Friday, February 12, 2016

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: The Venture Bros., "Maybe No Go"

Occasionally on Friday, I discuss the week's best first-run animated series episode I saw. It's the "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week. Stream "Brokedown Merry-Go-Round," my one-hour mix of original score tracks from animated shows or movies, right now!

"Maybe No Go" catches up with Venture Bros. side characters Billy Quizboy and Pete White--the former, by the way, was last seen constantly being annoyed by the company of Rose, who's both the hydrocephalic super-scientist's mom and a retired superheroine formerly known as Triple Threat, while he was dragged along with Rose and her current boyfriend Action Man to the Gargantua-2 space casino's opening gala--and pretends the ongoing rivalry between the trailer park roommates and Augustus St. Cloud is the subject of a Billy/Pete spinoff. I've said before that so many different shows could be spun off from The Venture Bros.' fully realized (and crowded) universe--I'm not holding out hope for a spinoff about the Order of the Triad because the not-exactly-prolific Jackson Publick isn't really all about that franchising life, but an Order of the Triad series would rock the most out of all possible Venture Bros. spinoffs--and the Doc Hammer-scripted "Maybe No Go" briefly runs with that idea many Venture Bros. viewers like myself have had in our heads about various spinoffs.

The episode presents snippets of the off-screen battles between Dr. Venture's college buddies and their roly-poly arch-frenemy--the snobby heir of the St. Cloud plastics fortune and a sore loser who never got over Billy beating him on the game show Quizboys--via a fake opening title sequence for the Riptide-esque action show Billy Quizboy and the Pink Pilgrim. Back when the late Stephen J. Cannell was the Shonda Rhimes of mid-'80s network TV and Cannell was able to dominate a whole night of programming with his independently made output, Riptide was a Cannell joint that aired back-to-back with the Cannell/Universal hit The A-Team on NBC's '80s Tuesday night schedule. The Magnum, P.I.-esque Riptide was such a disposable piece of Reagan-era fluff that all I can remember about it was that it featured boat chases and a constantly malfunctioning robot buddy. Billy Quizboy and the Pink Pilgrim also features beachside action sequences and a robot buddy. In this case, the robot sidekick is Robo-Bo, who was programmed by Billy and Pete to speak in the PlainTalk Fred-style voice of Jonas Venture Jr.'s J-Bots--I love how Fred is the only kind of robot voice the scientists on this show can get to work--and weirdly bear the face of Bo, as in Bo from The Dukes of Hazzard.

(Photo source: Uproxx)

And like Riptide (which was the type of '80s fantasy that would constantly make an earlier and much more grounded Cannell character like Jim Rockford roll his eyes), Billy and Pete's spinoff is on the bland side, although I'm tantalized by the clips of Augustus cosplaying as the Marvel supervillain Galactus and Billy appearing in the form of a giant lizard like in the old video game Rampage. The big joke about the fake Billy/Pete show is that those clips of Billy, Pete and Robo-Bo tangling with monsters all over the world and scoring babes are misleading, and if their fake show were an actual one, it would largely be just the three of them parked in front of their terminals and speed-typing inside the "Quizcave" (as seen while Augustus sics a Robosaurus on their trailer), which doesn't exactly scream out sexy times. Pete's instruction to "Set the ground at Z-pulse through the electrical, then run diagnostics on the echo. Configure the kickback waves to resonate at that frequency" is the type of hackneyed techno-gibberish I hope Bryan Fuller stays away from when he works on that upcoming CBS All Access Star Trek project I'm now excited about simply because it will be spearheaded by Fuller, the Trek alum who went on to make intriguing cult shows like Wonderfalls and Hannibal and has always dreamed of casting Angela Bassett as a captain and Rosario Dawson as her first officer, a pairing that, in Fuller's hands, would be like the greatest (non-DS9) Trek spinoff of all time.

