Matt Groening created the most successful sitcoms of all time. “The Simpsons” is the longest running show ever, and “Futurama” became a cult phenomenon despite multiple cancellations. Enter Disenchantment, a medieval adventure comedy with a dark tone and thematic sight gags. The first Netflix season is out, and here’s our spoiler free review.
After watching through season one, there’s several important things to note about the series, first it is no Simpsons, second, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Despite the aesthetic similarities to Groening’s other work, Disenchantment is not, I repeat, NOT a sitcom. Though the series is undoubtedly a comedy, it is more adventure than anything. But before we get into what the show isn’t lets talk about what it is.
The Netflix format is made to be binged watched, and an adventure story like Disenchantment works well in that format. The pacing is slower, with a greater focus on world building and exposition than laughs per minute. At first the art style is a little jarring. The Groening style is culturally ingrained in our minds as funny, but a lot of Disenchantment is cinematic camera angles and dark, epic storytelling. There’s details in the background, and that nuance helps you forgive the jokes that fall flat. Of which there are a few, Disenchantment is still going through some growing pains. But after a few episodes I found myself embracing the weirdness. There’s a willingness to subvert convention in the show, and often that bohemian approach will leave the viewer surprised. I was legitimately interested in the dysfunctional world of Dreamland.
There’s a lot to see in background and foreground jokes, and the sweeping camera angles are a seamless blend of 2d and 3d animation. Re-watching episodes gives a greater appreciation for these visual details, but also brings the occasional bad joke even more into focus. Visually, Disenchantment is bright and beautiful, which is surprising given the predominately dark tones of the story and characters.
The main protagonist of the series, voiced by Abbi Jacobson. Bean is an alcoholic princess trying to cope with her daddy, mommy, and general impulse control issues. She’s sexually frustrated due to the fact her father, King Zog, executes anyone who so much as looks at her. (Literally in the first episode, so not a spoiler.) While her hedonistic tendencies are a refreshing shot in the arm to the princess trope, it becomes predictable after awhile. Jacobson does a good job of humanizing the character during moments when Bean has to make important decisions, but the joke delivery is hit and miss.
-Luci the Demon-
At the beginning of the show Princess Bean is cursed with a Demon named Luci, whose sole mission is to corrupt the princess in an attempt to eventually steal her soul. Though Luci provides many of the series best jokes, Eric Andre’s colorful character voices look strange coming from a flat silhouette. After watching a season you get accustomed to it, especially when Andre starts to settle down and give Luci a more cynical tone rather than trying to be an evil Robin Williams. Luci acts as the Bender equivalent of the show, being consistently evil with rare moments of redemption.
-Elfo the Elf –
The only Elf with a desire to feel miserable, Elfo leaves Elfwood to experience misery. Spoiler alert, he succeeds, the high pitched voice of Nat Faxon makes Elfo’s every appearance a form of misery for the audience. Most of the jokes that fall flat do so because of Elfo’s influence, instead of being the good shoulder angel to balance out Luci, Elfo devolves quickly into being the hapless idiot, without any endearing innocence since he loses it very early in the show. The inconsistency of his character becomes an issue, Elfo left Elfwood to experience misery, but then starts complaining when he finds it. In one episode Elfo has a panic attack from telling a little white lie, and two episodes later there’s an entire plot revolving around him maintaining a complicated lie about a fake girlfriend. His romance with Princess Bean feels forced and entirely unnecessary, not to mention a little awkward and creepy. He’s by far the weakest part of the show, but it is difficult to say whether the fault is solely on the obnoxious voice acting, or the poor character development.
Bean’s father and an obsessive, narcissistic royal tyrant, King Zog is voiced by the incomparable John Dimaggio. He plays the “evil king” role so well its endearing, but he feels wasted on the role. His gravely performance manages to be warm in the right moments, and his comedic delivery is the most consistently funny of the cast. His involvement in the show makes me question why they didn’t cast him as one of the main three, but fear of him overshadowing the rest of the cast was likely a concern.
Disenchantment is a slow burning fire. It has the potential to be groundbreaking, but it has to make some improvements first. Jokes not landing is a forgivable crime when committed sporadically. Now that the premiere season is out of the way, Groening and his team can focus on tightening up the loose screws. The show is at its best when the audience is in suspense of Bean’s choices, at which point even the most low hanging fruit and slapstick sight gags relieve tension and illicit laughter. None of that comedic relief can happen if it is undermined by predictability.
The biggest offender of monotony is the ham-fisted romance between Elfo and Bean. The bold choice to have a raunchy princess protagonist is completely undermined by putting her in a mandatory relationship devoid of chemistry with an obnoxious love interest. Elfo and Bean will never be as good as Homer and Marge, or Fry and Lila, Disenchantment needs to stop trying to be something its not. If Groening can shake off the last chains of convention that is Elfo and Bean’s crotch-less fling, the show can blaze its own trail, without standing in the shadows as an imitation of Groening’s greats.
What did you think of the show? Are you hoping for season 2?
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Until next time, GG