Interview: The Venture Bros.‘ Jackson Publick Talks What We Can Expect From S6 and What Took Them So Dang Long
As you know, we’re thrilled about the long-awaited return of The Venture Bros. on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim this weekend! To celebrate, I had the chance to chat with creator Jackson Publick in an interview exclusively for TMS about what we can expect from Season Six, what continually draws him to these crazy characters, and what took them so dang long!
Teresa Jusino (TMS): Obviously animation takes a lot of work – and clearly a lot of years between seasons – to get together. What keeps you coming back to this particular story? Why are you willing to put all this work and time in for these characters and this story and all this craziness?
Jackson Publick: Um…because they keep asking me to, these characters. I don’t know, there’s so much there, and we’re just…not done yet. It’s kind of unfortunate that it takes a long time. And this season took an uncommonly long time. We just hit a lot of snags along the way. We both love these characters, and for me – the show, when I first brought it into the world, was kind of the culmination of the different things I was doing before then. When I realized I could pitch it as a show, I realized it was such a big umbrella that I could just filter a lot of seemingly disparate ideas into it that I would’ve thought of. Like Oh, I have a half-baked idea about a superhero, and it’s like that fits into the Venture Bros. world. Or Oh, I wanna do a spy thing. Well, that fits.
It’s a pretty wide-open field, we love the characters, we get a pretty long leash from the network. It’s pretty much an ideal job. I wish we had done more of them by now. [laughs] I guess that’s why we keep doing them, maybe. Maybe we just love it so much, and there’s a limit on how many we could do, and so we’re just trying to stretch it out.
TMS: And that certainly wasn’t meant as a come-down on you guys. You take all the time you need to keep bringing us this awesomeness!
Publick: Oh no, I didn’t take it as one! I’m just kinda beating myself up. We never seem to be able to rally and get two seasons out, like, within a year or year and a half of each other. We’ve tried a couple of times, and that’s always the season when everything goes the worst. It’s just impossible for us to do.
It’s a bummer, because we really did start this season right when we finished Season Five. We started writing the “Gargantua” special that aired last season. That special was produced as part of this season. Like, that was Episodes 1 and 2 of the episodes that we’re only now finishing. We broke it off and made it a special, because we knew it was going to be a long time before we could have anything else on. And the story and the hugeness of it really merited special treatment anyway.
So, that tells you how long we’ve been making the same season!
TMS: So, there must be a certain sense of relief now. That finally, you’re done with this one…
Publick: Yeah, yeah. And yet, excitement to forge ahead. Assuming we’re able to. We have some ideas lined up. We didn’t really conclude – you’ll see that this season, like Season Five, lacks a satisfactory finale, because we didn’t write one. There’s a last episode of the season, and that’s it. Like, nothing is done yet, storylines are still in progress that we need to wrap up, and we had a finale in mind, but we just ran out of episodes before we could do it. We had a little bit more to say before we got to that story.
TMS: So, do you think you’ll go the Special route again between this full season and next full season? Or do you think you’ll just save it for the following season?
Publick: I think we’ll do it exactly the way this one was, except hopefully faster and better. You know? We would probably just start off the next season concluding the previous season’s stuff, and then launching the current season’s new plot threads. I kinda wish we could do a big episode, we kind of planned one, but I don’t think that’s the way we can proceed. Just because it kind of shot us in the foot last time. But we’ll see. If we get the greenlight, maybe our Season Seven premiere will want to be a Special. We’ll just see what the work presents.
The network’s pretty cool and flexible about following the story and letting us try unconventional things when we want to.
TMS: This show has been such a part of your life for so long, and whenever a writer creates something, kind of every character is a reflection of them in some way, or the ideas being explored are a reflection of them in some way. For you, personally, where do you see yourself the most in the Venture Bros. universe?
Publick: Not to cop out, but it’s really all of them. They’re all kind of fragments of our own personalities, and I think Doc [Hammer] would say the same thing. Dr. Venture is us when we’re being petty, or when we have a false sense of confidence. The Monarch is kind of just the Id. Just yells at the top of his lungs when something bothers him, and has deviant ideas and stuff like that.
I sort of feel like Hank and The Monarch are maybe the two extremes of my personality that, if you put them together, you’d get a fuller person. In a weird way, Hank is me at my best, and my most adolescent at the same time. I think he possesses a childlike wonder about everything, you know? He kinda thinks everything is cool, he has a can-do attitude, he’s got a decent amount of confidence, but he doesn’t express it in that asshole way that Dr. Venture or The Monarch do. He’s just, kinda self-assured like, I can get the job done, not I can bend others to my will, you know?
TMS: It’s interesting that you bring up The Monarch basically being the Id, and just constantly being like I WANT THIS NOW! He’s gonna have a lot to handle, because in this upcoming season, Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is going to be running the Council of the Thirteen….
