Dec. 12 – A Very Venture Christmas

Original air date December 19, 2004.

This one has been a long time coming. One of my all-time favorite television shows is The Venture Bros., but it’s a show I really haven’t spent much time discussing on this blog. I guess because I view it as contemporary, even though the pilot premiered almost 20 years ago now. For most of this blog’s life it has been considered ongoing, but the eighth season of the show ended up being a COVID casualty, or whatever Warner Media wants to blame it on, so it has come to an unceremonious end. As of this writing, a finale is said to be in the works that will someday air on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, but with how things have been going with Discovery and Warner that finale seems to be very much in doubt. Hopefully, I won’t have to update this to say it’s been cancelled, though it would be nice to have to update it to say it has a release date.

The Venture Bros. began life as a Johnny Quest spoof. Doc Venture, his bodyguard Brock, and his twin sons Hank and Dean travel the world in their high-tech jet and go on adventures. Only with the Ventures, Doc is basically a huge failure who is often just after a quick buck. He gets by on selling his dead father’s legitimate inventions and sometimes to the wrong people. The central theme of the show is failure as Doc Venture isn’t a real doctor of anything who basically fell backwards into the role his dad played (he was a boy adventurer and basically his world’s version of Johnny Quest, though there’s also a character named Action Johnny, it gets confusing) when he died suddenly before the events of the show and he’s basically just treading water. Because of his name and reputation, he has a bodyguard in Samson issued by the government to keep an eye on things. The show’s lore would expand exponentially as it went along and the Johnny Quest spoof was essentially dropped as a result.

This is the rare Christmas special that has two title cards. I couldn’t decide which I liked more.

The show’s first season ended its broadcast back in October of 2004, but waiting for Christmas of that year was a special: A Very Venture Christmas. Cartoon Network had (has?) a notoriously tight checkbook when it comes to its original content and especially so with Adult Swim. They were able to get by with very cheap, but also very entertaining, shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Sealab 2021 in the early days and that basically had a ripple effect on everything that follows. The Venture Bros., being a more traditionally animated show, was also scrutinized by the network due to its costs relative to those other shows even though its animation budget was nothing compared with Saturday morning cartoons or even primetime ones like The Simpsons. It would get better, but that first season especially didn’t look that much more impressive than the rest of the original content airing on Adult Swim.

This one begins with an almost perfect recreation of the old CBS Special Presentation animation.

Because of that, the budget for the special was small and it was so small that it remains the only episode that’s 11 minutes, basically half the length of a standard episode. This made it more like a standard Adult Swim original and there’s another reason for that. Originally, series co-creator Jackson Publick (real name Christopher McCulloch) conceived of the special as being part of a block of Christmas originals to air in 2004. Making this one shorter than usual made sense since it could slot in with the other shows to form an hour or a half hour’s worth of content. He thought he had the network and the other shows onboard, but it apparently all fell apart and the only episode of TV to come of the whole thing is the one we’re about to talk about. It was even supposed to be shorter, but Adult Swim wouldn’t be able to find time for a 7 minute thing and by filling a quarter of an hour it at least worked well enough for them. Partly because of that, Publick doesn’t seem to think much of this episode because it ended up being rushed and the unique running time only adds to that feeling. Other series co-creator, Doc Hammer, is even less complimentary of it saying “I hate that fucking Christmas special.”

Oh no, not another Christmas Carol parody…

This one begins with a spoof on the old CBS Special Presentation graphic. According to Hammer, he got it so close to the original that they had to make some changes because it looked too much like it. This homage has certainly been done a lot since, but this is one of the first I can recall seeing (I think South Park beat them to it). After that, we’re taken to a cemetery in an obvious parody of A Christmas Carol. Doc Venture (James Urbaniak) is being shown his own grave by the Grim Reaper-like Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and he’s obviously in some distress. When he asks the ghost to confirm it is indeed his grave, despite the tombstone being clearly marked, he throws back his hood to reveal himself to be Brock Samson (Patrick Warburton), Venture’s bodyguard, and responds to him sarcastically since the grave is obvious.

Nah! This isn’t a straight parody of anything, but it is front-loaded with a bunch of quick hits to more famous Christmas specials.

