Why 'The Venture Bros.' Is Better Than 'Rick And Morty'
It's hard to make a list of the best Venture Bros. episodes because there aren't any bad ones. Across seven seasons and counting, Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer have created one of the best Adult Swim shows and don't show signs of slowing down.
What first seemed like a simple parody of Johnny Quest grew and warped into a serialized epic featuring a comic book universe comparable to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans got used to extended delays between seasons so the creators could make sure the animation and stories met their rigid standards. This sounds a lot like another Adult Swim show, one with a rabid fan base and a tendency to subvert sci-fi cliches: Rick and Morty.
Premiering nine years after the first visit to the Venture compound, Rick and Morty turned into an animated sensation. Fans love to analyze and explain intellectual Rick and Morty jokes. But they rarely take into account the debt their favorite show owes to The Venture Bros. for laying the groundwork on how to produce a smart, thoughtful animated series. Across the board, The Venture Bros. is the superior animated series about a cynical, self-centered scientist who goes on adventures with his sons/grandson.
Read on to find out what the show gets right about science fiction and fandom.
'The Venture Bros.' Has Heart Behind Its Cynicism
For a show that has spent more than six seasons exploring the nature of personal and professional failure, The Venture Bros. packs genuine joy into its warped family units. The Monarch and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch love each other, and their relationship keeps them grounded through every change in the status quo and blood-soaked fight with rivals in the Guild of Calamitous Intent. In the Venture family, Hank and Dean start the series as innocent characters, and as they experience heartbreak and disappointment, they maintain an optimistic outlook on their world.
On Rick and Morty, the characters and relationships become punchlines in the show's cynical worldview. Instead of giving characters like Jerry a shred of hope or dignity, the series endeavors to bring him down and destroy his relationships. In addition, based on the existing caste system between Ricks and Mortys on the Citadel, Morty appears doomed to endure torment across every parallel universe.
The Animation Is Better In 'The Venture Bros.'
While The Venture Bros.'s first season cut serious corners on the animation, the series took a drastic leap in quality from the second season onward - it's one of the best-looking shows in Adult Swim's animated lineup. The show takes inspiration from comic books and classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons, which makes it an even stronger parody.
The animation in Rick and Morty is good, but it purposefully borrows some lo-fi touches as an homage to the original short that inspired it. Though admirable, this also means every character on the show has asterisk-shaped pupils that make their eyes look like buttholes.
The Supporting Characters In 'The Venture Bros.' Are More Three-Dimensional
On The Venture Bros., even the silliest characters lead full, rich lives. Henchman 21 debuted as a Rosencrantz/Guildenstern-esque member of the Monarch's evil forces. But he's had as dramatic an arc as anyone on the show after losing his best friend, transforming himself from an out-of-shape fanboy into a trained killer, and becoming a more trusted confidant to his boss. Seemingly every character in the show gets shaded in so they feel more realistic and provide new opportunities for gags.
In three seasons, Rick and Morty seemingly only cares about Rick, Morty, Summer, and Beth, while dismissing Jerry as a punchline and using guest characters to reinforce its nihilistic worldview. This has led to many one-off characters who may work in an episode, but ultimately make the world in Rick and Morty feel shallow.
'The Venture Bros.' Isn't Nihilistic
Rusty Venture is a self-centered character, and The Venture Bros. can have a fairly cynical worldview about life's innate unfairness. It also gives its characters a chance to grow and change. Characters in The Venture Bros. want to make the world a better place and achieve their dreams - when they fail, they don't forget about it. The show doesn't reset from episode to episode, which makes their victories - no matter how small - have more impact.
Rick and Morty is a nihilistic show. While the show has good jokes and smart ideas, every episode appears to reinforce the idea that no matter where you go or what you do, nothing matters. Some people find this brand of storytelling therapeutic, but it can also make every episode of Rick and Morty blend into the next.
'The Venture Bros.' Has A More Intricately Constructed Universe
The serialized plotlines on The Venture Bros. have more in common with Game of Thrones or Lost than other animated series. The show establishes the bureaucratic dynamics of villainy with the Guild of Calamitous Intent in the first season.
Plus, things have only grown more complicated, as the show revealed twin brothers consumed in the womb, rogue evil superteams, clones, and characters returning from the dead in different forms. In its seventh season, The Venture Bros. was able to pay off on mysteries from the first season with the tragic reveal of what really happened at the Movie Night Massacre on Gargantua-1.
Rick and Morty covers plenty of parallel universes and distant planets, but seems indifferent about serialized storytelling. Outside of the Council of Ricks and the Citadel's population, there aren't many characters making return appearances. This is another symptom of the show's nihilism - if nothing matters, it's hard for stories to pay off as anything more than a punchline.
'The Venture Bros.' Provides A Deeper Analysis Of Pop Culture
The Venture Bros. started out as a show parodying Johnny Quest and The Hardy Boys, but it didn't take long for their world to encompass basically all of pop culture. From its premiere in 2004, the show has synchronously paralleled the rise of "geek" culture as a mainstream brand. Instead of watering down their reference points, creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer made the references more specific.
This also extends to the core theme of failure. The Venture Bros. is a show about how modern generations have failed to follow through on the promises made by pop culture in the '50s and '60s. Publick told Reason Magazine in 2007:
It's me voicing my disappointment that we don't have that kind of magic going on anymore, that level of enthusiasm and hope. That extends to the kind of cultural stuff that was going on in the '60s, a youthful generation thinking they could change the world.
I'm voicing my displeasure at having been born in a time when some of that magic, for lack of a better word, is gone, and some of those promises that were made in all of our pop culture were never met. My laptop is the coolest thing that's come out of that. I'm still waiting on my jet pack.