Publick: Yeah. His wife outranks him now!
TMS: So, how do we see that affecting him when the season starts out?
Publick: In the way that you would expect it to. He lashes out at first, and he’s petty about it. It’s almost like she’s cheating on him with another guy in his mind, the way he receives the news. And it puts her in sort of a paternalistic role with him. She’s gotta be the voice of Guild rules, and she’s gotta be the bearer of news that he doesn’t wanna hear about his standing in the world. He’s not great with that, but…he finds a workaround [laughs] is the best way I can describe how he progresses through the season.
And they don’t get to share a ton of screen time. We do see cracks in their relationship, so we do see that there’s tension going on. But their house is undergoing a renovation, and I can tell you first-hand – so that’s probably why it’s in the show – what a strain that can put on a relationship, when you’re living in the middle of a renovation.
TMS: What always amazed me about The Monarch and Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is that, at the end of the day, he really does love and respect his wife. Like, he wouldn’t have married her in the first place if she weren’t the kind of woman who could run The Council of the 13. How do we see her moving forward with all of that?
Publick: That’s something we’re gonna keep exploring, I think. It’s really still in flux by the end of the season. They’re obviously spending more time apart, they’re having tensions…but she was always his Number Two. Then they got married, and that made them officially “co-Arches” or whatever. But clearly he was still The Monarch. I think she preferred a…what is the expression? About the hand behind the throne. That kind of role. She’s comfortable in a Number Two role, even though she’s smarter than the Number One person. Because she is smarter than him, but I think she knows that he has a certain amount of gumption that she doesn’t. She’s probably the one who balances the checkbook in the house. And she’s the one who can execute his lunatic ideas. But he’s the idea man, maybe. Until he has all the wrong ideas, and she has to fix it with a better idea.
But she’s always had his back, and now she doesn’t as she’s taken on this new role. And so he and #21 have started bonding a lot more. That’s his entire Henchmen Army now is #21, so he’s kind of a defacto Number Two, and the Henchmen Army, and an underling….and a kind of a drinking buddy all rolled into one. Because neither one of them has anybody but each other.
TMS: I’m so glad you brought up #21, because I was going to ask you about him – about Gary. He’s one of my favorite characters, because he’s really had a huge journey over the course of this show. Going from Henchman, to trying to be a hero…what’s his journey going to be this season? Aside from enabling The Monarch.
Publick: That’s kind of it. You could see that as a giant step back for him, but it might just be a dude finding his place in the world. “Enabler” is an important role. I think he believes in The Monarch ethos, and he thinks it’s important work, and he knows he’s the only guy there to do it. He is asserting himself more. He’s not a cowering henchman, and he’s not lost, but he is – like Dr. Girlfriend was – he is sometimes the Voice of Reason, occasionally the guy who has to figure out how to get it done.
And that’s not bad. It might be sad on the level of Oh, it’s too bad he doesn’t have any other friends, so he didn’t get out to do his own thing. But, maybe some people aren’t meant to do their own thing. And maybe the only reason he gets to mouth off to The Monarch is that The Monarch can’t kill his last henchman. The Monarch’s been brought down a few pegs.
TMS: Aww! It seems like, as Dr. Mrs. The Monarch is taking on this new role, he and Gary have this bromance going on to kind of take the place of what was lost.
Publick: Totally! But I think there is good for Gary. If what he really wanted was to be more important, or make a difference, maybe was not happy for him was being one of a hundred henchmen who didn’t have a voice. And now, he’s got a voice, and he’s got a friendship, and an important role to play. I guess he is still growing in a way, even though it may seem like he came back with his tail between his legs.
TMS: He kinda had to go the long way around to figure out that where he truly belonged was where he started.
Publick: Yeah, yeah. And I hope he stays that way. I hope if they start filling out the ranks again, I hope he gets to stay…a Lieutenant.
TMS: Yeah, that he doesn’t end up getting bumped back down to twenty-one. [laughter] I do want to ask you about some of the other fun, female characters we’ve come to know – namely, Triana Orpheus and Kim. I don’t know if we’re going to be seeing them again? Do they pop up at all in Dean’s life moving forward?
Publick: Nope. [laughs] I can proudly and confidently say no. Kim has become a long-running joke. It’s become part of every convention appearance interview or whatever, someone has to ask “Will we ever see Kim again?” because they know it drives me nuts….
TMS: Yeah…that’s kind of why I was like, So…what about Kim? [laughter]
Publick: I don’t know that Triana is necessarily gone forever, because Orpheus isn’t gone forever. He, unfortunately doesn’t make an appearance this season, but he’ll be back. And we intend to fold our most dear supporting characters back into it. We did have a story for him, but we just didn’t get to it.
