‘The Venture Bros’ Just Brought Back One of the Series’ Oldest Jokes: ‘Phantom Spaceman’

From all the way back in Season 1, we’re finally finding out more about “Movie Night,” a legendary scary story in space

(Note: This post contains spoilers for the Aug. 12 episode of “The Venture Bros.”)

The first season of “The Venture Bros.” contained a lot of what felt like throwaway jokes, like the legendary story of “Movie Night,” a frightening tale of murder on the space station Gargantua-1, and the “Phantom Spaceman” responsible. But six seasons later — as happens often on “The Venture Bros.” — series creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer have brought back that seemingly throwaway joke and turned it into a deeper piece of lore.

Back in Season 1, the tale of Movie Night seemed like a dumb ghost story to get the show’s titular Venture brothers, Hank (Jackson Public) and Dean (Michael Sinterniklaas), to solve a made-up mystery in the vein of the characters they were parodying. Built by the brothers’ grandfather, Dr. Jonas Venture Sr. when Hank and Dean’s father, Rusty (James Urbaniak) was a kid, Gargantua-1 was basically an orbital city with a huge crew. But by the events of season 1, the station had only two astronauts running it, and one, Bud Manstrong (Terrence Fleming), tells the boys the ghost story.

Manstrong says that he was a paper boy on the station years earlier, and that a janitor on the station snapped. He invited everyone he could into the cargo hold for “Movie Night,” playing the Burt Reynolds movie “Sharky’s Machine.” While everyone was watching the film, the janitor opened the cargo bay doors to space. Most of the crew was killed, he says, and the phantom spirit of the janitor still roams the halls of Gargantua-1.

In its first telling, the story sounds like bunk. That’s underscored by the fact that Manstrong ends the story with a pointed, “Right, Dr. Venture?” to Rusty, as if it’s all made up. The boys spend the rest of their time on Gargantua-1 worried about the “Phantom Spaceman,” and they wind up beating up their robot, H.E.L.P.eR., thinking he’s the ghost.

Years later, though, it turns out Movie Night really happened. In the second episode of Season 7, a grim reaper-like supervillain named Red Death (Clancy Brown) explains that he, too, was present for the event, which he explains at gory length. The monologue is partially one of the episode’s many “Jaws” references — Death is doing a Gargantua-1 version of Quint’s speech about the “Indianapolis” from that movie.

In the story, Death says that he was with a group of other villains who planned to take hostages on Gargantua-1, and many of those villains were killed when they arrived at the screening of “Sharky’s Machine” right before the cargo bay doors were opened. Some survived, like Red Death, thanks to the fact that they were still wearing space suits.

Red Death adds a new caveat to the story — nobody on the Guild side knew who opened the cargo bay doors.

It’s possible the return of the Phantom Spaceman/Movie Night joke is just a “Jaws” reference, and might not go further. But since it was implied by Manstrong that the crazed janitor element might have been fake, it seems very possible that “The Venture Bros.” will end up retconning that detail away. Especially given the shocking reveal in Season 7’s first episode that Jonas Venture Sr. didn’t quite die the way everyone thought he did — itself another callback to “Careers in Science.” Maybe there is a Phantom Spaceman, and maybe we’re finally going to learn their identity.

As we’ve seen before, often when “The Venture Bros.” brings up an old joke or story thread like this, it ends up mattering. We’ll just have to wait for more of Season 7 to find out if that’s the case here.