Billy, Pete and Augustus (the pageboy-wigged billionaire is every single rich asshole you never liked when you were a kid and was forced by either your teacher, your mom or the kid's mom to hang out with) are basically grown men having pathetic-looking play dates that are arranged not by their parents but by themselves. Their battle over possessing the red ball prop from Duran Duran's classic 1983 video for "Is There Something I Should Know?," the song that provided this episode with its title, is amusingly low-stakes in comparison to Wide Wale's threats against Dr. Venture's new business empire and the Monarch nearly getting his ass shrunk by the laser eyes of a villainess named Redusa (Kate McKinnon) while he searches behind his wife's back for the Guild of Calamitous Intent member who secretly talked her into signing away to him the Monarch's arching rights to Dr. Venture (the Monarch doesn't know yet that the Guild member is Wide Wale). The Monarch wants to forever play a game of supervillain-vs.-super-scientist with Dr. Venture, but he's so far up his own ass that he's unaware that he's not very good at arching (he's so lousy at it that he didn't know his parents kept a gigantic supervillain's lair under his childhood home in Newark this whole time) and is nothing without his powerful Guild council chairwoman wife or his sometimes exasperated but eternally loyal henchman Gary.

The Venture Bros. follows in the footsteps of The Simpsons, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and Bob's Burgers and becomes the latest animated show to parody Trainspotting's withdrawal sequence. (Photo source: Uproxx)

Like the tranquilizer-addicted Pirate Captain reminds Dr. Venture at one point in "Maybe No Go," you got to live in reality--a bit of advice that's ignored on this show by anybody who's not a pragmatic type like Brock or Dr. Mrs. the Monarch--and the tug-of-war between reality and fantasy is an old Venture Bros. theme "Maybe No Go" revisits in the Monarch's refusal to let go of arching Dr. Venture and Augustus' inability to move past the fact that dirt-poor Billy is smarter than him. Augustus let that disappointment consume him so much that he had the Quizboys set rebuilt in his mansion for a rematch with Billy in "What Color Is Your Cleansuit?" (and he got beaten again).

In "Maybe No Go," Augustus has another old set pointlessly rebuilt as part of his feud with Billy, and this time it's the set from the "Is There Something I Should Know?" video, whose graphics and scene transitions are perfectly recreated by the Titmouse animators during what has to be the visual and comedic highlight of this episode. The sequence is also the show's first Duran Duran-related sight gag since the enjoyable montage where Dr. Venture relived the racist "Hungry Like the Wolf" video while having a meltdown and running away from his responsibilities in the second-season premiere. Racist video aside, Duran Duran is a band that's impossible to dislike, and "Maybe No Go" will make you want to go YouTube or Spotify a bunch of their best songs afterward. "A View to a Kill" is my favorite Bond song. "Save a Prayer" is the type of stylish and non-cheesy slow jam that should have opened Spectre instead of the underwhelming "Writing's on the Wall," but only if Daniel Craig's Bond had been written as a tormented Catholic like Matt Murdock instead of as a tormented atheist. The Nile Rodgers era of Duran Duran is solid, but I'm more partial to the sounds of "Planet Earth" and "Girls on Film." I even like that single Duran Duran recorded with Justin Timberlake nearly a decade ago. Man, Augustus, get your disgusting sausage fingers off the Duran Duran memorabilia right now.

Augustus' maturity level is akin to the time when Hank thought he was Batman (currently, Hank thinks he's Steve McQueen). He takes the actual Henrietta Pussycat puppet from the set of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, one of many priceless collectibles he's been able to procure, and uses it as a shower mitt, just to piss off Billy. Augustus has always been obnoxious, but during that shower scene involving a beloved piece of our Mister Rogers-watching childhood, he crosses the line into "This motherfucker needs an ass-whupping from Brock."

Speaking of Brock, the OSI agent finds out in "Maybe No Go" about both Wide Wale's first plan of attack on Ventech and the gangster's connection to Dr. Doug Ong, a mad scientist who worked on finding "a cure for cancer in cuttlefish DNA" in the '80s and fused his DNA with that of a marine mammal known as a dugong (that's actually a Tagalog word, by the way, for "lady of the sea") to become Dr. Dugong. The mad scientist was killed by the Monarch when the Guild forced a disappointed Monarch to arch him a few seasons ago. Wide Wale is revealed to be Dugong's brother Chester, which could mean that he took over as Dr. Venture's arch just to get his revenge on the Monarch (and if Wide Wale wants the Monarch dead, will that lead to the Monarch having to turn to Team Venture for help?), but I was more surprised by the episode's revelation that Wide Wale has the Crusaders Action League in his pocket and is running the Crusaders' protection racket. So in Team Venture's New York, the Avengers work for the Kingpin, which is some depressing shit, but it's perfect for this show's skeptical, almost Iñarritu-esque view of superheroes. On this show, they're either corrupt, sexually dysfunctional or pedophilic.

