Friday, March 4, 2016

"Brokedown Merry-Go-Round" Show of the Week: The Venture Bros., "Tanks for Nuthin'"

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!

Venture Bros. creator Jackson Publick's statement that "this season, like Season Five, lacks a satisfactory finale, because we didn't write one" is an interesting lament because Publick does an outstanding job intertwining this season's storylines and building those storylines towards that unsatisfactory finale in his consistently funny script for "Tanks for Nuthin'." Sometimes I think maybe Publick is trolling his fans and he likes to dupe them into thinking the finale will be a letdown like "The Devil's Grip" was to a segment of the fans (newsflash: "The Devil's Grip" is actually better than those fans think).

Or maybe Publick's just being honest. I don't know. It's all a mystery--like whether or not Dr. Venture and the Monarch are actually a second pair of titular brothers.

The sexual mishaps that have led to Dr. Venture having a brother he doesn't know about (and possibly an additional child out there who was mentioned once in the second season and has never been mentioned again), the narcissism of the wealthy and the failure of a space age that promised us jetpacks and hasn't yet delivered aren't the only recurring themes on The Venture Bros. There's also the recurring idea that many of the second-in-commands or underlings in the Ventureverse are far more deserving to be running things than the idiots who somehow ended up with the keys to the car, whether that idiot is the Monarch or Dr. Venture.

This season, Dr. Mrs. the Monarch--the wifey who's always been too smart to be playing second fiddle to supervillains but is also too principled and levelheaded to be in the business of arching--gets to run things. The Sovereign's death has resulted in her trying to keep both the Guild of Calamitous Intent and the Council of 13 from falling apart, in addition to her new tasks as Councilwoman 1. But "Tanks for Nuthin'" implies that Dr. Mrs. the Monarch is turning into yet another idiot in power. She's apparently developed Lois Lane-itis in the eyes and ears and is unable to look more closely at the evidence of the Blue Morpho's return to recognize that the man in the Morpho's old mask is actually her husband, not Dr. Venture. But unlike the Monarch and Dr. Venture, that's not because she's a lifelong imbecile. It's because she's becoming distracted by both the marital problems that are being caused by her new job and the stress of that very job.

"Tanks for Nuthin'" follows Dr. Mrs. the Monarch (I know it'd be easier to simply call her Sheila, but Dr. Mrs. the Monarch is just a funny name to repeatedly say in its entirety) on a part of that job nobody would enjoy doing: informing the spouse of a Guild member that her husband's dead. Accidentally killed by Gary when he tossed him into a pit in Ventech Tower's under-construction lobby at the end of "Rapacity in Blue" last week, Haranguetan left behind a wife who also happens to be a supervillain: Battleaxe (Barbara Rosenblat from Orange Is the New Black), a Celtic warrior woman who, by day, runs an Irish pub full of costumed villains who drown their misery over the drudgery of arching in booze (one of those villains is Brick Frog, the loser in the frog costume whose whole deal is the throwing of bricks, and a great little touch during one of the pub scenes is the off-screen jukebox blasting some depressing Irish song). While investigating the whereabouts of Haranguetan's unseen killer, whom everyone assumes is the Morpho, Dr. Mrs. the Monarch has to go break the news of his demise to Battleaxe, who turns out to be inconsolable, even though she clearly bickered a lot with Haranguetan and "his breath was crap and he beat me."

Dr. Mrs. the Monarch helps Battleaxe retrieve her husband's cherished Haranguetank from the NYPD impound lot, and this is where "Tanks for Nuthin'" exudes the storytelling confidence of previous Venture Bros. episodes like "Victor. Echo. November." and maybe even those final moments on Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David spins many plates at once as a storyteller and lets them crash to the ground with glee. That same impound lot is where the Morphomobile has been languishing due to the Monarch's cluelessness about parking fees, and the Monarch and Gary have to go break the Morphomobile out of car jail too. Dr. Mrs. the Monarch and the new Morpho stumble into each other, and what ensues is a chaotic and nicely animated chase where the Monarch and Gary discover the Morphomobile can fly, the show adds Battleaxe to its running joke of people who think the Morpho is Dr. Venture, a turd lands in Dr. Venture's rooftop pool and a second running joke gets a delicious payoff when not one but two villains wind up in the same pit where Haranguetan died.

