Reviews

‘Avant Guardians’ Web Series: In Heaven As It Is On Earth

Avant Guardians is a seven part web series that is the brainchild of comedian, Alesia Etinoff, who in addition to serving as writer and director, stars as troubled guardian angel, Razz.  Struggling with her job, Razz has been ordered by her boss (none other than God) to undergo counseling with arkangel, Dr. Hanniel, played by fellow comedian Zainab Johnson. We watch as these celestial beings attempt to make sense of their relationship with humans and their world, as well as the chaos therein. The result is a witty, insightful, and at times a bit overdone mediation on intersectional oppression experienced by black people.

The spiritual setting serves as a nuanced space whereby we can explore earthly divides.  One of the slightly more subtle (and thus, in my opinion, more effective) topics is the difference in tactics between generations.  Razz is the guardian angel to a little boy she calls “Creepy Charlie,” who is destined to become the third black president.  We quickly learn that he has earned this nickname because of his social awkwardness, indicated by his lack of friends and the way he watches his mother as she sleeps.  Razz attempts to reclaim the word creepy and alter our perspective on those who are different. It is through her back-and-forth with Dr. Hanniel that we understand the angels’ variations in approach as generational differences.  Dr. Hanniel explains that the younger guardian angels complain of hardship at social faux pas where her contemporaries were concerned with protecting runaway slaves and Civil Rights leaders. The two do manage to reach a common ground as evidenced in extensive dialogue and in part, by a Biblically inspired dance session.

In addition to the generational divide, the series also touches on mass incarceration, debt, and racism, sexism, and other -isms as embodied evils.  Unfortunately, for me, this is where the seams show (a phrase coined by none other than Toni Morrison). It feels like the story of Creepy Charlie seeks to allow the writer to talk about these major injustices and subsequently shifts from a story centered on an awkward preteen, to an exercise on how all the major societal injustices can be tackled in seven episodes. For example, while his decision, to stand up to his bully is noble, the manner in which he does it, by referencing the cleansing properties of a charcoal mask and the attractiveness of brown skin Idris Elba, does not feel true to his character.  In another session we learn that Creepy Charlie finally makes a friend and the two go back and forth speaking positive affirmations about their futures in the same delivery style as “yo momma” jokes. Again, while interesting, these moments do not feel plausible. However, it may be that the writer’s ambition and the mini series format are not the best match. In other words, this could benefit from increased time in each episode.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy the piece.  Also as a person who has never produced a web series, but has dabbled in the creation of a few comedic sketches, I am partially aware of the amount of time, effort, and energy it took to create this.  I imagine that Etinoff anticipates an opportunity to explore this premise in a lengthier format, an endeavor that I eagerly await. Avant Guardians offers a comfort in knowing that there are guardian angels who care so much about protecting and guiding that they attend therapy to improve their performance.  On the other hand, it saddens me to know that outside of the support of their presence, that they too are limited by heavenly governance and challenged by evil colleagues.  

Watch the first episode of Avant Guardians below:

MJ VanDevere

MJ VanDevere is a doctoral candidate at a predominately white elite institution in the South who uses humor to combat racism, sexism, and all the other –isms that seek to diminish her greatness. She is a self-proclaimed “stand-up snob” who does not have a favorite comedian, so please don't ask unless you have several hours to spare. Some of her favorite movies include, Life, Dead Presidents, and Happy Feet. If, she could only do one thing for the rest of her life, it would definitely be laugh, and maybe write. Adulting is her greatest work in progress.

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