With the help of Sgt. Hatred, who quit the OSI because of his unhappiness with being removed from Venture security detail and has taken a job as a Ventech Tower tour guide, Brock is able to foil a break-in by Wide Wale's henchmen. Dr. Venture is, of course, totally unaware of how much danger he's now in, especially after he refused to fork over protection money to the Crusaders, and he's now probably doing every night that old Louie De Palma ritual of stripping down to his underwear and rolling around for hours in piles of money that used to belong to his brother. But he does one good thing in "Maybe No Go," and that would have to be the moment when he agrees to follow a suggestion from Dean about forming a team to work on speculative engineering instead of rejecting Dean's suggestion and saying, "I'm the fucking boss of Ven-whatever. Only my ideas matter." It reminds me a bit of the interesting "bonding over super-science" moment shared by Dr. Venture and Dean while they attempted to fix the space station shield in "All This and Gargantua-2." These moments also illustrate how Dean is the kind of brilliant thinker Dr. Venture could be if he stopped coasting on his fame as both a scientist/adventurer's son and the inspiration for The Rusty Venture Show ("Brought to you by smoking!").

I don't know where this new, eight-episode season is headed as far as Wide Wale's scheming goes, but I'm enjoying what "Hostile Makeover" and "Maybe No Go" have done with the season so far. I hate Augustus, but his acquisition of Billy and Pete's company turns out to benefit Billy and Pete when he sells their company to Dr. Venture, who summons them to New York to have them work alongside him, presumably in the speculative engineering department, and that frees Billy and Pete from the boredom they were clearly experiencing while having to humor Augustus. When Jackson Publick discussed the character of Hank with The Mary Sue, he said that "he possesses a childlike wonder about everything, you know? He kinda thinks everything is cool, he has a can-do attitude, he's got a decent amount of confidence, but he doesn't express it in that asshole way that Dr. Venture or the Monarch do." In "Maybe No Go," Billy and Pete represent that kind of optimism as well--after they lose their company to Augustus, there's an unexpectedly moving moment where a despondent Pete questions the magic of Duran Duran's red ball, and Billy, who hasn't lost all hope, says, "Why would you doubt that?" (Doc Hammer's terrific delivery of this line is key to why the moment's unexpectedly moving)--but they're, of course, a bit more mature about that optimism than Hank. I'm curious about what big, bad New York will be like through Billy and Pete's eyes and how the duo will react to the changes that come with their new home. And as they try to make their way to this ordinary world, will they learn to survive?

Other memorable quotes:
* Dr. Mrs. the Monarch: "On the books, y-you're a Six. But that was when you had over 100 henchmen and a flying cocoon. So if I were to reassess, I'd go with Three, maybe Four."
Monarch: "Three or Four?! C'mon, Tantrum Rex is a Level Four! Tantrum Rex! He looks like the 'Not the mama, not the mama' baby dinosaur puppet."

"Mousse? I didn't even know they made hair mousse anymore."
"Hey hey hey, check it out, I'm in Flock of Seagulls."
"Hey, look, look, I'm in the Exploited."
"Billy, remember Tool Academy?"

* "Without this ball, the New Romantics could never have happened. Duran Duran would be a jock-rock band."

* "Imagine: no Spandau Ballet to write 'If You Leave.'" Augustus, who thought the 1986 cult favorite Highlander came out in 1983 in "What Color Is Your Cleansuit?," makes another mistake and gets away with it. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to remember that OMD wrote and performed "If You Leave," not Spandau Ballet. Even though he gets dates, facts and lyrics wrong (he says, "Reflex is a lonely child," when it's actually "The reflex is an only child"), I love how Augustus appears to be obsessed with the works of Russell Mulcahy, who directed both the "Is There Something I Should Know?" video and Highlander.

* "If there's no New Romantics, stuff like nu rock would have happened way earlier. I mean, Linkin Park and System of a Down would have formed in the '80s. And that would have ruined future hip-hop, and with no good hip-hop, there's no RZA. And I lost my virginity to side A of Wu-Tang Forever. We had to do it! Just think of what your hair would look like."

* Manolo (Hal Lublin), the handyman Gary spoke Spanish to last week (and whose van is still badly dented from Warriana's chariot accident in a funny little bit of continuity): "Your wife no home, so I wait for you. You're not going to believe this!"
Monarch: "I knew you spoke fucking English!"

* Brock: "Buy you a beer?"
Sgt. Hatred: "Uh, still an alcoholic, but, uh… Aw, heck, I'll just go to an extra meeting."

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