Check Shannon Cottrell's slideshow "The Venture Bros. @ San Diego Comic-Con 2011"
and Liz Ohanesian's SDCC story "The Venture Bros. : Convention Do's and Don'ts for Fans."
It's been a while since the team behind Adult Swim's popular comedy The Venture Bros. released a short, "six or seven years" by creator Jackson Publick's estimates. (The last, and only other, abbreviated episode is the Krampus-filled holiday special, "A Very Venture Christmas.") Sunday night, though, fans of the series will be treated to just over eleven minutes of hilarity with the between-season special, "From the Ladle to the Grave: The Shallow Gravy Story." The pint-sized, documentary-style episode follows the young career of Hank Venture and friend Dermott Fictel's rockin' band, Shallow Gravy. This special comes less than a year after the hour-long finale for the series' fourth season.
"We had a little less to say," says Publick of his work with Venture Bros. partner Doc Hammer. "A documentary history of a band with one song and one performance to their credit is a little easier to write than an epic season finale."
He adds, "It was originally just supposed to be a music video, but I guess we overwrote it, like we do everything."
The initial idea was to do a live action video, to shoot themselves in the style of '80s New Romantic bands. That eventually morphed into something they could incorporate into the series itself with the introduction of the band Shallow Gravy.
"We just got into it more than we should have," says Hammer.
Of course, there is a video as well and, if you were amongst those who sat in on the show's San Diego Comic-Con panel, then you had a chance to see it several weeks before the masses would. The video is for the song "Jacket," which you'll recall as the song the band played in last season's finale, "Operation P.R.O.M."
The video is an amalgamation of genre cliches as well as references to specific music videos that will be familiar to anyone who grew up on MTV. They had a lot of ideas to incorporate in the video. Not all of them made it to the end.
"We didn't get the broken mirror," says Hammer. "Nobody broke the mirror with the guitar."
"And nobody walked up a giant flight of stacked cubes," Publick adds. "And we didn't do a black and white scene with one red thing in it."
Our own favorite moment is when Shallow Gravy pay homage to Joy Division's video for "Atmosphere," with a photo of Brock Samson replacing that of Ian Curtis seen in the source material. If you follow the series enough to understand the significance of a certain jacket that came into Hank's possession, then you'll probably find it to be a poignant moment in The Venture Bros. canon.
"That was on the top of the list," says Publick. Both he and co-creator Doc Hammer are Joy Division fans.
"Was I a big Joy Division fan? I was a big Joy Division fan before you could get shirts from stores like Urban Outfitters with glitter versions of Joy Division album covers," says Hammer. "I was a big Joy Division fan, when you put it on to have everyone leave your party because it's depressing. Now you put them on to make your party. "
The Venture Bros. relationship to music is part of what makes the show great. References to bands that never quite hit mass popularity and songs that you might only know if you're a music obsessive yourself, become part of the universe. More often than not, the results are hysterical. At other times, though, they drive the plot towards somber moments, as was the case with Pulp's song "Like a Friend" in the season four finale.
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The Shallow Gravy episode marks the first time that the show has had a music outside of J.G. Thirlwell's soundtrack. "Jacket" is now available as a digital single, with multiple remixes. Hammer, a musician himself whose current band is New York-based rock outfit Weep, handled both the music and production duties. There are multiple version of the song, including a very '90s "Unplugged" and the house-y "Conjechno Remix."
In case you're wondering about what's happening with the series' hotly anticipated fifth season, there are no set dates yet, but Publick says we can probably expect it to come out in about a year.
"We both have a script a piece, we probably need one more each, or five total, before we start making the show," says Publick (he and Hammer tend to write individual episodes on their own). "Hopefully, in two months at the most, we'll start up."
"From the Ladle to the Grave: The Shallow Gravy Story" premieres on Adult Swim Sunday night at midnight as part of the network's Venture Bros. marathon.