Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Threshold TV Review

(This entry is full of spoilers for the latest episodes of The Venture Bros., Smallville, and Heroes.  You’ve been warned.)
Scott usually writes up little post-episodes summaries/reviews of the latest episode of The Venture Bros. over at his blog, but I’m guessing that he’s too involved in his trip to Disneyworld to do that this week, and as there are elements of the latest episode that need to be mentioned, and since I was already on the topic of TV shows in the last post, I’ll fill in for him this week.
I knew it was going to be a good one from the very moment the episode opened from the POV of one of the Monarch’s henchmen, who was a new recruit, as they launched an assault on the Venture compound.
For the first time ever we get to see the implacable Swedish murder machine that is Brock Samson from the viewpoint of one of those henchman unfortunate to cross his path.
Mostly we don’t see Brock, though, as our henchman upon seeing his compatriots falling at Brock’s feet quite sensibly turns around and runs for his life.
That doesn’t keep us from seeing Brock one last time, though, as with a quick twist of his hands our POV is rotated 180 degrees, with Brock’s face being the last thing we see as the world goes black around the edges.
But we do see something again, an indeterminate amount of time later as Dr. Venture hovers over us, hooting triumphantly.
We learn that Dr. Venture has brought the dead henchman back to life, with, predictably, horrific results.  The resurrected henchman is, understandably, less than pleased and breaks free, wrapping his newly-stitched on hands around Dr. Venture’s throat, howling in incoherent rage, only to be killed by Brock once again.
Eventually, with a new, mismatched top of his head to replace the one Brock caved in with a fire extinguisher, Venturestein, as he has been dubbed, is resurrected once again.
After having been killed by him twice, Venturestein is understandably wary of Brock, who, as Hank puts it, is essentially “Venturestein’s fire,” or, to put it another way, “Brock bad!”
The unique experience of seeing one of his victims brought back to life – only to become his victim once again and be brought back to life again – engenders something of an existential crisis in Brock, who seeks guidance from necromancer and renter of the Venture compound garage, Dr. Orpheus.
In a vision quest Brock learns that he is a secret agent and an unrelenting killing machine, period.  He has no business indulging in things like empathy or compassion or existential crises.
Crisis averted, Brock slaps Hank’s Batman mask onto Venturestein and the two head off in search of the one thing that V-stein remembers from his previous existence:  prostitutes!
Concurrent with the story of Brock’s spiritual journey we learn that Dr. Venture has gotten a contract with the military to produce more Venturesteins, and the boys are off investigating lights in the old manufacturing wing, while Venturestein is being “socialized” in one of the boys’ “learning chambers,” learning all about the joys of enforced servitude.
The lights the boys are investigating are caused by what is possibly the most inspired aspect of the episode: a group of “mystery solvers” and their dog who travel in a van.
Of course, this being The Venture Bros., in an episode written by Ben Edlund, creator of The Tick, this is not your mom and dad’s Scooby and the gang.
Take the Scooby gang and add in elements of Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberatiion Army, the Son of Sam, and an unhealthy does of Christian fundamentalism, and you’ll have an idea of what we’re dealing with.
All I can say about it is holy freakin’ god.  Some of the funniest stuff I’ve ever seen on The Venture Bros. or anywhere.
Arguably the best bit:  Dr. Venture, upon reviving Venturestein the second time, taking out his life’s “to-do list” and crossing off “Beat God at His own game.”
Granted, this entry is filled with spoilers, but I haven’t even tried to explain some of the funniest or most bizarre scenes, so feel free to check out the episode (as well as other episodes) for free on The Fix over at
It’s worth it.
On other TV fronts, last week saw the season premiere of Smallville.  Yawn.  Very uninspired overall, and a much too rapid return to the status quo even for a show that tries to get back to the status quo as quickly as possible.  The introduction of Jimmy Olsen was pointless and stupid.  Hinting at his existence in a previous season was bad enough.  I will say that the kid playing him is a good choice, though.
The episode seemed to lack focus; no one character, not even Clark, really dominated screen time, though if I had to say that one did it was, naturally, and irritatingly, Lana.
Of course, this episode did feature some pretty sweet scenes of Lana taking some serious physical abuse, including what may possibly be the greatest scene in the history of the show:  a “Kryptoian Krucifiction,” which consisted of having her hand nailed to a wall with a blunt-tipped telescoping baton that was driven through by sheer brute strength by the evil Zod, who was in possession of a super-powered Lex.
I hate to say that I was entertained by the Lana abuse.  Ordinarily I would not enjoy seeing a woman being abused like that, even if it is fake, but come on, this is Lana Lang we’re talking about.  I think I get a pass on this one.
Other than that, the effects were lame – one scene looked like it was using leftover CGI from The Lawnmower Man – and the set-up we were left with for future episodes wasn’t exactly compelling.
The only non-Lana maiming-related scene that was worth anything was the little hint of a spark between Clark and Lois (who was criminally under-utilized in this episode, though I do appreciate the shot of her coming up soaking wet out of the water in a bikini that was added to Erica Durance’s name in the opening credits).
Last night found me watching the second episode of Heroes, which, I was reminded, shares an executive producer with Smallville, one Jeph Loeb, who has also had done some work writing Superman in the comics world.
So far I’m still undecided about the show.  There are some interesting elements to it, but the pacing is pretty slow and we’re not getting answers to some of the questions that really kind of need to be answered.  Sure, you can keep the overall mystery, but could you at least tell us what the hell Ali Larter’s power is, aside from being hot?  My best guess is that she has some sort of duplicate who lives in a “mirror world” who can swap places with her, leaving her unconscious over on the other side while her duplicate takes care of what needs to be done.
One of the biggest problems, though, is that most of the characters just aren’t that interesting, or especially likeable, with the exception of the nerdy Japanese guy who can “bend time and space.”  Not that impressed by the junkie artist who can paint the future, or the indestructible cheerleader.  The Indian scientist who’s looking for the super-powered people in an effort to continue his murdered father’s work is okay.  The shadowy “man in black” guy who’s after the scientist, and is the adoptive father of the indestructible cheerleader, doesn’t really cut it as a sinister figure, though the addition of a super-powered serial killer, who may be related to the looming holocaust the artist’s paintings and the Japanese guy’s inadvertent trip to the future say is coming, is an interesting twist.
And of course Ali Larter is hot, so that much at least makes her interesting.
I do give props to the creators for throwing out a reference to the Mary Marvel Marching Society, though.  I imagine Loeb was behind that.
Anyway, that’s my spoiler-filled review of some the shows I’ve been watching lately.  I don’t really intend to make this a regular feature, but it felt like the thing to do after already discussing a TV show.

No comments: