‘Structurally Sound’ is a recurring feature where each week a different structurally unusual, rule-breaking anomaly of an episode from a comedy series is examined.
“Eat that ketchup nice and good.”
Adult Swim is a channel that has made a name for itself by airing the strangest programs that television has to offer. Colloquially becoming known as “the Internet of television,” its programming has had seemingly no rules or limitations. It’s only within this sort of framework that a series like Xavier: Renegade Angel can happen, with the program pushing this lack of boundaries to its absolute breaking point. Xavier is a lot to take in. Its dated ‘90s CGI look causes you to let down your guard, but the series moves at a mile a minute with mock spiritual, faux existential wordplay that’s simultaneously intelligent and offensive. As the wandering nomad Xavier looks for meaning, the show never fails to hit new extremes. It shouldn’t be surprising that Xavier is the brainchild of PFFR, the lunatic savants responsible for Wonder Showzen, The Heart, She Holler, as well as turning out Delocated and most recently Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter. Xavier: Renegade Angel is by far their most mescaline-laced offering though, which is more than saying something.
“Damnesia You” is technically the second part of an entry that follows earlier in the season, “Damnesia Vu”, yet they’re hardly dependent upon one another. If anything, “Damnesia Vu” establishes to the viewer how messed up and Lynchian the series could become, with this piece of the puzzle taking everything to whole new levels of whaaaaa?? Accordingly, the following text introduces the episode over footage of a dog eating ketchup from a bowl,
“Recently, [adult swim] generously called upon its viewership to participate in a Make Your Own Xavier Contest. We only received one submission. This clip. In light of these tragic events, and in order to punish the lazy populace, we now present a tape that we found in the garbage.”
This disclaimer is an obvious gag, but the contest was very real with this episode’s atypical structure revolving around these winners. Most impressively, “Damnesia You” doesn’t just feature these winners throughout Xavier’s quest, but rather the entire episode is made up of them. The Xavier team appear to “throw one away”, but the result is maybe the most fascinating experiment to ever air on the network.
To start things off, if you’re looking for a plot in the episode (and you shouldn’t be), it’s basically that soul-seeking Xavier has lost his memories (again), and upon retrieving them, he learns that they might not be his own. This of course conveys itself by the episode consisting of fan videos made by other people. Of course these aren’t Xavier’s memories; they’re the audience’s perception of who he is. That’s about as deep as you need to dig into the episode’s story here (and more so than “Damnesia You” even wants you to), with the rest being about getting lost in this delirium. You don’t get a single moment to brace yourself with the episode’s opening moments throwing a title on the screen that is slightly askew from the episode’s actual title. On top of that, an almost constant echo effect is placed on Xavier’s speech through the episode, distorting everything further. “Damnesia You” wants you to be out of your comfort zone, unable to find North, and even in the few seconds before the fan videos begin you’re in an assault.
Fourteen videos build the episode (with all of the contest winners being named over the end credits) and for a piece of television that’s barely twelve minutes long, that’s kind of remarkable. Let that be the indication of the relentless clip that this episode drills into your mind’s eye. The videos feature a healthy mix between live-action recreations of this universe and animated endeavors, with Grant “Manfield” Duffrin’s “Xavier Lends a Helping Hand” being the inaugural video with make-shift costumes galore. Crude CGI is Eric “Emotikkkon” Binmoeller’s tool in “Meerkats,” which explores the perversion of sausage milk. As things continue, “Self the Eye the Sees The Cream Within” by David Dineen-[“] Porter offers up a pixelated video game version – almost akin to Pitfall – of Xavier, before then turning to puppets as their medium instead. A number of animated sequences fill up “Damnesia You,” some evocative of MTV’s old aesthetic (“As Above So Below” by Shelby A. Hohl), with others feeling more like Bakshi’s style or the look of Heavy Metal (Bo “Bikey” Thrice’s “Superhole Shuffle”). Even the style of certain directors that feel within Xavier’s repertoire see servicing up here, whether its in the simplistic inked piece, “Gazzavier Renegade Angel Goes Up A Mountain” by David “He” Heath, that looks like it could be from David Lynch’s Dumbland, Andrew De “hole” Young’s segment, “Prism Jay Z. Yum”, that offers a mixed media mash-up that conjures the feeling of Haneke, or Rober “t S” mith’s “Omnippletence/The Phone Call” which posits Xavier through the Tim and Eric lens.
“Dogs Eats Ketchup,” the entry that introduces the episode, is also the piece that’s most prominently featured throughout it all. It somehow acts as the throughline to all of this, with Amy “Peanut butter” Warner’s dialogue peppering throughout the whole episode. It mixes into the DNA of the other pieces in both subtle and unsubtle ways. The ketchup fodder even works into a Xavier blood motif that’s particularly impressive. If all of this is just random nonsense, PFFR does an amazing job at making it look like motivated storytelling.
It’s really amazing to see all of the fan videos understanding Xavier: Renegade Angel so implicitly. Everyone is adept at the show’s trademark triple entendres, tangential nature, and trippy visuals, which really say something for how well the series defines its humor. Its replicable nature is important, with the episode as a whole standing as a strong example of how powerful crowdsourcing can be. Look at the sort of talent and “story” that can be found in something as chaotic as this. All of these disparate pieces are woven together to not only tell a story (that’s being generous here, but this show hardly had a conventional plotline in the first place), but also to figure out how to interweave and connect them in a certain way that actually seems fitting.
As crazy and unrestrained as this experiment is, Xavier is one of the few (very few) shows where this avant-garde approach actually feels at home. The series is so nonlinear at times that this doesn’t seem that unusual for them. The Simpsons, or even something “less polished” like South Park, attempting this, would not see nearly the same success in synergy. To pair this level of ambition with a show that it actually makes sense for is incredibly difficult. It’s taking meticulous style and attention to aesthetic and masquerading it as not giving a fuck, and the result is really unlike anything else I’ve seen on TV. Adult Swim is a network that still pushes boundaries and throws structure out the window, but this is getting particularly punk rock and still making it work (after the episode’s airing, the majority of people from the Adult Swim message boards were voicing their praise). Those that hate “Damnesia You” are likely the very same people that don’t like the acquired taste of the series to begin with.