Liam Hoofe reviews the first season of Disenchantment…
Matt Groening’s latest TV series, Disenchantment, arrived on Netflix this past Friday, and needless to say, expectations were high.
The last new show Groening gave us was Futurama, which first aired back in 1999, meaning fans have been waiting quite some time for this. Whereas Futurama dealt with the future, and The Simpsons is set in the present, Disenchantment sees Groening and co-creator Josh Weinstein take a journey into a fictitious past.
Disenchantment is set in Dreamland, a medieval kingdom occupied by all sorts of weird and wonderful characters. The lead character, Bean, is a rebellious young princess who spends the majority of the season trying to break away from her father and carve a path for herself in life, as unconventional as that may be. She soon finds herself being accompanied on her various adventures by Elvo, an Elf who has escaped his own hidden kingdom, and Luci, a personal demon who she receives as a mysterious wedding gift.
Comparisons to Groening’s previous works are inevitable, so let’s get the biggest question out of the way first- is Disenchantment as good as The Simpsons or Futurama? No, but that isn’t to say that the show isn’t without its merits. Netflix is a very different beast to work with than network television, and the less restrictive environment has both positive and negative impacts on the show. Netflix’s less restrained ratings mean that Groening can dabble with the darker side of his humour much more, and while this can create some tonal issues at times, it does mean that the show can deal with more adult issues in a way that the other two couldn’t. However, like most Netflix shows, Disenchantment is serialised, which means that each episode much end on some sort of cliffhanger. The show is designed to be binge-watched, and that does damage the bigger story at times.
That being said, the show is also incredibly watchable. While Groening has taken his humour to a darker place, he has also played things fairly safe, and his trademark style is on full display. The characters have the classic Groening trademarks- big eyes, overbite, whacky hair and loose limbs, and Dreamland itself is beautifully realised. The show features some stunning animation, and Groening’s attention to detail means that Dreamland quickly becomes a key part of the show. The show’s darker materials do mean that the show is not likely to be as pleasing to both children and adults in the way same that The Simpsons is though.
Things do get off to a bit of a rocky start, and the show’s three protagonists do take some warming to. The opening few episodes feel a little haphazard, and the relationships between the characters don’t feel fully earned. In fact, it takes the show a full seven episodes to really deliver any sort of emotional pay-off. The final three episodes of the season, however, show real signs of promise and really provide the show, and the characters, with a sense of direction. Groening has never really worked with overarching narratives in his previous shows, and there are clearly some growing pains here. Once the show manages to get all of its pieces together though, it really does manage to deliver, and the season finale promises interesting things from the show going forward.
One of the show’s biggest strengths, like with Groening’s other work, is the voice work. John DiMaggio, who voiced Bender in Futurama, is an absolute blast as King Zog, while Abbi Jacobson, Eric Andre and Nat Faxon, who voice the show’s three main characters, are all welcome additions to the Groening family. All the voice performers have great comic timing, and their performances really add to the characters, especially when the script is a little bit lacking in the early stages. Groening’s characters always come equipped with plenty of charm, and while it is not instantly apparent in Disenchantment, you will find yourself rooting for them come the final episode.
Verdict: While Disenchantment is not without its flaws, it is still early days for the show and it shows more than enough promise looking forward, especially in its final three episodes. It’s worth remembering that BoJack Horseman, one of Netflix’s flagship animations, didn’t really find its feet until the second season, and with Matt Groening in the driving seat, there is still plenty of time for Disenchantment to become one of Netflix’s best animations.
Liam Hoofe – @liamhoofe