It's been over two years since The Venture Bros. has been on the air, but the Adult Swim cartoon (hilarious, imaginative and packed with sci-fi schemes, supervillians and a huge array of comic-book and pop-culture references) returns on Sunday. If you need a quick refresher, or if you don't have time to binge a catch-up, we've got you covered on Dr. Venture, his sons Hank and Dean and their extensive group of friends and enemies.
What it's about:
The show aired its pilot in 2003 and its first season in 2004. In the early days, it was styled as more of a spoof of 1960s adventure shows (in particular, Jonny Quest) — but as if the son of a space-age hero had grown up in the shadow of his famous father and had never quite matched any of his achievements.
As the series progressed, it continued to anchor its plots with the extended Venture family (intermittently successful scientist dad Dr. Venture, Hardy Boys-esque twin teens Hank and Dean, badass bodyguard Brock Samson, loyal robot H.E.L.P.eR.), but the scope of the cast expanded to include dozens more characters — including an elaborately-structured (yet delightfully ridiculous) array of supervillains.
Dr. Thaddeus "Rusty" Venture His father, Dr. Jonas Venture, was a world-famous super-scientist — in addition to being a shitty parent. Rusty is an insecure, narcissistic drug addict, but he did inherit some of his dad's scientific talent. That said, his inventions are sometimes morally dubious and he tends to be strapped for cash.
His overachieving twin brother, J.J., emerges in season one after 43 years of being mistaken for a tumour inside of Dr. Venture; in season six, J.J. sacrifices himself in an act of outer-space heroism and Rusty inherits his rapidly-accumulated vast fortune. Rusty is also a pill addict and is extremely fond of wearing jumpsuits (or "speedsuits", as he insists on calling them).
Hank and Dean Venture Dr. Venture's fraternal twin sons — squeaky-clean dorks who were naive about life outside the Venture compound — perished at the end of season one, but were soon revealed to be clones who'd each been replaced multiple times already. Over the years, they've shed some of their "gee whiz" wholesomeness and they've both found different paths toward coming of age.
Hank (the blonde one) is more outgoing and athletic; he's also in a band called Shallow Gravy with his half-brother Dermott (it's complicated) and the Venture family robot H.E.L.P.eR. He briefly gets ahold of some power armour and tries repeatedly to join clandestine spy organisation/G.I. Joe homage S.P.H.I.N.X. When that doesn't pan out and the family relocates to New York City, he relishes his rich-kid lifestyle until Rusty insists he get a job (which he does, delivering pizzas).
Dean is the more intellectual of the two; he gets a summer internship working for science juggernaut Impossible Industries, though he later decides he'd rather be a reporter than follow his father into the lab as a career. After the family moves to New York (and he recovers from a long, drawn-out bout of heartbreak) he starts attending college, where one of his professors ends up being the supervillain Think Tank.
Brock Samson Introduced as the hulking, extremely lethal bodyguard of the oft-imperiled Venture clan, Brock is a top agent in good-guy government organisation, the Office of Secret Intelligence (OSI). He's demoted to Venture security detail after a failed mission (a caper explored in detail in season three), though he retains his hard-won licence to kill, which he takes advantage of mostly through the use of his giant knife and hands.
Like most of the principle characters on The Venture Bros., Brock's history is fleshed out by frequent and often surprising flashbacks; though we don't know too much about his early life, we do know he attended college with Rusty (and many of the other characters of the same age, including future supervillain the Monarch) and that he trained with a certain Colonel Hunter Gathers, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Hunter S. Thompson.
After spending some time away from the Ventures tending to other matters (although, truth be told, he was never that far away), Brock came back into the fold in time to make the move to New York, where the notorious womaniser started dating a superhero named Warriana, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Wonder Woman.
He's a tough guy, but he has a good heart and he genuinely cares about Hank and Dean. He's also very into his vintage Dodge Charger and is a huge Led Zeppelin fan.
The Monarch He's a butterfly-themed supervillain (complete with wings and a giant flying cocoon) whose schemes are driven by his hatred of Dr. Venture — a mostly one-sided beef that goes back to their college years and possibly earlier, since they apparently knew each other as children, though The Venture Bros. has never really explained the feud's exact origins.
His two main partners in crime are his far more competent supervillain wife, Dr. Mrs. the Monarch and his one remaining henchman, 21 (also known as Gary), a formerly chubby uber-nerd who transforms himself into a buff right-hand man as the series progresses. The Monarch's fixation on Dr. Venture frequently draws the ire of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, the largest supervillain organisation dedicated to enforcing very strict regulations within its ranks — including who may "arch" whom at any given time.
Dr. Mrs. the Monarch The Monarch's wife, the former Dr. Girlfriend (known before that as Queen Etherea, as well as, very briefly, Lady Au Pair; her real first name is Sheila), is a highly intelligent supervillain who fell for the Monarch without realising he was still "henching" for her then-boyfriend, Phantom Limb, at the time.