Speaking of one of those two villains in the pit, Jeffrey Wright is a national treasure. I try not to read too much in advance about The Venture Bros. before each season because I prefer to be surprised by the guest stars the show has been able to quietly land. So when Wright's voice first came out of the oversized head of the Guild member known as Think Tank--he's basically a black MODOK (Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing), and I'm glad the show didn't go the hacky route by calling him "BRODOK"--I wouldn't say I squeed because I hate both the word "squee" and the unpleasant, porcine sound anyone makes when they utter that fucking word, but I was genuinely surprised and delighted by the addition of Wright to The Venture Bros.

Wright the character actor just brings so much class wherever he goes, whether it's a biopic like Boycott or a comedy like The Venture Bros. He's the most alive and nuanced actor to have ever played Felix Leiter, a role previously embodied in the official Bond movies by either the slightly comatose likes of David Hedison and Jack Lord, whose ego on the set of Hawaii Five-0 was so inflated it made David Caruso's ego on the sets of NYPD Blue and CSI: Miami look like a Patriots football, or the much more comatose likes of Cec Linder and a pre-Lost, Members Only jacket-wearing John Terry. As Dr. Nidaba, the Nietzsche-worshiping intellectual who teaches Dean's philosophy class by day and incongruously slips into a man-tank costume to arch Dr. Venture by night, Wright is basically parodying a typical Jeffrey Wright villain role, whether it's Dr. Narcisse on Boardwalk Empire, Peoples Hernandez in Shaft or the not-as-villainous-but-verging-on-sinister scientist in Source Code, and he's hilarious in the part.

Chris Rock didn't win Oscar night, or as I prefer to call that night, #JusticeForFlint night. After both his entertaining Venture Bros. guest shot--the highlight of "Tanks for Nuthin'"--and his tweets decrying Rock's hypocrisy when Rock delivered racist and unfunny jokes about us Asians shortly after his monologue about Hollywood racism, the real winner of Oscar night was Wright.

Other memorable quotes:
* "William, there's a Nazi here to see you."

* "I spent all morning putting together a handy chart for everyone currently in line to arch Venture. So Wide Wale's Venture's primary, right? But he ceded sub-arching rights to these other Level 10s, through the Guild 'Fiends and Family' plan..."

* "Please leave your papers on my desk as you wander off to your unexamined lives of gravity bongs, ceaseless tweets and date rapery."


Smack him with a dick, smack him with a dick

Chris Rock is one of a few stand-ups who made me want to become a comedian or at least a writer of some form of comedy. But he's not perfect. He has a history of telling hacky and lazy jokes about Asians that goes all the way back to his Nat X character's now-bleeped-out-in-reruns "I've seen better acting in a Cambodian whorehouse" joke to Tori Spelling on SNL.

It disappoints me that Rock's inane Asian accountant kid sketch during the 2016 Oscars--a telecast I skipped to watch #JusticeForFlint because unlike the Oscars, #JusticeForFlint would never put me to sleep, and it never did--is proof that Rock, the stand-up who used to come up with so much sharp material about America from a young black man's point of view and also co-produced the much-missed Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, is becoming as out-of-touch as one of his comedic heroes, Jerry Seinfeld. (By the way, that 1980s-ish Asian accountant sketch and Ali G's Minions/Asians joke would never have happened had Rock employed writers from Totally Biased instead of surrounding himself with the likes of Rich Vos. Both those bits reek of the '80s and early '90s and bring me back to a time when early-'90s Comedy Central was nothing but musty McHale's Navy reruns and '80s or '90s clips of white, black and Latino stand-ups telling racist jokes about Asians.) Seinfeld is one of many white comics who love to toss around the white person's term of "political correctness" and blame everything on "PC nonsense" whenever their old white world is being challenged by either diversity or comedy from a point of view that's different from theirs (or dares to question their old point of view). Your world of making Asian Americans and other groups the butt of the joke is fucking dying, Mr. Mom Jeans.

The two-time Oscar host had an old stand-up bit where he said, "I'm tired of defending rap music." Well, I'm tired of defending Chris Rock.

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