Before there was a Rick & Morty, before there was Robot Chicken, before there was even a decent animation budget, Adult Swim's limited animation block was being built by a few core series, and the one to still persist to this day not only challenges its animation block contemporaries but other television shows as a whole, as its tight pacing, expert dialogue, and enviable world-building all work together to create an instant classic. That show is Adult Swim's other program about mad scientists tormenting its impressionable youth: The Venture Bros.
A series that started out as a parody of Hannah-Barbera's action block soon become a sci-fi adventure world of its own, as the stories of each one of its deeply flawed yet ever captivating characters pull back the curtain a bit and make it a little harder to look at old cartoons, sci-fi movies, or comic books the same way again. This list will be running down the very things that have made this series a television stand out, as it will go over the top 10 best episodes of The Venture Bros (until Season 8 comes).
10 Escape to the House of Mummies, Part 2
For the record, there is no Part 1 to accompany the thrilling adventure here. It's just a parody and a fine example of the increasing absurdity of Johnny Quest-esque action/adventure shows, letting the humor be just the viewer going, "Man, those shows really were weird."
The ride here really is just the viewer's confusion in being dropped in the middle of a half explained sci-fi story, all while Dr. Venture goes on a science vs. magic challenge against Dr. Orpheus, with both learning a little more about their insecurities in the process. It's amazing to see character development and Brock teaming up with Edgar Allan Poe in the same episode.
9 A Party for Tarzan
If one ever wanted a fine example of cartoon plot structure done right, then let this episode be the textbook example of inner monologues, false expectations, and world-building. Season 6 featured The Monarchs' tumultuous climb up the Guild of Calamitous Intent's ranks, and this episode shows the emotional toll of that.
Dr. Mrs. The Monarch struggles to identify who the villain killing vigilante is, 21 feels some regret about the way The Monarch has abused his life, and The Monarch himself reflects and provides a captivating overview of how ranks started in the first place, all while Dr. Venture prepares for a party.
8 The Trial of the Monarch
Season 1 is not often looked back fondly by the series' fans, with many often proclaiming that the show doesn't really pick up until Seasons 2 or 3. However, if there ever was a diamond in the rough within Season 1, it would be this episode.
For a couple of episodes, the series had already been hinting at some relationship issues between The Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend, with this episode dropping viewers right in the middle of their breakup's aftermath: the Monarch's court trial for killing a police officer. There's a lot subtly being done here, as the viewer not only learns more about the two's relationship but also about the Guild of Calamitous Intent and its own dynamics. It's also just fun to see comic book villains bicker about relationships.
7 O.S.I. Love You
Interrogation episodes are always fun ones in any TV series. One story. Multiple perspectives. Who's at fault? That very premise is done masterfully in this episode, as a transport gone awry leads to a prisoner disappearing, the return of Molotov, Hank using a female mech suit, and the reveal of a deep mystery that's been going on in the series' background.
Masterful pacing and a good sense of rising action all work to sew seemingly unrelated stories into a beautiful and hilarious picture of explosions, super spies, and Venture incompetence.
6 Showdown at Cremation Creek, Part 1 & 2
"The Trial of the Monarch" wasn't just a hidden gem in Season 1. It's the seed of a season-spanning story that culminated in the love-filled battle and disasters of the "Showdown at Cremation Creek." Here, the Monarch and Dr. Girlfriend have not only gotten back together but have decided to get married.
In doing so, villain and Venture alike come together at their wedding, as the two try to tie up loose ends and create a new life/villain empire together. What ensues is the culmination of Phantom Limb's own conspiracies, the Venture family's continued struggle for survival, and a nice cameo from David Bowie, with the new couple's loyalty to one another being proven in the process.
5 The Family That Slays Together, Part 1 & 2
While The Venture Bros. was initially meant to be a parody of old action shows, its parody of the form always somehow turned to a tasteful and inventive celebration of it. The finest example of this is the night and day shifts between the show's typical sarcastic banter and anything featuring Brock Samson, the government killing machine whose fights and action scenes always seem to be a show of their own.
Almost as if they were acknowledging this, Brock Samson would begin to separate from the Ventures for his own story arcs but not before having an absolutely insane send-off in this two-parter, featuring government conspiracies, secret assassins, the death of a recurring character, and a final couple of minutes that should be traumatizing if it wasn't just outright hilarious.
4 Everybody Comes to Hank's
Taking things down a notch from the high octane action and sci-fi ridiculousness, "Everybody Comes to Hank's" is a grim reminder that this a dark series that doesn't want to humanize comic book fanaticism as much as it wants to pervert it. And it all starts with Dermott missing a ride from his mom.
Wanting to fix the situation, Hank goes on a black and white, neo-noir-esque detective case, digging way too deep into a story that he definitely wasn't prepared for. Hank's genuine performing nod to classic mysteries, the deep dive into Dermott's family life, and the harsh reveals that seemingly ensue out of nothing all make for an episode that is not so much remembered as it is haunting.
3 Operation: P.R.O.M.
There are quite a few Venture Bros. specials that could make this list, but "Operation P.R.O.M." beats them all out by inciting some of the series' most game-changing shifts in the status quo. In celebration of the boys graduation from their learning beds, Dr. Venture creates a pseudo-prom for them.
Assisted by government agents, super scientists, and magical beings, Dr. Venture manages to create a pretty fun low budget prom full of prostitutes. This episode sees a variety of relationships change, as Dean finally takes out Triana, Brock tries to stop a new plot from Molotov, the Monarch comes face-to-face with 21's increasing distance, and giant, mutant mantises appear out of nowhere.
2 The Invisible Hand of Fate
While one wouldn't expect it from a parody series, The Venture Bros. really is a first-class teacher in world-building. One of the best examples of this being in the sheer amount of character and world information revealed in Master Billy Quizboy's own backstory.
Not only does the viewer find out the origins of his missing arm and eye but much is revealed about his relationship with Pete White, the origins of Phantom Limb, and the secret government operations of Brock and Colonel Gathers. All work splendidly here to define the series' current status quo as well as ruin Billy's life.
1 The Morphic Trilogy
With all that being said about Billy's backstory, nothing really compares to the hodgepodge of world-building, game-changing reveals, character development, and intense action that occurs in "The Morphic Trilogy." It may seem like cheating giving essentially three episodes the top spot on this list, but the story arc between them not only shares one idea; but in the way each episode seamlessly leads into the text, it's hard to imagine this story as separate entities.
In any case, this trilogy takes a small reference made in one of the earlier episodes (never skip Season 1) and turns it to one of the most groundbreaking events within the series, using it as an opportunity to answer many of the series' long-running questions as well as create new ones. That ability to create everything out of nothing not only shows the writing talent of the series creators but also how special the show is as a whole.