“Are You There God, It’s Me, Dean”, episode nine of the Venture Brothers, is the episode that grew the show its beard. Here it is:
Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, the show’s creators, like to name “Tag Sale, You’re It!” as the beard-grower. What’s more accurate is that ”Tag Sale” is the episode wherein the creators realized they had a beard. If you’re confused by all the beard nonsense, read this from tvtropes by clicking on either photograph of Jonathan Franzen:
Now, take a good look at those pictures up there. Because they are related. Sad ex-child-adventurer Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture is allied with priggish Pre-beard Riker, while Billy Quizboy squires with strong and in-charge Bearded Riker.
This is the episode that brings in the endearing tertiary characters like Billy Quizboy and Number 21. This episode shows us Quizboy and Pete White, who the authors claim as their avatars, in argument with the premise of the show. Will it remain tethered by the narrow premise of being the sad afterlife of a child adventurer, or will the show break free into the comics nether and come into its own.
In short, will it grow the beard? Will it become an adult show?
It does. Happy Birthday to the Venture Brothers.
Publick and Hammer are trope-aware. They know about Ryker’s beard and they, I suspect, are more expert in many areas of pop culture than I am. But I wonder if they truly planted all the references to hair and beards in this episode, or if they were just as surprised and delighted as me by their creation.
Let’s talk about Number 21. This is his first major appearance, and he is my favorite Venture Brothers character. Early, he argues with his cohort 19 about whether Smurfs re-produce by egg or whether the mother carries to term. This slightly cliched argument is the first of many they will have on the show about pop culture.
But what does 21 end up shouting at the end of this episode?
“Papa Smurf has a beard! He has a beard!”
Now the creator sings out against his hamstrings. He yearns to throw off the trappings of his premise. He hopes against hope that his work does not become the Smurfs, a formulaic show where the same damn thing happens every episode.
He doesn’t want his show to be a children’s show. He wants it to be a show for adults.
He wants it to grow a beard.
Have some cake. It’s a birthday party for the Venture Brothers. Mazel Tov. You are Venture Men.
Venture Brothers is a show I’ve been playing with for a while. Season one is clever. It is not great. It is worth watching. Season two is much better.
Season three and later is fine, fine television. You could bet fine television like this against millions of dollars in the right poker game. If you were playing with someone who has a specific interest in these sorts of things. Someone like me.
I have bet a significant amount of time and thought in my poker game with this show, and I am all in. This show hits every childish nerd-nerve I have. Every thing I loved as a child is here.
Some questions I ask myself when evaluating whether I should spend time watching a show or not are:
Age five: Are there superheroes? Are there spaceships?
Yes. Yes. I, five years old, am in.
Is it action figures in action? Yes. Does it have boy protagonists? Yes.
I, eight, am in.
Does it have science fiction? Yes. Does it have a wizard? Yes!
I, twelve, am in.
Are the Fantastic Four in it? Yes. Is there a scantily clad woman in it? Yes.
I, fifteen, am in.
Does it have a dark power? Yes. Does it have a vampire hunter? Yes.
I, seventeen, am in.
Is it Einstein smart? It its range of references deep? Is it unafraid and unapologetic? Does it create lovable and unforgetable characters and then mercilessly savage them? Yes.
Does it always take as much time as is it needs to tell the story at hand, and yet still pace better than Mamet? Yes/
Does it tell us more about popular culture than any documentary? Yes.
Does it entertain, god-balls-all-out entertain?
I, thirty-three, am in. I call.
Full House. Aces over eights. I take the chips.
Wait, the Venture Brothers say, their white-cuffed arms barricading me.
We have a royal flush.
The Venture Brothers win.
The Venture Brothers wins. There is no fail.
Wolverine cannot rend the Venture Brothers.
Ozymandias cannot out-smart the Venture Brothers.
Dave Sim, in his spacey misogynistic hog heaven cannot out-weird the Venture Brothers.
Scott McCloud cannot out-analyze Publick and Hammer.
The Venture Brothers are the boy child spirit at the heart of every man.
And they are the best show on television right now.