TV Review: The Venture Bros – What Colour is your Clean Suit?

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Adult Swim’s mature animated comedy series The Venture Bros has always ran the risk of having a very niche sense of humour. Much of the show’s hilarity relies on the viewer having seen Hanna Barbera cartoons like Jonny Quest or Scooby Doo and it is entirely possible that members of the viewing audience will be either too old or too young to get all the show’s references. Potentially even more problematic is the fact that Venture Bros creators Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick have, over the course of the show’s four seasons, developed the programme from its initially simple premise (what if Jonny Quest grew up and became a bitter 40-something) into a massively sprawling narrative with dozens of characters, many of whom are far more focussed upon than the titular Venture Bros. For this reason, it would probably have seemed like a safe bet to imagine that What Colour is your Clean Suit?, the first episode of The Venture Bros’ fifth series, would be something of a back-to-basics exercise; a return to the programme’s earlier and tighter format. Instead, Hammer and Publick have chosen to make their comedy show even more complex to the point that even long time fans of The Venture Bros may feel somewhat left in the dark. In order to fully appreciate just how funny What Colour is your Clean Suit? really is, a viewer not only needs to have followed The Venture Bros from the very beginning but also to have a pretty substantial knowledge of modern “geek” culture. Much of the humour of this first (double-length) episode is based on obscure references to old TV shows and movies that are likely to be adored by the show’s core audience but might serve only to confuse everyone else.

As the episode begins, the sardonic Doctor Venture has agreed to construct shield technology for his far more successful brother. To do this, he gathers many long-time cast-members and orders/pays/bribes them to help him out. He also assembles an army of geeky college interns to do the more dangerous lab work. Almost immediately, the interns begin developing unsightly genetic mutations from their experiments and the Ventures find themselves at war with a mini-society of mutant nerds. Since the antagonists of this episode are mutated sci-fi geeks, it is perhaps no shock that What Colour is your Clean Suit? is filled to breaking point with popular culture references of topics like Star Trek and Indiana Jones. A viewer well versed in all things geek will find the episode to be an absolute treat; a more casual viewer will likely just be utterly baffled. The show’s emphasis on absurd comedy helps to make the humour more universal but it can’t be denied that What Colour is your Clean Suit? is not a jumping-on point for new or lapsed viewers. Fans of adult humour in animation will likely find The Venture Bros as enjoyable as ever in this episode. The show’s animation style remains unique and visually pleasing to watch. There is a lot of visually striking moments that make the episode hard to forget. The deliberately silly idea that a small group of sci-fi geeks form their own society, complete with a mythology and culture, lends itself to some really unique visuals that pay homage to old comics and 70s dystopian movies. The episode’s writing remains tight and intelligent and the season premier’s longer runtime allows for more subtle characterization of the less-important cast members for a change. The voice acting is also exemplary considering that almost all of the show’s massive cast are voiced by the same 2-3 people. For a devoted fan of the show, there is a lot to like. For a newcomer, not so much.

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