That love triangle and Dr. Mrs. and the Monarch's eventual marriage, is a cornerstone of The Venture Bros., with Dr. Mrs. — the more level-headed of the two — trying to rein in her partner's tendency to go off the rails. One of the conditions of their marriage is that the Monarch stop trying to take out Dr. Venture, a vow he can't help but break, which puts his relationship at risk even as he remains loyally devoted to his wife.
Her supervillain skills don't go unnoticed by the higher-ups and in season six we see Dr. Mrs. promoted to the Guild of Calamitous Intent's top governing board, the Council of 13. Though she is a beautiful woman who resembles a pinup version of Jacqueline Kennedy, it's a running joke that Dr. Mrs. the Monarch has a very, very deep, very masculine voice (as performed by series co-creator Doc Hammer).
Notable others The Venture Bros. has dozens of familiar faces at this point — including some of the funniest supervillian names and concepts around, like Brick Frog (a guy in a frog outfit who tosses bricks) and Truckules (a cross between Hercules and a big rig). There are also recurring characters, like Brock's impossibly sexy Russian superspy cohort, Molotov Cocktease.
But the main supporting players to keep an eye out for are Gary, also known as Henchman 21, who's part of the Monarch's crew as mentioned above; Phantom Limb, a rogue supervillain with invisible arms and legs (he looks like a floating torso) who becomes crazy jealous when Dr. Mrs. the Monarch leaves him to marry the Monarch; Billy Quizboy and Pete White, associates of Dr. Venture who help him with his scientific schemes (Billy is also the go-to guy anytime anyone needs experimental and/or emergency surgery); and the adventuring trio Order of the Triad, made up of Dr. Venture's onetime tenant Dr. Orpheus (a dramatic necromancer modelled after Marvel's Doctor Strange; he's also a single dad to goth teen Triana), vampire hunter Jefferson Twilight (who only hunts Blaculas) and the openly gay and vaguely magical Alchemist.
Where things stand:
The season six finale saw the Guild and the OSI teaming up to capture the mysterious Blue Morpho — an unsanctioned new supervillian whose true identity bedeviled most of the characters throughout the season. It was, of course, the Monarch (with Gary stepping in on occasion to draw suspicion away from his boss), who took up the mantle of his late father's superhero persona as a way to get around his inability to "arch" Dr. Venture.
The elaborate sting operation to capture Blue Morpho proves unsuccessful, but the Monarch's secret is discovered by the fearsome yet strangely kind and comforting supervillain Red Death, who tells him to "finish your task" — presumably, wipe out Dr. Venture once and for all, which he's been obsessed with doing all this time — "then change your ways". Considering that the Monarch and Dr. Mrs. the Monarch's marriage has been on shaky ground for a while, that's some prudent advice.
The season 7 trailer, which debuted at Comic-Con, doesn't give too much away, but there are some juicy hints. It looks like Hank and Sirena (the no-nonsense daughter of man-whale supervillain Wide Wale) will deepen their budding relationship; the ever-troubled H.E.L.P.eR. will become demonically possessed (to the consternation of Dr. Orpheus); the Monarch will be back to being the Monarch full-time; and the OSI and the Guild will try to bridge their differences via something called "the Treaty of Tolerance".
And considering the trailer could all be drawn from just the first episode, who knows what to expect from the rest of the season?
Why you should watch:
Its overarching plots are compelling and its characters surprisingly dynamic; this is a show with a consistent theme of failure, after all. But the real joy in watching The Venture Bros. is being constantly amazed at how fast-paced and clever it is.
Creators Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick (real name: Christopher McCulloch; both Hammer and McCulloch contribute to the voice cast) celebrate nerd culture like few shows have ever before, referencing everything from Scooby-Doo to Star Wars to Raiders of the Lost Ark to Christopher Lambert to Marvel characters (and Batman) and beyond — random song lyrics, David Bowie, Bull Durham, Chinatown, Silence of the Lambs, Saw, Taken, Teddy Ruxpin... seriously, every episode is a gold mine.
But at the same time, The Venture Bros. isn't just a wacky string of in-jokes. It's also not exclusive to diehard fans. If season 7 is like the earlier installments, you should be able to just dive right in even if you've never seen the show before; after all, you now have a good grasp of the basics. (That said, you should totally try to watch all the episodes at some point.)
The show has grown, evolved and even matured a bit over the years — it will be interesting to see if that trend continues.
If the show has faults, they are its sparse inclusion of female characters and its occasional affection for needlessly tasteless humour. The earlier episodes have, for instance, some iffy depictions of other cultures, plus there's that whole matter of recurring character Sergeant Hatred being a paedophile, a situation that carries way more ickiness than, say, Rick and Morty's similarly inclined but much less sympathetically portrayed King Jellybean.
But those quibbles aside (Which, again, who knows how season 7 will be different?), the cultural landscape has changed a lot since the show last aired in 2016 — The Venture Bros. has always managed to blend every genre you can think of ways that are at once weird, satisfying and incredibly entertaining.