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Xavier: Renegade Angel - Seasons 1 and 2
In a way, this feels like I'm picking up where I left off last week, when I wrote about Adult Swim in a Box. Xavier: Renegade Angel is one of Adult Swim's more recent programs, having begun its run in late 2007. The show was created by the PFFR gang - Vernon Chatman, John Lee, Alyson Levy, and Jim Tozzi - who were also responsible for MTV2's hilarious and memorable Wonder Showzen. This group's bold, intuitive, ramshackle approach to television comedy is on full display again in this nonstop satire of all things spiritual.
Animated using an intentionally-passé CGI visual style (it looks kind of like an MMORPG), the show follows the misadventures of Xavier, a hairy hybrid of a creature with the beak of a bird, one arm that's a green snake, and the voice of a tripped-out self-important California beach bum. With all the obligatory accoutrements of a New Age hero - including a special wooden flute called a "shakashuri" - Xavier wanders the land to seek and spread enlightenment. The form that that enlightenment takes is generally an indiscriminate mish-mash of concepts from many religions and cultures, and this forms the satirical basis of the whole show. Xavier's grasp of these quasi-philosophical concepts is usually grounded in a gross misinterpretation, which leads him to behave violently and immorally, all while maintaining a spacey New Age calm.
Each episode tends to find Xavier seeking the answer to some abstract question or quandary - such as "What doth life?" from the pilot episode - and following a self-reflexive plotline toward an inverted outcome that negates the constructive, positive, introspective nature of the original question. Along the way he usually battles against the ignorant and unenlightened, and crosses into alternate dimensions to communicate with his past and future self, with the guidance of his Chief Master Guru and others. Plots develop in an organic, seemingly-improvisational manner that almost makes one forget the show's careful writing and highly-developed wordplay.
Xavier: Renegade Angel is intelligent, entertaining, and very funny. It is also consistent to a fault. The show never develops much beyond its original concept and falls into a repetitious rut. Episodes run together, looking and sounding very much like one another. Plotting, while clever and unusual in its approach, nonetheless smacks of sameness from episode to episode. I wouldn't call Xavier a one-note or one-joke concept, and yet the episodes feel as if they repeatedly cover the same ground. Still, this flaw does not prevent the show from being enjoyable. It does, however, mean that episodes are best consumed one by one. Much like Flight of the Conchords, its small triumphs are better appreciated over time; a concentrated dose of the show reveals its flaws.
This is the first release of Xavier: Renegade Angel on DVD, and it contains all 20 episodes of the first two seasons - in other words, the entire series up to this point. (Although Xavier has not been canceled, I don't believe it's been explicitly renewed yet, either.) I do hope that it continues, and finds a way to grow.
Two discs are housed in a single-width keepcase; the front cover art is mirrored on the back.
It's difficult to justify why this recently-produced program (the second season aired earlier this year), while produced and broadcast in widescreen, is not enhanced here. The 1.85:1 image is letterboxed. While colors and overall video quality is fine, the lack of an anamorphic transfer is really annoying. This isn't the first time that a widescreen Adult Swim series has been released with a letterboxed image - the first season of Metalocalypse comes to mind. A disappointment.
The stereo soundtrack carries good directional effects and depth. Music is brought to the forefront when appropriate, and dialogue is crisp.
Disc One: Two episodes feature "fanmentary" tracks. These are really weird, especially since the participants are not identified. I suspect these may be a joke. The first, on "What Life D-D-Doth," is overwrought and pedantic. The second, on "Shakashuri Blowdown," is by a computer-modulated voice who speaks the bizarre vocabulary of the show's characters.
Disc Two: There are two more episodes with fanmentary tracks - "Damnesia Vu" and "Going Normal." This time around, the participants are identified and sound more like regular guys. These are a bit easier to swallow - interesting tracks, but not essential by any means. Next, under the heading Damnesia You: Inhonorable Unmentionables, are a selection of what appear to be short fan films; there are thirteen of them and they are just a couple of minutes each. Xaviercize! is a pretty silly "fitness workout video" with our metaphysical hero.
Xavier: Renegade Angel - Seasons 1 and 2 contain about four hours of programming that is best watched one or two episodes at a time. The show contains great wit, convoluted but engaging satire, and a lot of laughs. It's abstract, brainy fun. Although this DVD package - particularly the transfer - is not wholly satisfying, the set is still recommended.