The prospect of a new show from The Simpsons and Futurama creator Matt Groening is certainly one of those no-brainer ideas that surely everyone can get on board with. The Simpsons’ golden age may have long since faded into memory, but the final seasons of Futurama certainly proved that Groening and his team were still able to deliver the goods when it came to high-concept comedy, oodles of strong character development and a few moments of genuine emotion and pathos to boot. Thus, expectations are truly high for Disenchantment, an animated fantasy comedy in the Game of Thrones mould, that promises to put that unique Groening spin on the fantasy genre.
Off the bat with the first couple of episodes, things are not quite up to the standard of Groening’s previous shows. The adventures of alcoholic no-hoper Princess Bean (Abbi Jacobson), her demonic companion Luci (Eric Andre) and infatuated elf Elfo (Nat Faxon) deliver a decent amount of laughs per episode, but there remains a nagging feeling throughout that the whole shebang could be miles better then it initially is.
Being a Netflix show, the creators have fewer restrictions in terms of content or running times to adhere to. Whereas on Futurama and The Simpsons, where the creative team were forced to come up with clever ways to avoid the censors and tell the stories they wanted within a strict 20-minute timeframe, Disenchantment isn’t beholden to such rules. Consequently, the less-disciplined approach, whilst undeniably refreshing, does result in a somewhat saggier final product. There are solid ideas throughout and plenty of decent gags (many of them truly hilarious), but there is a distinct lack of pace and creative discipline in the first few episodes that jars more than it should.
However, the characters (both main and supporting) come fully formed, each distinct and charming in their own way, which lends the show much of the laughs. Bean is a great, well-meaning but fallible protagonist in the Homer/Fry mould (though afforded a greater deal of intelligence then they ever were), Elfo fulfils the dimwitted, loveable idiot role without becoming annoying, and the disturbingly cynical and slightly-evil-in-a-fun-way Luci swiftly marks himself out as the show’s best and most consistently funny character within just under two minutes.
It’s in the show’s second half that things begin to hit their stride, as a more complex arc plot begins to rear itself. It’s not uncommon for most Netflix animated comedies to avoid hitting the reset button after every episode and let their characters grow, but within a Matt Groening show, it still feels fresh, new and exciting. The beginnings of the serialised story, one which promises to evolve and grow with each subsequent season, lends the final few episodes plenty of weight (and a greater collection of laughs), which certainly begins to quell any doubts the viewer may have already developed. It’s equally worth remembering that both The Simpsons and Futurama possessed plenty of growing pains during their initial seasons, no more so than those that Disenchantment possesses.
All in all, Disenchantment may not be hitting its stride just yet, but there is plenty of promise in this first season. The writing is chock full of wit, the performances perfection, and the quality of the artwork and animation is gorgeous, especially the painted backgrounds. With events set up nicely for an altogether different and intriguing second season, the show may still have plenty more miles to go on its epic quest for television greatness, but it’s earlier stumbles seem well behind it.
Dir: Dwayne Carey-Hill, Frank Marino, Wes Archer, David D. Au, Ira Sherak, Albert Calleros, Peter Avanzino, Brian Sheesley
Scr: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, David X. Cohen, Rich Fulcher, Jeff Rowe, Reid Harrison, Eric Horstead, Jeny Batten & M. Dickson, Patric Verrone, Shion Takeuchi, Bill Oakley
Cast: Abbi Jacobson, Nat Faxon, Eric Andre, John DiMaggio, Sharon Horgan, Matt Berry, Tress MacNeill, David Herman, Lucy Montgomery, Maurice LaMarche, Billy West
Runtime: 300 mins approx
Disenchantment – Season One is available to stream now on Netflix