Staring: Abbi Jacobson, Nat Faxon, Eric André
Creator: Matt Groening
A review by Brooke Ali
Disenchantment tries to do for the fantasy genre what Futurama did for science fiction. We start with our protagonist, rough, hard-drinking Princess Bean (Abbi Jacobson, Broad City, Bojack Horseman) who doesn’t quite fit into her role as Princess of Dreamland, or as a woman in medieval fantasy land. She’d rather be getting into bar fights than acting as a head of state. On her intended wedding day, she meets a demon, Luci (Eric André, Don’t Trust the B—— in Apartment 23, The Eric Andre Show), and an elf, Elfo (Nat Faxon, Friends from College, Married), who helps her escape her princessly duty.
The show is written by a mix of veteran Team Groening writers and fresh blood, and it shows. There’s the solid humour and copious sight gags you’ve come to expect from The Simpsons and Futurama creators but, like their predecessors, it’s taking a bit to really find its stride. The show runs at 27 minutes, already 5 minutes longer than its network TV counterparts, but the first episode is 35 minutes and feels it, especially since the pilot ends in a literal cliffhanger that continues to the next episode, so there wasn’t really a need to front-load the show. It’s as if they felt they needed the extra time to introduce the world, forgetting that the viewer doesn’t have to wait a week to see more. I wish they’d had the confidence to pace things out more slowly instead of cramming lots of places, characters, and edginess into the pilot.
Despite this, they make good use of Netflix’s bingeable format. On network television, they needed to, as Lisa Simpson once put it, “ride it out, make an occasional smart-aleck quip, and by next week we’ll be back where we started from, ready for another wacky adventure.” Here, knowing the audience can watch the entire first season in an afternoon, they don’t have to reset the stage each episode. They can focus on a longer story arch, give actions consequences, and carry changes into future episodes. Most importantly, they can give characters the ability to learn and grow.
Bean is a complicated character, who I found hard to like at first. She constantly complains about her lack of freedom, only to spend what freedom she does have getting stupid drunk and committing crimes. She ends up coming across as a spoiled brat, acting out just to get her father’s attention. Luci and Elfo act as her Id and Super Ego respectively. She hardly needs the encouragement from Luci and Elfo quickly becomes cheerfully corrupted by the pair (and his will they/won’t they attraction to Bean). I started to wonder if a protagonist like that could carry a show since it tends to work better as a side character with lots of counterbalances. But as the show went on, Bean started to exhibit more character growth that makes me hopeful for the rest of the series.
Bean’s father, King Zøg, is voiced by the talented John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time with Finn & Jake) who combines the boorishness of Bender and Archie Bunker to create his character. Other Team Groening alumn like Billy West, Maurice LeMarche, David Herman, and Tress MacNeille bring a lot of comfortable familiarity to this new world. You’ll notice familiar Groening archetypes scattered throughout the world, but it lands just shy of feeling recycled. And, as Groening has done since the beginning of his career, the show rewards detailed watching. The episode titles that are spoofs on film titles (“Faster, Princess! Kill! Kill!”). The cheeky throw-away jokes you only notice on repeat viewing. And, of course, the sign game is on point (”Runoff Springs Health Spa: Thirstiest Leeches in Town,” “Little Orphan Annex: Everyone must go!”). We were only given the first 7 of the season’s ten episodes to watch. I’m left eager to see how the season ends.
Watch it! Despite a slightly shaky start, Disenchantment is a solid contribution to Groening’s body of work. It’s full of his trademark comedy style. The new world he and his team have created provide lots of fertile new ground for them, and us, to explore