Apr 25, 2015

The Venture Brothers

I usually avoid the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block.  The animation is usually miserable, the concepts stupid -- talking fast food wrappers? -- and the homophobia intense.

The Venture Bros (2003-2015), created by Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer, throws out a few homophobic slurs, usually "That's Gay!", and a few gay-stereotyped characters, notably swishy secret agent Shore Leave.  But with all the gay, bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, and gay-subtext activity going on, who has time to notice?

The central character are:
1. The snippy, sarcastic Rusty Venture, a grown-up Jonny Quest, son of a famous super-scientist trying to follow in his father's footsteps -- and failing miserably.
2. Hank and Dean, his two absurdly naive teenage sons (Hank is muscular and dimwitted, Dean petite and brainy).
3. Surly bodyguard Brock Samson.

But that's just the beginning of a huge cast of super-scientists, arch-enemies, henchmen, and secret agents, all with complex histories and past interactions, all bound by bureaucracies and traditions. There are secret agendas, changing alliances.  People change, develop new interests, take on new jobs.

When Rusty's arch-enemy, the Monarch, breaks one of the rules of the Guild of Calamitous Intent, he is forced to arch someone else, so Colonel Hatred is assigned to arch Dr. Venture.  Then Brock Samson leaves the Ventures, and Rusty hires Colonel Hatred as his new bodyguard.

The Monarch's favorite henchman, Number 21, quits to go rogue, briefly become his own super-villain, and then joins the unlicensed superhero team S.P.H.I.N.X., with former antagonist Brock Samson.

By the fifth season, the cast has become so large, and alliances changed so often, that you need a scorecard to figure out what's going on.

There are many, many gay and bisexual characters, including Colonel Gentleman, part of the elder Venture's team; "Six Million Dollar Man" Steve Summers, who is living with a male sasquatch; and the Alchemist, a member of the Order of the Triad who occasionally assists the Ventures.

And gay-subtext relationships.  I like Billy Quizboy, a failed game show champion who is living with his former mentor, the albino Pete White, while they try to break into the super-scientist business.

And Number 21's relationship with the tall, stentorian-voiced Number 24.  When he dies, Number 21 is so distraught that he asks Dr. Venture to clone him.  Apprised that the clone will be a baby, with none of Number 24's memories, he says "I don't care.  I'll raise him as my son.  Just bring him back!"

Venture Brother Hank has so many gay subtexts that one expects a "coming out" episode any moment.  He hangs all over Brock Samson, he is overcome with enthusiasm for other muscular men, and later he gets a "boyfriend," the surly wannabe delinquent Dermott.

Did I mention that there's an absurd amount of beefcake?  And, on the DVD sets, unexpurgated male frontal nudity.

See also: Jonny Quest

Apr 22, 2015

Peter Panama: The First Gay Character on TV

Everybody knows that the first regular gay character on tv was Peter Panama (Vincent Schiavelli) on The Corner Bar (1972-73). . But how many people have actually seen it?

It starred Gabriel Dell (right, early photo) as Harry Grant, owner of a Manhattan bar called Grant's Tomb.

Ten episodes aired on Wednesday nights in the summer of 1972, nine with gay fashion designer Peter Panama.  Six more aired on Friday nights in the summer of 1973, but with a different cast.

And that was it. No reruns, no DVDs, no youtube uploads. It's gone.

I've seen it -- one episode, anyway: "Cook's Night Out," on July 19, 1972., the summer before junior high. The cook at the bar has quit, so the regulars work together to take his place.  Peter prepares an "omelette a la Panama."

Peter (top right) was tall and gaunt, with frizzy hair, limp wrist gestures, and a weird nasal voice.  No one mentioned that he was gay --  I wouldn't have known what "gay" meant, anyway -- so I thought he was just a hippie.

The other cast members pictured are Gabriel Dell (top left), regular Bill Fiore (bottom right), and a waiter I can't identify.

Everyone was old, craggy, and unpleasant-looking.  They all had greasy hair.  They were sweating, as if the air conditioner in the bar wasn't working. I remember a palpable feeling of discomfort.

According to the Alternative Channels website, Peter wasn't exactly one of the gang.  Many of the jokes were homophobic.

The Gay Activists Alliance, an early gay rights organization, protested, and producer Allen King agreed to "redirect" the show.  He changed the cast, and sent Peter Panama packing.

This was the first tv performance of renowned character actor Vincent Schiavelli.  He never played a gay character again.
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