The Shivering Truth Review
Adult Swim’s dark, disturbing new anthology series will swallow you whole and reshape your mind. We are not worthy.
“And that’s my message to you: No one cares.”
There’s an iconic episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where the gang is about to put on a risky performance. “Laughs are easy,” a character remarks. “I’m going for gasps.” There are many shows on Adult Swim that have made me laugh, but The Shivering Truth is one of the extreme few that has made me gasp. It also made me involuntarily moan, “Dear Lord.” It made me actually sick to my stomach and groan. It also made me cry a whole bunch. The Shivering Truth is the kind of television that you’d use to break someone’s mind and we are so very fortunate to have it in our lives.
It’s upsetting how good this show is. It’s absolutely one of the best things that I’ve ever seen in my life—not just on television—but anywhere. It feels like if Allejandro Jodorowsky or William Burroughs were staff writers on Tales of the Unexpected. You genuinely feel unsafe while you watch this program and are completely at its mercy, so just let it burrow into your brain and lay its enlightenment eggs. The series’ pilot got a lot of people’s attention at last year’s Sundance and it’s not hard to see why. The Shivering Truth comes from Vernon Chatman, Cat Solen, and the lunatics at PFFR and it deals with the lofty, universal themes of order and chaos that have always been a staple and fascination of their work.
The Shivering Truth presents Twilight Zone-style anthology storytelling that opens the can of worms on topics that have eternally plagued humanity, like life, death, and the purpose of existence. The series can take extensive detours on these topics, but every episode also manages to distill the series’ distinct point of view into a brief cold open that speaks to the versatility of the show. The show is definitely very nihilistic and presents damnation as an equivalent to salvation, but it simultaneously also delivers some of the most beautiful things that you’ll see on TV.
Sometimes The Shivering Truth allows a brilliantly twisted idea to grow and be explored to great lengths and other entries just focus on a disturbing centerpiece. In either case the series presents surprising, memorable images that you will absolutely not find in any other series on television. A man who births the entire solar system with his misguided ejaculate, a supernatural game of peek-a-boo, and self-bleeding clothes are just a tease at some of the ultra high-concept radical ideas that the series ricochets between. The fact that there’s no set structure to the episodes only makes the experiment more captivating.
The Shivering Truth loosely connects its stories and ideas through characters, emotions, and themes, but it’s really more concerned about creating a feeling in the audience and not worrying about the rest. There’s an extremely precise nature to the writing and plotting, but even without any of that it’s hard to deny that the series makes you feel something. The Shivering Truth wants to lower your defenses and dissect and reconstruct your mind in the weirdest way possible and it gets pretty damn close to this goal. Another major selling point for this show is that it feels like the closest that PFFR and Vernon Chatman have gotten to the sheer existential gangbang of the mind that was Xavier: Renegade Angel. The Shivering Truth operates with a frenetic speed and style that’s very reminiscent of Xavier, but it arguably pushes this extreme style even further.
It’s quite incredible to see this exhaustive, creative mentality that was so crude in Xavier now presented in such a poetic way. This is an exceptionally dark show, but it almost feels like “Wes Anderson Meets PFFR” due to its sprawling beauty and presentation style. The narrative moves in a stream of consciousness nature, but all of its unbelievable stories make sense. It’s a series that’s so dense in jokes that you need to watch each episode several times to truly catch everything that it throws at you.
Anthology shows are still experiencing a boom that’s allowed them to get more ambitious with their storytelling and while programs like Inside No. 9 and Room 104 are making important strides for the genre, The Shivering Truth is still on a whole other level. The Shivering Truth and Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories are the only real horror efforts on Adult Swim and this is the stronger of the two programs. The series nails it in every single department and still amounts for one of the weirdest cocktails of creativity that’s out there. Just one glance at this program and you’ll be hooked. Rick and Morty was recently given a 70-episode renewal, but this is the show that truly needs to go on for that many installments. The Shivering Truth deserves to outlast us all. We are its food and we are better for it, so let’s all bathe in its everlasting light of love.
Adult Swim’s The Shivering Truth will burrow into your brain when it premieres December 9th at midnight (ET) with back-to-back episodes. You can read our interview with creator Vernom Chatman here.
This review is based on the pilot and all six quarter-hour episodes from The Shivering Truth’s first season.
Daniel Kurland is a published writer, comedian, and critic whose work can be read on Den of Geek, Vulture, Bloody Disgusting, and ScreenRant. Daniel knows that the owls are not what they seem, that Psycho II is better than the original, and he’s always game to discuss Space Dandy. His perma-neurotic thought process can be followed at @DanielKurlansky.