Judge Mike Rubino's brain is doing all the legwork around here.
What doth life?
Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup has always been an outpost for bizarre, often crude, animation that operates on a scale ranging from brilliant to moronic. Xavier: Renegade Angel shatters that scale with the fury of a thousand dream catchers.
Facts of the Case
Xavier (Jim Tozzi) is a wandering, new age philosopher who looks like a satyr with a snake hand and bird beak. He's on an eternal quest to find the meaning of life, track down his father's murderer, solve the problems of everyday rednecks, and basically kill or destroy everything he touches—for the most part, at least. The show was created by Vernon Chatman and John Lee, of Wonder Showzen fame.
The set collects the first two seasons of the show, totally 20 episodes.
Season One includes "What Life D-D-Doth," "Chief Beef Loco," "Weapons Grade Life," "The 6th Teat of Good Intentions," "Pet Siouxicide," "World of Hurt, BC," "Bloodcorn," "Escape from Squatopian Freedom," "Signs from Godrilla," and "Shakashuri Blowdown."
Season Two includes "Vibracaust," "Xavier's Maneuver," "El Tornadador," "Haunted Tonk," "Free Range Manibalism," "Damnesia Vu," "Going Normal," "Kharmarabionic Lotion," "Damnesia You," and "Braingeas Final Cranny."
Adult Swim is a polarizing programming block. Either you get talking milk shakes or you don't. Xavier: Renegade Angel just may be the most opaque, inaccessible show the network has ever aired. It's a puzzle, a mind bender, or, as Xavier puts it, a "conundrummer in a band called 'Life Puzzler.'" It's not for everyone; in fact, it's not for most. I'm not even sure it's for me.
Each episode begins with our furry hero wandering the desert, preaching in his surfer voice about the meaning of life (life, life, life) and whatever sort of mantra he's going to carry for the next ten minutes. Eventually, he comes across some hideous regional or ethnic stereotypes and proceeds to ruin their lives with a series of violent, confusing events. There's really no point in discussing plot or story arc because there essentially isn't any. Instead, viewers are bombarded with double entendres and ribald puns. The dialogue is so dense and layered that you may just want to watch with the subtitles turned on to make sure you don't miss anything. That is, if you care to even acknowledge the show's childish reliance on racial slurs and dirty jokes—not to mention its constant mocking of religion. Xavier's absurdism quickly turns to condescension.
The first season of the show, especially the first few episodes, feels fresh and challenging. The humor, while ridiculously offensive, is different enough to at least hold your interest for a single installment. Occasionally the show flashes some brilliance with its circular dialogue and plotting: in "World of Hurt, BC," Xavier learns that eating bacon and smoking can take minutes off your life, so if you eat enough bacon and smoke enough cigarettes you can travel back through time. There are little moments like that in many of the episodes, but it's rare to find entire installments that feel cohesive. After a few episodes, Xavier's shtick grows tired.
The problem with the show is that it's content to merely rework the same jokes with different cadences each episode, and then it masks this repetition with increasingly bizarre visuals. There are a few clever episodes in the second season, including a mind-melting two-parter ("Damnesia Vu" and "Damnesia You") featuring remixed and hand-crafted Xavier videos from fans, but later episodes just felt exhausting and frustrating. It's quite possible that's what Chatman and Lee were going for.
Adding to the divisive nature of the show is the surrealistic art style, which rests somewhere between "college animation project" and The Sims. It's purposefully bad, with plenty of clipping, awkward movement, and low res texture work. It reminded me of the Incredible Crash Test Dummies cartoon—cutting edge back in 1993. Despite this, I found the animation style to actually be pretty endearing after a while—if only because it's so radically different from the rest of Adult Swim's programming. The DVD transfer is, not surprisingly, very good given the material, and the sound is more than adequate.
Included in the two-disc set are some selected "Fanmentary" tracks, the unedited contest videos, and a "Xaviercize" music video. I have no idea what the Fanmentary tracks are—they're sort of like audio recordings of fever dreams mixed with parables and fortune cookies, filtered through the back of an oscillating fan. The contest videos are a lot of fun to watch, especially since they're all animated or filmed with varying degrees of success. Lastly, "Xaviercize" starts off as a cheesy workout video and devolves into utter madness. It fits right in.
Xavier: Renegade Angel is a show that's offensive and stupid, but also oddly intriguing and surreal. It has a devoted following, one who has surely been anticipating this DVD release, and they won't be disappointed. In small doses, the show can be an entertaining diversion with some clever one-liners; but it will take a truly patient (or crazy) spirit to endure watching more than a few episodes in a single sitting.
Guilty, guilty, guilty…
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