Venture wails and begs on his knees until he wakes up grasping an orange husband pillow in his own bed. He is delighted to find he has woken up and declares he will live in the past, present, and the future. As he says that, we get an X-Ray shot identical to the one from How the Grinch Stole Christmas that shows his heart growing in size until it breaks through the frame. He goes into the Scrooge routine of jumping around and declaring his glee before running out onto a balcony to call out to a boy. The boy is his son, Hank (Jackson Publick), who is clearly dressed to resemble Charlie Brown and is even carrying a sad, little, tree. Venture asks the kid what day is it and Hank responds, “Duh. It’s Christmas Day!” which just further delights this Scrooge-Venture.

Why if it isn’t old Hank Brown and his pathetic little tree!

Suddenly, Venture’s nose glows red and his pajamas disappear as he starts to float. He then soars over the Venture compound like Rudolph wishing a “Merry Christmas!” to all he passes over like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. He passes by Dr. Orpheus (Stephen Rattazzi), a necromancer who rents an apartment on the Venture compound, who returns the greeting by calling him Mr. Venture. I love that he refuses to acknowledge Venture’s phony doctorate. He also wishes a merry Christmas to the family robot, H.E.L.P.eR., which is dressed as Tiny Tim. After he passes the camera pans over to son Dean dressed as a clown who wonders why his dad didn’t wish him a merry Christmas. The camera zooms out further as Dean (Michael Sinterniklaas) declares “No one wants a Dean-in-the-box!” and we see he is dressed as Charlie from the Rudolph special.

You’re right, son, no one wants a Dean-in-the-box.

The image then dissolves into static and we see Dr. Venture waking up yet again. It would seem he fell asleep on his TV remote causing the channel to just keep changing. At it does, we hear lines from famous Christmas specials like the ones we just saw depicted in the dream. Some of the lines are modified slightly, while others are left completely unchanged. Most sound like they’re voiced by Publick and I do really like his “Thirty-nine and a half foot pole!” chant. Venture then sits up and rubs his head and says “Oh thank God, I thought I turned into a complete [censored],” It’s bleeped out even on the DVD release, but I think he just said “asshole,” but I’m not certain. We then smash-cut to a festive rendition of the traditional show opening. There’s snow falling and jingle bells playing and there’s wreaths and a new red-green color scheme and other festive stuff inserted. It’s very corny and silly, but what can I say, this stuff works on me!

This is extra funny because the Sears Wish Book really would hang around for years. It was as big as a phone book and must-read for kids year in and year out.

When the credits end we find Doc heading down the stairs to the kitchen with a cup of coffee in-hand. It’s apparently no good as he winces when he takes a sip. Brock is on the phone with a store of some kind and he can be heard asking if they have the Joker Mobile in-stock. The voice on the other end of the phone tells him they haven’t had that in-stock for years and he hangs the phone up with disappointment. Doc smiles and asks if he’s still shopping for the boys and Brock confirms he’s all set with Hank, but Dean is proving to be a challenge. When Doc suggests it’s because he’s too feminine, Brock just says he’s hard to shop for, which is sweet of Brock. Doc points out that Dean has been not-so-slyly leaving some Sears catalog laying around for a month and Brock encourages him to check the date on the cover as he holds it up. It’s a Sears Wish Book from 1976, which explains the Joker Mobile thing, and Doc just grumbles that the Green Machine he ordered probably isn’t showing up too as he walks out.

Old man Venture sure enjoys some novelty Christmas pornography.

Dean enters the kitchen to see if Brock is done with the phone. As Brock exits, Dean sees the catalog and asks if anyone misplaced it in a cheeky fashion. His question is ignored, but he doesn’t seem too disappointed by it as he starts dialing a number on the phone. It’s for some Christmas story hotline. As Dean settles in for a Christmas story from Holland, Hank can be seen snooping in a closet. Brock catches him and tells him his present isn’t in there, but Hank tries to dismiss the accusation by saying he was just looking for the Christmas videos. He then pulls out a stack and reads off some of the titles: Miracle on 69 Street, Jingle Balls, and my personal favorite, Frothy the Blowman. We get a quick look at the box art for some of them and it’s rather bawdy. For some reason, Frothy looks like the Pringles guy with a top hat. Brock interrupts him and takes the obviously X-Rated novelty films and tells Hank he needs his help hanging up the lights and hands him a staple gun. Hank twirls it like a revolver and holsters it somehow on his belt as Brock returns the tapes to the closet. As he does, Hank asks him “What were those elves doing to that lady?” and Brock just replies with “They’re called dwarves, Hank.”