But just because she was part of the TV show…I mean, how many of your neighbors from when you were sixteen or seventeen do you still talk to? How many people that you had a crush on in high school were part of your college life? It’s not like Triana and Dean had Great Chemistry or were Meant to Be. I mean, maybe we’re used to Girl With the Red Hair stories in our entertainment, but that’s just not Dean’s future.
TMS: Well, it’s just that she seemed so cool on her own.
Publick: Yeah, yeah. And who knows? She’s apparently off learning the magical arts with her mother and stepfather. It’s like she went off to Hogwarts. And Dean is going to Columbia – or in our world, Stuyvesant University. And they live thousands of miles apart.
We put our romance eggs in Hank’s basket this season. Hank hasn’t ever had a proper romance.
TMS: And he deserves it. He’s a good kid!
Publick: Right?! He’s a good kid! So yeah, we have a new female character in the world – actually played by a woman! [She’s played by] Cristin Milioti, and she was awesome. I can’t wait to write more for her, because she was so much fun to work with. And she was just down with the whole joke. I gave her a little bit of backstory and information about her character, and she just kept slipping crazy things into every line reading. So, some of that we kept! She really delivered on making this character feel real and fun. I hope the audience likes that character.
I basically just wanna be able to hang out with Cristin Milioti again and listen to her improvise and make things funnier than what I wrote.
TMS: In the trailer that was released, Nathan Fillion is basically playing Fake Spider-Man and you’ve brought the story to New York City. Talk about that move and what you think all this will do for the story and why that decision was made.
Publick: It wasn’t a calculated thing, but once we decided to do it, we just got excited about it. I don’t know. Maybe it was time to Jump the Shark again? I mean, it’s impossible to Jump the Shark on this show. It’s kind of our job to try to do it every season. But then to have the shark land in familiar water, no matter what. I feel like the show remains The Venture Bros. no matter what the venue is. And I’m proud of that. As much as we thought we were throwing out so many familiar things and changing so many things, when I watch these episodes, I’m like Well, this is just The Venture Bros. We just did it. We just moved them, and didn’t make too much a big deal out of it, and it didn’t destroy the fabric of the show, which is the characters. It just gave them new things to respond to.
Basically, we just had Dr. Venture win the lottery like Roseanne. We did it in reasonable terms, and we earned the right to do it with a gigantic hour-long episode that created his inheritance for him. So, it doesn’t feel cheap, and it felt natural to the world, and I guess it was time to…maybe have our characters start failing upward? If the tagline has always been It’s a Show About Failure, we just thought, Well, you could fail upward!
TMS: And you can fail bigger in New York!
Publick: Yeah. But it’s also – we live in New York, so we love setting anything here. We love getting to put real locations in, and snippets of our day-to-day life. We probably didn’t get to put as many in as we intended – we probably cut pages and pages of gags in the subway and stuff like that. But it’s always fun to put your characters in unfamiliar situations. And to put lunatics in butterfly costumes into mundane municipal situations.
TMS: But at the same time, would they even be noticed in New York?
Publick: We, for the most part, have made real world not care about these people throughout the show. Like we’d have them in the mall in the middle of nowhere and people are like Alright… But that could’ve been a more rural mind your business attitude, as opposed to an I’ve seen everything attitude.
But yeah – rich and in New York, and at the head of an Apple-type successful tech company, it also like…it gives us a chance to re-embrace the science fiction element, but have it be more cutting edge. Instead of constantly dicking around with old crap that Jonas Sr. made and trying to get it to work again in a sad, empty manufacturing facility in the middle of nowhere, it’s like, now I can slip stuff I read in Popular Mechanics or Popular Science in there.
TMS: It sounds like Dr. Venture is kind of getting a second chance. After having dealt with so much family drama and the history of who they are, is this going to be the beginning of him as his own man for real in this coming season?
Publick: In a way, yeah. I think Dr. Venture has got problems, and I think a lot of those problems are a result of his upbringing. He is his father’s son, and I’m sure he blames his failures on his dad, or on circumstances, or having kids before he was ready. I’m sure he has a million excuses. So he probably walks around thinking that he’s pretty great, but that he just never got a fair shot at it. And he’s lived so long on the lean that I think he’s enjoying the success he’s inherited, but he doesn’t respect the way it was achieved by his brother.
Like, he’s not into making iPods for people. He doesn’t consider Facebook or Google “super science,” so in a way it makes him embrace his history. It makes him go That’s not what a Venture does. A Venture is put on this Earth to make Super Science. So it kind of brings him around to his own mission statement. He really does come out and say it pretty early in the season. He says, We’re not about making this crap, we’re about making the cool and scary shit.
So, in a way, it makes him find his purpose. There’s no more excuses. Will that drive everything into the ground one day? Who knows?
The Venture Bros. returns to Adult Swim January 31st at midnight! Will you be watching?
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