April 6, 2010

Garry Shandling: Renegade Angel

I was sick for most of last week, really bad allergies and whatnot, so I stayed confined to my bedroom most of the time taking 24 generic Claritins. Last time I took the pills for a week I did nothing but play Tetris and have crazy dreams. I also must have lost ten pounds from having absolutely no appetite.

This time was a little different. I missed out on the appetite loss and I never had stretches of sleep long enough to even begin dreaming. Most nights I just tossed and turned, sweating and talking to myself or imaginary people I thought I heard breathing in the room with me. I obsessed over songs and phrases I heard during the day. The most bizarre was the night I couldn't stop thinking about how the words "Climb" and "Limb" were spelled so similarly, but were pronounced completely different. With all this time on my hands being insane not sleeping, I turned to my red envelopes for help. Netflix was already feeding me Xavier: Renegade Angel and It's Garry Shandling's Show, so I went ahead with the program.

I wasn't really into Garry Shandling when it originally aired back in late '80's. We were an HBO family, and Shandling's Show was on Showtime. Eventually it ran on Fox, but I usually fell asleep by the first commercial break. Of course that meant hearing the amazing theme song that played over the opening credits, but not much else. I did enjoy The Larry Sanders Show years later on HBO, so I knew Shandling had the ability to make me laugh, something that's not very easy. It wasn't until 2009 that It's Garry Shandling's Show made it to DVD and once it hit Netflix, I added its four seasons to my queue. 

I've always been a big fan of Wondershowzen's absurdist humor, and I've most recently been immersing myself in Tim & Eric's Awesome Show Great Job!, so I decided to take a second crack at Adult Swim's Xavier: Renegade Angel. I watched the first episode years ago when X:RA first came out in 2007 (at the insistence of Kirk, who is begging for the credit), but I had a really hard time dealing with the CGI animation style (I hadn't yet made my brief foray into Second Life). Plus I was still morning the loss of Wondershowzen (by the same creative team, PFFR) and wasn't ready to invest my time in another series. I typically don't watch any television shows as they unfold anyway. Instead, I wait until seasons or series to finish completely so I can watch everything at once on DVD. X:RA was something I just kept forgetting to come back to, but eventually, Netflix picked up the save.

I usually don't divide my attention, televisually, but in my pseudoephedrine haze, I went back and forth every night watching both. It turns out that these two programs from different generations are somehow cut from the same loin cloth. They are both postmodern powerhouses. Shandling's Show constantly makes you aware that you are watching a television show--he walks between set pieces, defers to the script, talks to the audience, and hums along with the theme song. One of my favorite moments is when he is sitting on a couch and is suddenly pummeled with 14 rolled up newspapers--we are fast-forwarding two weeks, he explains.  

Xavier's meta comedy of pseudomysticism is even more of a rapid-fire assault because it only has 11 minutes to get its story finished. A truck speeding by with the word "FORESHADOWING" written on the side of it is probably the most straightforward of things that happen. The fact that the show is 100% CGI makes it much easy for them to twist the screen until it breaks. It is pretty much a nonstop mindfudge, and much like Wondershowzen, by the second season the bizarre bar is set so high you either have to be high or stop at a bar to mind the fudge at the seasonal bazaar, even for a second. I watched so many of episodes multiple times and I'm positive that I still haven't caught the majority of what's actually happening onscreen, and I look forward to diving in again from a different angle in the future.

Eventually, I started to feel better enough to stop taking the generic Claritin, but there was still to be a final blow to my fragile body. On the third disc of It's Garry Shandling's Show, there is a scene where Garry takes some Chinese food out of this oven. He starts to put on a pair of oven mitts, then abandons them in favor of another pair, then turns to the camera to talk to me...



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