Quick! Get out of there, Tiny Joseph!

As Hank goes to head outside he says, “Oh! Baby Jesus is out of the manger!” Brock reacts by checking the fly on his pants, then realizes that Hank was actually talking about the Baby Jesus porcelain doll which is just laying beside a manger scene on-top of a shelf. Hank goes to put the baby in the cradle, but Brock stops him and tells him the baby doesn’t get put in there until midnight. It’s apparently a Venture tradition that Hank forgot about, or just never knew. They head outside and the baby Jesus rolls over to reveal some wiring. The camera cuts to the manger and then to a bunch of C-4 under it!

You must have known we’d get a Monarch sighting in this one.

We immediately hear the voice of the arch nemesis of clan Venture – The Monarch! Monarch (Publick) orders Tiny Joseph, which is revealed to be the Joseph statuette in the display, to get out of there! He mops some sweat from his brow and returns the real Joseph statue to its place as he bails. Monarch is relieved they didn’t lose an agent on this mission, though he does concede that his specialty is rather limited.

He is good at these villain speeches.

In the background, Dr. Girlfriend (Doc Hammer) can be seen trimming a tree with a pair of henchmen. She’s dressed in a festive, girly, Santa suit, and questions Monarch about what he’s up to. Monarch tells her it was supposed to be a surprise, but she’s irritated that his surprise for her is killing his arch enemy on Christmas. Monarch tries to assuage her by saying he has stocking stuffers too, but it’s not working. Dr. Girlfriend, ever the understanding partner, asks him what the plan is since it’s obvious he’s dying to tell her. Monarch then walks over to a model of the Venture compound and explains how at the stroke of midnight during Venture’s annual Christmas party, the baby Jesus will be placed in the manger which is wired with C-4. At that moment it will explode decking the halls with bowels of Venture! He’s really into it, but Dr. Girlfriend just tosses her hat on the floor in anger and says “That model was supposed to be a surprise!” which forces the Monarch to respond in a meek voice, “I peeked.”

They included almost everyone from Season One as a background character for this party.

Back at the compound, it’s night time and the party is in full swing. In the background are basically all of the guest characters from the first season with the exception of Jonas Jr, who was revealed in the season finale. This thing takes place sometime before that. The Impossible family is there, including Sally who looks pregnant, Sasquatch, the old Team Venture, and even one of the lucha libre guys from the first episode. H.E.L.P.eR. is serving drinks in a festive apron and reindeer antlers and some of the guests have different attire, including Triana Orpheus (Lisa Hammer) who is in a crimson dress with holly in her hair. Lurking behind her are Pete White (Publick) and Billy Quizboy (Hammer) as the two eye Triana. It’s rather gross since both of them are adults, and Triana is a minor. Pete is extra gross since he’s wearing a mistletoe headband. As he tells Billy he’s going to talk to her, Billy just tells him he has no chance because he’s 1. Totally gay, 2. She’s hot and he’s an albino, and 3. He’s totally gay. He’s not really gay, but he has a feminine cadence to his voice which makes him the target of gay jokes. This was made in 2004.

You deserved worse, Pete.

Pete and Billy then venture over to the couch and sit on either side of Triana. Pete tries to impress her by saying he was one of the first DJs at his college radio station to play The Bauhaus which causes Triana to say “Wow, you must be, like, 60?” clearly not impressed. Pete ignores the sass and tries to make use of the mistletoe on his headband but it immediately goes up in flames. Dr. Orpheus is the reason for that, and Pete makes a hasty retreat as Triana tells her dad she can take care of herself. He responds in a calm manner with understanding, but drops the façade quickly and declares dramatically to the rest of the party goers that “My pumpkin’s maidenhood is not a prize to be,” further embarrassing the poor kid.

