There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services, and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
“Now Museum — Now You Don’t” is the ninth episode from season 3 of the animated superhero / pulp spoof The Venture Bros. Since debuting in 2004, the Adult Swim series has put a dark twist on old-fashioned, family-oriented adventure cartoons like Johnny Quest, reimagining stock heroic characters as older and seedier as they fail to live up to their legacies. Written and directed by The Venture Bros. co-creator Christopher McCulloch (aka “Jackson Publick”), the 2008 episode “Now Museum — Now You Don’t” directly contrasts the glorious past and the drab present, as the diminutive second-generation super-scientist Dr. Jonas Venture Jr. attempts to monetize the memory of one of his dad’s greatest triumphs. His opening of the famed supervillain lair “Spider-Skull Island” as a tourist attraction draws the series’s main characters — including Jonas Jr.’s hack brother, Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture — as well as an array of past-their-prime costumed adventurers.
Why watch now?
Because Pixar’s Incredibles 2 arrives in theaters this weekend.
When The Incredibles opened in October 2004, superhero movies like Batman, Spider-Man, and X-Men were popular, yet they were relatively rare and often not as faithful to their sources as today’s Marvel and DC franchise installments. With The Incredibles, writer-director Brad Bird — who previously paid homage to classic comics in 1999’s The Iron Giant — veered away from the heaviness and grimness of other big-screen superheroes, making a picture that recalls the brightness and derring-do of the Justice League and the Fantastic Four in the early 1960s. While poking gentle fun at the conventions of costumed super-teams, the film also trusts audiences to understand those archetypes and to love them just as much as Pixar’s creative team.
Incredibles 2 picks up where the original left off: the superpowered Parr family is living as incognito as possible in a society that has outlawed their kind. The plot involves a calculated PR effort to get the public back on superheroes’ side, even as a new villain complicates the efforts. Once again, returning writer-director Bird loads up on whiz-bang, with high-tech capers and fantastical action ripped from the pages of Silver Age comics.
The Venture Bros. also relies on some familiarity with the Fantastic Four and the Justice League… if only so viewers will understand what the show is skewering. Just as The Incredibles splits the Fantastic Four’s superstretchy patriarch Mr. Fantastic into the strongman Mr. Incredible and his sharp-witted wife Elastigirl, “Now Museum — Now You Don’t” guest stars Professor Impossible, a highly pliable scientist / hero who’s fallen on hard times after breaking up with his wife. (In a perverse nod to the FF’s Invisible Girl, Sally Impossible’s superpower is that if she concentrates really hard, she can turn her skin visible; otherwise, her muscles and bones are exposed at all times.)
In this episode, the professor arrives drunk and disheveled to the opening of the Jonas Venture Museum on Spider-Skull Island. The professor has a history with the original Team Venture, having been present as a junior member and photographer back when Jonas Sr. and associates seized the island from the Fraternity of Torment in 1969. As Team Venture and the Fraternity of Torment reunite at the museum opening, Professor Impossible stumbles through the background, his destructive ennui mirroring the mounting tension between the attendees of Jonas Jr.’s big shindig.
Who it’s for
Superhero connoisseurs with a sick sense of humor.
Both the Incredibles franchise and The Venture Bros. have a lot in common with Kurt Busiek’s comic book series Astro City, which also takes place in a vast, well-populated superhero universe that readers only experience in fragments. Much of the appeal of these stories has to do with their sense of a larger mythology that’s borrowed from the best of old comics, cartoons, and movies. The Venture Bros. uses these references for ironic effect, suggesting that decades of honorable offscreen battles between worthy foes has simultaneously rotted the core of veteran heroes and their neglected offspring.
In “Now Museum — Now You Don’t,” the characters pace forlornly through a shrine to the glory days, covered with memorabilia from the era when Team Venture hobnobbed with celebrities like President Kennedy and Dick Cavett. (When told that representatives from all of Jonas Sr.’s past exploits will be there, Rusty gripes, “Am I gonna have to talk to the Harlem Globetrotters again?”) As the story plays out, the mistakes of the past end up posing a real threat to both the good guys and the bad, as so often happens on The Venture Bros. But even as old wounds get reopened, the episode still celebrates the wonders of a time when Colonel Gentleman — a suave spy with a Sean Connery accent — had steamy threesomes with novelist Gore Vidal and astronaut Wally Schirra.
Where to see it
Hulu. Viewers don’t need to have seen any earlier Venture Bros. episodes to enjoy “Now Museum — Now You Don’t.” Though the series as a whole does tell an ongoing story, it’s broken up into chapters that more or less stand on their own. That said, Hulu’s Venture Bros. collection will come in handy for newcomers who want to catch up on the show before it returns for its seventh season in late 2018 after hiatus of more than two years.