When you were a kid did you ever have crazy, bizarre nightmares filled with images right of Salvador Dali’s psycho-analysis sessions? Well, if you didn’t, now you can pretend you did thanks to Xavier Renegade Angel.
Xavier Renegade Angel is an intensely surreal (even by Adult Swim standards) show from Wonder Showzen creators, PFFR. It’s about a freakish man beast who is covered in fur, has 6 nipples, backwards knees, a third eye where his penis should be, a snake for a hand, an eagles beak, and Heterochromia, who wanders America trying to find spiritual fulfillment and the identity of the man who killed his parents. Unfortunately for Xavier and everyone with whom he comes into contact, he has no spiritual insight whatsoever, and remains totally oblivious to the fact that he was the one who killed his parents, even though their ghosts tell him so repeatedly. He most often ruins the lives of those he is trying to help while failing to grasp even the most basic truths about the world around him. At the end of each episode Xavier knows even less about the world than he did at the beginning. More after the jump:
I could write 1000 words on how Xavier employs Brechtian narrative elements and uses alienation to allow the viewer to perceive reality with disinterested contemplation. Or how it acts as a reader for the work of Jean Baudrillard. Or how it brilliantly remixes elements of Foucault, Judith Butler, Hegel, Marx, Kant, Nietzsche, Douglas Adams, Vonnegut, Gogol, Voltaire, Ginsberg, Beckett, T.S. Eliot, E. E. Cummings, and David Foster Wallace with an art style that is heavily influenced by the proto-Dada work of the Die Bruke and Blue Rider movements of the Weimar Republic. But it’s one of those things where if you don’t already know, I probably couldn’t tell you.
Xavier is not a show for everyone, or even most anyone. It is vile, obnoxious, mean-spirited, confusing, and really ugly to look at thanks to CGI graphics made by a company that usually does economy class video game cut scenes. However, if you can see beyond the aggressively alienating exterior of the show you will discover a razor sharp Juvenilian satire of American Bourgeois values that makes salient points about the hypocrisy of mainstream and subculture ranging from hippies and environmentalists to neo-cons and fundamentalists.
The wonderful thing about Xavier is how high brow/low brow it is. The program goes well out of its way to ask complex, soul searching questions about the nature of reality and humanity’s inability to perceive truth, but then asks these questions using the most base and puerile dick and fart jokes imaginable. During the best episodes of season 2 there are some 40 jokes a minute thanks to its triple and quadruple-entendre dialogue. And though the creators designed the show to look as unappealing as possible, underneath the hideous character design there is actually some really inventive and boundary pushing use of the camera going on.
Upon a first viewing, most will notice the sparse, clipped dialogue featuring words seemingly arbitrarily echoing into infinity, but after seeing a few episodes it becomes clear that this is a stylistic choice. Every time the vocals abruptly cut it signals the viewer to some type of wordplay within the sentence. Clips and phrases like “Take that! Taste the pain!” repeat in all 20 episodes in different contexts, sometimes dropped in in the middle of other words. It’s really mind-bending stuff. Meanwhile, the echoing effect is most often used to recall a reference to a previous episode or else to highlight a piece of new age jargon that the show is mocking.
At first glance Xavier seems like a show with less plot than Family Guy, every two minutes or so there is a bizarre plot twist that seems to come from nowhere and lead nowhere. One of the best episodes begins with Xavier trying to sell road kill to a restaurant and ends with a prostitute aura (who provides aural sex to the point of soul-jaculation) causing the end of the world with a spiritually transmitted disease. Along the way the episode also touches on huffing glue (as well as snorting tacs and shooting staples), bestiality, cannibalism, and camels that open up to reveal machine guns. It’s pretty abstract and incredibly weird, but upon second and third repeat each episode begins to come together. Instead of seeming random, the show’s intricacies come into view, with each successive turn clearly foreshadowed and generally motivated by larger thematic elements. The show employs nonstandard narrative structure and deeply couched post-modern plotting that can be difficult to decipher, but is very rewarding if you’re willing to put in the effort.
Basically, if you love An Andalusian Dog, Beyond Good and Evil and Freddy Got Fingered all in equal measure, then Xavier Renegade Angel is for you.
Disappointingly, the DVD transfer is not HD nor anamorphic. A lot of the episodes look more blurry than they should and there is an obnoxious letterbox effect, though I am not entirely sure that wasn’t part of the point. The audio is very crisp, but the picture leaves something to be desired.
As with the Wonder Showzen DVD sets, there are plenty of absurd special features that are sure to tickle the funny bone of those already on Xavier’s wave length while infuriating all others to no end.
In addition to the twenty episodes of the first two seasons, there are four commentary tracks (all recorded by fans of the show who had no hand in producing it), as well as a selection of fan-made Xavier shorts that were compiled into the episode “Damnesia You” and an intensely surreal music video.
Additionally, the creators added four different commentary tracks. Two of the tracks are filled with the same type pseudo-intellectual hogwash namedropping found in my review. Long, pretentious monologues about the deeper meaning of the show and how it relates to Plato’s Symposium and Locke’s Second Treatises on Man, or whatever. The other two are just incomprehensible gibberish designed to annoy you into turning them off. While I might have liked some real commentary, these tracks are a pretty brilliant meta-joke. The show runners create a program that is difficult to understand and then makes fun of you for trying to read meaning in it.
Most of the fan-made episodes are damn near un-watchable in their original form. However, a few of them show some real talent and skill. If you’re a hardcore fan, or made one of these shorts, this is a pretty cool feature, but I found myself struggling to make it through most of these.
The best special feature by far is the Xaviercize music video which starts out as a parody of 80s work out tapes before devolving into a Salvia trip. I’m not totally sure that this feature is safe for those susceptible to seizures, but it is like nothing I have ever seen before, and I really appreciate that.
Xavier is a show that rewards a second viewing more than most. In fact, I would wager that you haven’t really seen an episode of Xavier until you’ve watched it four or five times. I still find myself catching new jokes in these episodes, and I’ve seen most of my favorites over ten times each. The rewatch factor adds a great value to this DVD set that is absent in most others.
I adore Xavier Renegade Angel. It is easily my favorite thing on television right now and it might be my favorite animated show of all time. Part of this is because I love wordplay and lowbrow humor, part of it is because I’m a pretentious jerk who loves postmodernism and considers Alejandro Jodorowsky to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. It will just annoy most audiences, but if like challenging, transgressive comedy, I cannot recommend this show highly enough.
The Show: 9.8/10