Probably shouldn’t just leave that laying around, Dr. O.

Orpheus leaves his daughter to sulk on the couch and encounters Venture coming down the stairs. Venture remarks that he’s surprised to see a necromancer like Orpheus attending a Christmas party. Orpheus responds that Christmas is about as real as Kwanzaa or the Wookie’s Life Day, but that he finds it charming. Me too, Byron, me too. In the kitchen, we see Dean on the phone yet again listening to another story as Hank enters, sporting a white and green sweater that I think depicts a reindeer, to warn Dean that the “Gay albino is hitting on your not girlfriend.” Dean can’t be bothered as he’s maxed out their dad’s credit card and still doesn’t have a good story. I think the implication is they’re being counted on to tell a Christmas story at this party? Either way, the problem appears to have a solution sitting on a nearby table: Dr. O’s Necronomicon!

The beast approaches!

The boys open the foreboding book and immediately a black cloud emerges. They think nothing of it and start flipping through it and Dean finds an entry that intrigues him: Krampus! He starts reading it aloud and it’s written in another language, which looks like German and would make sense given a joke to follow. As he reads it, we cut back to the party and a bored looking Orpheus is stuck listening to Venture talk about a book he’s writing. Some creepy chanting has been added to the background music as the rest of the sounds of the party fade out. Orpheus’s face then changes to one of worry and he springs into action. A first person shot of something running towards the compound is shown before we cut back to the kitchen where Dean declares this book makes no sense. A lock appears over his mouth as the door slams shut and Orpheus is revealed to be the source of this magic, but he cries that they’re too late!

This dude looks ready to party!

The front door gets blasted in and the Krampus enters! He’s mostly faithfully depicted as a brown-furred demon with a long tongue and a basket of children on his back. This version has very pronounced nipples and we get a sequence of quick cuts of people reacting to the entrance, including Monarch who is watching a video feed. He demands to know who this guy is, but pauses to admire the costume. As Krampus stalks the party, everyone just looks on. Doc asks Orpheus what the thing is and he informs him it’s Krampus. He describes him as a demonic spirit that once rode alongside Saint Nicholas dishing out punishment to bad children. Doc is confused since he though Santa was fake, but Dr. O tells him he was real up until 1963 when a plane took him out. He adds that Krampus hasn’t been seen since the Pope banished him to Purgatory during Vatican II.

Everyone seems rather calm about the whole demon in the room thing.

Hank and Dean, who still has the magic lock over his mouth, emerge to proclaim their innocence in this whole mess when Dr. O tells their father that it was they who released him. As Hank blames Dean, we see Krampus licking the face of Triana. Hasn’t the poor girl suffered enough tonight? Doc asks Dr. O what kind of kinky spirit this thing is and he responds “Well, it is Germanic in origin.” Doc then asks Orpheus if he can “magic” it away and his response is “No more than you can ‘science’ it away,” He then explains it will merely punish those it deems wicked and be on its way.

Now there’s a Christmas card for ya!

Doc insists there’s no one wicked in this house, which is just the cue for Krampus to grab him! He starts flaying him with his reeds with a look of delight on his face as Doc hangs upside down in the grasp of Krampus. The rest of the crowd gasps as Krampus slams Doc’s head into the floor then drops him on all fours and starts dry-humping him from behind. Doc has no idea what to do aside to call for Brock who soon enters dressed as Santa Claus. He informs Krampus that he’s been naughty and promptly swings his sack of gifts at the demon. He knocks him from Doc and begins pounding on him. Krampus gives as good as he gets and the two are locked in fisticuffs when the clock strikes midnight.

He didn’t even get a chance to put his beard on.

Suddenly, Krampus stops and Brock backs off. Dr. Orpheus informs him that it’s now Christmas and the Krampus is done for the night. Krampus very calmly walks towards the door, but pauses when he sees the baby Jesus figurine still sitting on the shelf. He picks it up and we cut to Monarch who was covering his eyes in terror, but immediately perks up when he see Krampus pick up the porcelain baby. He places it in the manger, and we cut to an external shot of the compound exploding.

That’ll wake you up.

