- they're basically damage control. Super science has affected the real world very little, and neither does magic. It's basically grown men playing action heroes and villains. And Dr. Venture might not be a super scientist but he's no fool, he's the only one who does recognize this, and that gives him something over even Jonas Jr., who for his intelligence is still quite naive. The show's perspective is that Dr. Venture is the voice of reason.

I don't have many ideas for what Dean will come out of this as, maybe a writer, a chronicler of this semi-secret world. But Hank has been shown to have real skills and is much smarter than he looks (check out the episode where he tries to join Sphinx!), apparently through the premise that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and if killing you doesn't actually kill you you get stronger still. Hank could probably make it as a henchman, of 21's caliber.

The surprise of the show, for me, has been Dermott, who, just by being a generic teenage asshole, I think has been a better influence on Hank than anyone else, because he's real. The revelation that [[SPOILERS - hover over]] shows conclusively that it's upbringing, not genetics, that's responsible for Hank and Dean's weirdnesses. And he's actually not that bad a kid, I notice; he talks a big game and steals from his workplace, but he can give good advice and doesn't take things like getting punched by Hank personally. I notice that Triana, the previous centered normal character, left the regular cast not long after Dermott showed up. It'll be interesting to see how she turns out when exposed to all this magic stuff.
posted by JHarris at 11:35 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most of the people who subscribe to that kind of stuff end up being failures in some way or another, except for the few who are really really good at it -- Jonases Sr. and Jr, The Sovereign, and... I'm not sure who else. Dr. Killinger?

Dr. Girlfriend and Molotov, I'd say. Maybe Colonel Gentleman? I'm pretty sure that Jonas Jr. is being set up for a fall just as Richard Impossible was; he has he same inflated ego and disrespect for others. And I'm also pretty sure that, underneath the myth, Jonas Sr. was more of a disaster than he let on. (I also think he's still alive, but the show will never make this explicit.) The Sovereign and Dr. Killinger are perfect, yeah, but they're hardly people at all.

Killinger's plan for Dr. Venture made so much sense and was such a great reading of Doc's character that I'm a little sad they didn't follow through on it. (Although teaser images from the next season include a picture of a Venchman.) I can imagine Dean eventually going that route, especially because of his new relationship with the GCI. Maybe he'll arch Triana's new Johnny Depp-like boyfriend. I said above that Dean is the depressed one and Hank the angry one, but when they explode, Dean is more likely to get violent (like he did with Dermott) and Hank is more likely to explode into tears (like when briefly reunited with Brock).

Good points about the small size of the Venture world in relation to the normal person world!
posted by painquale at 12:03 PM on April 28, 2013


In fact, I think Dr. Killinger's plan in relation to Dr. Venture was what happened. He showed Dr. Venture what was really important to him; he'd rather be a (nominally) good failure than a (nominally) evil success. (I think Dr. Killinger is awesome, BTW, I love how they implied that he actually is Henry Kissinger and not just an expy.)
posted by JHarris at 12:17 PM on April 28, 2013


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