Having perfectly parodied present day suburbia with The Simpsons and skillfully satirised sci-fi with Futurama, the medieval fantasy and fairy tale setting of Matt Groening’s latest series, Disenchantment, seems like the natural progression.
The series follows the misadventures of booze-loving princess of Dreamland, Bean (Abbi Jacobson) as she battles with the usual problems of teen angst and rebellion. Joining her are friendly, if not a little naive, magical elf Elfo (Nat Faxon) and wisecracking evil demon Luci (Eric Andre). The three make a triumphant trio, complementing each other well and leaving room to bounce off one another, but there is definitely scope for further development.
There’s a whole plethora of supporting characters, all hilarious caricatures of the tropes we so often see in other fantasy works, namely global sensation Game of Thrones. Notable roles include the court wizard whose magic extends as far as cheap card tricks and King Zøg (Joe DiMaggio, most known for playing Bender in Futurama), one part Robert Baratheon-esque tyrant and one part overprotective Dad. Additional voices are provided by Matt Berry, Noel Fielding and Rich Fulcher, who not only inject a hint of British wit, but also provide some goofy Mighty Boosh voices to match the goofiness happening on screen.
It would be easy to draw parallels to some of Groening’s previous creations but this is just testament to his expert eye for archetypes, with the show’s unique setting providing enough of a change of scenery to keep things interesting. The much loved casts of Futurama and The Simpsons have the advantage of nostalgia and years of established content and arcs so, despite some welcome Groeningisms, Disenchantment works best when not compared to its predecessors.
Like its central cast, Disenchantment wonderfully lampoons the fantasy genre by mocking common tropes and themes, as opposed to resorting to cheap throwbacks and references. The humour is notably goofier than other animations we’ve seen in recent years but this is partly due to the unrelatable and generally bizarre settings. Not as “faux-intelligent” as Rick and Morty or emotionally hard hitting as Bojack Horseman, Disenchantment falls squarely in the realm of fun and light hearted classic cartoon, a genre that many may find somewhat outdated.
This cartoony tone works best when the show is acting on a “monster of the week” basis, with the overarching plots and emotional moments in later episodes often falling flat. The writing doesn’t have nearly enough depth at the moment, made worse by the fact that the characters haven’t been with us long enough for the audience to gain any real attachment. This is partly due to Netflix’s platform, with binging audiences watching all at once and, quite rightly, wanting immediate gratification, as opposed to tuning in once a week for half an hour of silly shenanigans.
The quality of the show’s jokes is also hindered by Netflix’s platform. Writing for a six o’clock evening TV slot means restrictions, meaning writers would need to cleverly hide any potentially risque gags or euphemisms. The result was that shows like The Simpsons and Futurama combined family friendly slapstick with more subtle adult orientated jokes, resulting in widespread appeal. Disenchantment has no such restrictions. Although no more vulgar in content than Groenings previous entries, Disenchantment is far more explicit, potentially alienating younger audiences and hindering the shows overall popularity.
Despite still finding its legs, Disenchantment shows genuine potential to be another great addition to Groening’s roster. The setting and characters offer enough charm and variety for the show to have real longevity, albeit with a few minor tweaks. No doubt this will be easier once the audience has a greater familiarity and understanding of Dreamland and its inhabitants. All in all, a promising first season.
Image Credit: Movie DB.