Doc Venture, once again, awakes from a dream. Brock is telling him to wake up and we see his head is wrapped in bandages and they’re aboard their supersonic jet, the X-1. He’s relieved that everything is all right, but Brock informs him that they’ve crashed in hostile territory, but the boys are excited because it’s the town of Bethlehem. Doc also presently has no pants on and H.E.L.P.eR. has a thermometer inserted into his anus because it’s funny to wake up with something in your bum. The boys declare this the best Christmas ever because they got to see where Jesus was born and Hank tells their dad that there was magical god-fire shooting out of it. Brock then tells Doc he thinks they hit a gas line, then explains their situation further to be that if the Israelis get there first, they should be fine, but if it’s the PLO then they’re in trouble. Doc doesn’t seem dismayed as he reminds Brock their plane runs on plutonium and declares that the PLO will love them! Dean gets in a “And that’s what Christmas is all about,” before we smash-cut to another title card and the credits roll as this one is over and it’s the rare episode to not feature a post credits scene.

Suddenly, getting assaulted by Krampus doesn’t seem so bad.

And that is how the Ventures celebrated one Christmas. Or, how they didn’t? I guess it was all a dream, though Brock mentions he’s giving Hank his old bass guitar for Christmas and Hank will be shown with that bass in future episodes so I guess some of it came true. It is weird to rely on the dream trope for more than one gag in an episode, especially an 11 minute one, but given that this thing came together so quickly I guess it can be forgiven. Though maybe they could have just written Monarch’s bomb to be a dud to avoid having to play the dream card again? Interestingly enough, the bit at the end with the gang in Bethlehem is actually how the special was originally conceived and it’s one of the few things that survived the change from a 7 minute thing to an 11 minute one.

There’s a solid amount of laughs in this brief special and definitely some quality visual gags.

As a Christmas special, and one that lampoons others, I think this one is fine. I don’t really get why Doc Hammer hates it so much, but he has a very specific sense of taste so I guess I can see him just not being at all onboard with a Christmas special. Especially one he had very little input on. There are certainly moments I don’t like, such as the adult characters hitting on a minor. I suppose it’s not that bad to see such a thing in here because part of the show is that many of these characters aren’t of strong, moral, character, but I feel like Pete deserved more punishment than what he got. Plus, Billy was basically an accomplice and he gets nothing. A lot of the stuff with Krampus and the pornography joke earlier is a bit lewd, or crass. It definitely dates this one as it feels very much like something that aired on Adult Swim in 2004. A lot of the jokes here aren’t something they would have done in later seasons. The gay jokes are the most cringe-inducing, but they’re not as bad as some jokes from that era are.

The animation for this one is pretty much on-par with the rest of the first season. It’s perhaps a bit simpler with some of the character movements, but the effort in presenting a lot of them in different outfits is certainly something to commend. Some of the character animation also saves the more bawdy scenes, like just how happy Krampus looks as he’s violating Dr. Venture. The demon is just so joyful in his work, it’s infectious! The little we see out of The Monarch works too and I enjoy that early series dynamic he has with Dr. Girlfriend.

Part of me wishes they didn’t blow up the compound so that the continuity was more clear, but I suppose it doesn’t matter much in the end.

This special from The Venture Bros. is perfectly fine for what it is. It would have been great to get something longer with a bit more effort put into it, but they did what they could with it. There’s enough humorous lines and visuals and at this point in the season I think the character voices were pretty well established too which helps carry it. The Christmas parody stuff this thing is front-loaded with is also fun and a bit clever as it would have been easy to assume they were just going with a full-blown parody for their special, since many shows have gone that route. If you’re into The Venture Bros., I think there’s enough here to make an effort to watch this one. If you’re not, well you’ll probably be lost since the show is very reliant on the viewer being familiar with it. And if you do want to watch it, the special was included on the Season One DVD release and is also streaming on HBO Max. There’s also a chance Adult Swim runs it at some point this month so you have options.

Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:

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  It’s a battle for the hearts of children around the world! What is the superior holiday:  Halloween or Christmas? Today’s entrant is founded on the premise that Halloween is the only holiday to rival Christmas as far as what children look forward to most. This feels more or less on point as a kid…

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