One of the topics that frequently comes up here is the idea of creative control in movies and television series and who wields it. Most of us seem to have particular directors or writers that we like, and when their projects are challenged we side with them and believe they should have complete creative control. It’s their vision! It’s their passion! Why hire them if you didn’t want their take on it! And while I typically agree, I agree to a point. Because my experience with The Venture Bros. has made me wonder if complete creative control necessarily results in the best outcome for creators and viewers.
I love a show where the creators have complete and total creative control of the show and it is incredibly difficult to keep loving it because of that. The Venture Bros. has been on Adult Swim since 2003. It is the longest running original series on Adult Swim that’s still in production. In those 12 years there have been five seasons. Season six was announced in 2011. We are still waiting for it. I am getting to the point where I don’t know if I will be watching when it comes out. This is not because I love it any less, but because they have been gone so long I feel like we’ve grown apart like friends who were close in college and now toss each other a Facebook “like” now and again but don’t talk. I think of the show fondly, but I’m not sure I want to get drawn into a conversation with it again. Once upon a time this was a show I gently pushed onto reluctant friends, I dressed as characters from the series, and bought merchandise to wear proudly even as I knew no one would ever get the reference. Now it’s something I think of fondly when I cross the DVDs while going through my book case.
The drawn out timeline affects the show also. When the character of Professor Impossible was introduced as a Venture-universe version of Dr.Reed Richards, he was voiced by Stephen Colbert. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but Mr.Colbert’s career now bears little resemblance to his career 12 years ago, and he hasn’t been able to voice the character for quite some time. However, the character was still a very active part of recent Venture events, so they had to find a replacement who is doing his best but is still no Stephen Colbert. Other series are starting to occupy similar pop culture space, Archer in particular has a very similar bent to The Venture Bros. though it’s poking fun at old spy series rather than old action-adventure cartoons. The concept doesn’t feel fresh, and waiting forever between seasons isn’t helping that feeling.
Despite my waning enthusiasm, I think the show has some of the most brilliant episodes of television I’ve ever seen and the history of the show makes some of those episodes possible. “The Revenge Society” in season 4 is my go-to example of this, every bit of that episode is basically incomprehensible unless you’ve seen the entire series up to that point but if you have it’s a treasure trove of jokes and references. The fact that they ended their first season by killing off their title characters is still one of the ballsiest moves I’ve seen from a new TV show. Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick couldn’t have done those things without complete control of their series, and I understand why Adult Swim trusts them to deliver, they have in the past. But every delay makes me wonder a little more.
This isn’t to say that no creators should have control of their properties, but perhaps some guidelines or schedules aren’t always the worst thing in the world. Creators may wail and gnash their teeth, but I’m sure we’ve all experienced the motivation and creativity that can come with a hard deadline. I’ll keep waiting on season six, and hoping they announce with enough lead time that I can get through all five previous seasons and the applicable special before it starts. But I’m not waiting anxiously anymore.