In its second season, Vernon Chatman and John Lee’s kid-show parody/avant-garde mindfuck Wonder Showzen didn’t just go out with a bang, it damn near committed highly public suicide, after salting the earth to ensure that nothing could ever grow in its place. When you’ve smuggled a Molotov cocktail of heresy, provocation, vicious satire, and flagrant puppetry onto MTV2, then taken the unholy result to places never dreamed possible on basic cable, what do you do for a follow-up? If you’re Chatman and Lee, you create a furry, deluded New Age spiritual guru with a beak for a nose, a snake for a right arm, the space-cadet vocal inflections of Keanu Reeves, and a gift for delivering nonsensical aphorisms, then send him on a spiritual quest to find his father’s killer and/or the meaning of life.
Animated in the herky-jerky, intentionally clumsy style of a bad videogame, Xavier: Renegade Angel follows its hapless protagonist as he journeys across the land seeking to help people in need. Alas, Xavier’s good intentions invariably go astray, and he ends up injuring, traumatizing, and even killing the people he sets out to help. When he spies a woman who favors one child over others, for example, he decides to abscond with the children so they won’t know the pain of ending up on the losing side of favoritism. Then his snake arm greedily devours them all. Sometimes Xavier doesn’t even boast the fig leaf of good intentions; he tries to be a hero and a shaman, but his ego and insecurities usually get in the way.
Xavier episodes often begin with an inspired premise, like a Christian Science “surgeon” whose brilliant, wheelchair-bound son performs his father’s “operations” through a series of invisible pulleys and levers; they then veer off into increasingly bizarre, non-linear directions until the curious anti-hero zips away for his next adventure, leaving behind a surrealist trail of destruction in his wake. Xavier boasts incredible comic density, packing every 15-minute episode with a giddy abundance of gags, ideas, and banter delivered at a rapid-fire clip. Even by Adult Swim standards, it’s exceedingly strange, but also seldom weird for the sake of being weird. There’s solid comic craftsmanship lurking behind all the taboo-shattering. Like Wonder Showzen, Xavier: Renegade Angel often feels like a bad acid trip, which is exactly what its creators seem to be going for.
Key features: Fan commentaries and something called “Xaviercise.”