In an attempt to both tag along with my friends and to overcome my crippling fear of speaking in public, I joined my high school’s Speech & Debate team. Since I was the last of my friends to join (plus, since there was an odd number of us), I wasn’t able to join their four-person debate team. That was probably for the best. I looked for something else I could do as a solo and came across an event called “Humorous Interpretation” — an event where individuals performed short humor pieces, often adaptations of “funny” plays with the performer (me), performing both parts.
Here’s the point: there were always a few adaptations that seemed to score well with the judges in HI. One “successful” adaptation was a “humorous” interpretation of the Hardy Boys. I don’t remember what it was called or who wrote it, but since it was a proven winner people performed it a lot. It was probably called something like “Hardy Boys Today” and was about how downright square and uncool Frank and Joe Hardy were. The humor focused on Frank and Joe saying “Jeepers” a lot and how they had never kissed girls. It wasn’t very funny.
It’s very hard to make a joke about something everyone already sees as a joke. To me, good parody comes from taking an unknown facet of something and pulling on that until the original is barely identifiable but actually saying something true about the original work. If not done well, parody can become “look how dumb this thing is!” For instance, when South Park parodied the Hardy Boys, they did so by yet again poking fun at the “Golly jeepers” and “Gee whizzes!” without adding anything new. (Well, they did make their “Hardly Boys” — so creative! — possibly mentally retarded and perverted in typical South Park fashion.)
The Venture Bros. could easily have stayed a one-note joke. It could easily have been “Jeepers, they’re in space this week!” or “Golly, they’re in the Amazon next week!” kind of show. As we’ll see, it doesn’t, but it really runs the risk of doing so.
Let’s rip the bandage off right now: “The Terrible Secret of Turtle Bay” isn’t a very good episode of TV. Hank and Dean are still one-note characters barely distinguishable from each other. Three jokes are repeated twice during the pilot’s short runtime, and none of them were really laugh riots (or Laugh Riot’s) in the first place: Dean’s told “But you’re supposed to be the smart one!” twice. Doc pops “diet pills” as a stinger for a scene twice. Brock goes on a rampage on something caught in the wheel well of the X-1 twice. The Flash animation is ugly and character movements are jagged. This pilot seems a lot more “pilot-y” than a real episode. It’s more of a proof-of-concept than anything else.
The plot itself is a bit of a mess. For those of you that haven’t had the chance to rewatch it, he’s a quick plot summary: Dr. Venture heads to the United Nations to reveal his “latest invention” at the Science Now! conference. Doc’s “Ooo-Ray” is capable of melting entire cities, even the little people, but Doc seems flabbergasted that anyone could use it as a weapon.
There’s a sulking villain — Otaku Senzuri — who’s eager to get his hands on this latest invention. Senzuri’s not a thief or a supervillain but rather a “technology fetishist” that can only get off near brand new technology. The Monarch, his plan of launching a henchman-filled meteor into the Venture Compound as a Trojan horse a failure, heads to the U.N. to arch Doc.
Instead, The Monarch runs into the boys, left unconscious in an alleyway next to the Venture’s hotel by Senzuri after he tried to steal the Ooo-Ray, and the boys run from the Monarch. Brock reluctantly gets in on the action after Doc realizes the boys are missing, although he spends more time bedding NYC prostitutes than looking after his charges.
I mention the plot as a mess because our eponymous protagonists don’t really do anything regarding the main plot. Almost from their first appearance, the Venture Bros. seem pushed off onto the B-story. Their chase with the Monarch through the New York subway is cute, especially the Monarch trying to jump a turnstile and getting caught by a transit cop. However, Hank and Dean just show up at the conference, no worse for wear, (aside from being traumatized by a hooker) and the episode is over.
Senzuri (his name roughly translating to “fan of a thousand rubs”), the A villain, also doesn’t really affect the plot very much aside from knocking the boys out and leaving them in said alley. His sulking around is supposed to add mystery to his motivations but instead leaves our protagonists nothing to bounce off. Hence the Monarch having to fill in as the primary arch for most of the episode despite having no real reason to do so. (I did, however, like how Senzuri’s sulking was almost immediately lampshaded by the U.N. Science Advisor. Seznuri’s not stealthy; he’s almost immediately spotted and ignored. That’s possibly the only joke that doesn’t go exactly the way you’d expect.
Continuity & Foreshadowing!
- Since this is the first episode, this is the first appearance of “Dr.” Thaddeus S. (Rusty) Venture, Brock Samson, Hank Venture, and Dean Venture. We also see how the other half lives with the introduction of The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend. Surprisingly enough, Prof. Impossible, Pete White, and Master Billy Quizboy all appear at the Science Now! conference, although none of them are named and none have their personalities yet. Surprisingly, General Manhowers is also here from the beginning.
- Dr. Girlfriend has an Adam’s apple during her brief scene in this episode. This would be removed in all later episodes.
- The Monarch’s meteor would finally be found by Team Venture in a deleted scene in season two’s “Twenty Years to Midnight.” It would be full of skeletons.
- We get our first flashback to Doc in the womb, giving us an early hint about his and Jonas Jr.’s origins.
Hank: “Ma Venture didn’t raise no fools!”
Dean: “We…we don’t have a mom, Hank.”
Cabbie: “What the hell is this supposed to be?
The Monarch: “It’s an IOU….for your life! You see, just like the flawless monarch butterfly from which I take my name, The Monarch has many ways to sting.”
Doc: “Well, I suppose that if it ever fell into the wrong hands, it could be modified and used as a weapon after a fashion. But that’s true of almost any technology.”
UN Science Advisor: “Really?” I can’t see anyone using Dr. Olafson’s amazing Hello Helmet for ill.”