Oh hey! Matt Groening invented a new series set in a fantasy land! Being as how I loved Futurama (his scifi comedy series) and love fantasy, surely this will be great!
Spoiler free review: It’s not bad – but then even Simpsons and Futurama had rough first seasons. If you generally enjoy Groening’s work then I’d say give this a try. If you watch the first one or two episodes and like it or think “not bad” then stick with it, it does steadily improve over the 10 episode run. If you don’t find anything you like in there, then it probably won’t get any better.
Now I’m not going to go out of my way to spoil it, but I might slip up and do so in the following, so SPOILER WARNING HERE.
So I LOVE Futurama. A lot. I would buy a jersey of it right now if I had the money. Two of them even! And part of it is that I could tell the people working on that show had a legitimate love for science and science fiction – which is probably due to some of the writing staff having legit math Ph.Ds.
I will be legit surprised to learn that anybody on the Disenchantment writing staff has any kind of degree in medieval history. (no really, if you find this info, leave it here as I would like to be surprised) For one thing there are a lot of jokes that revolve around chronological snobbery. The joke of “ha ha these people don’t have the benefit of the knowledge we have thanks to their lifetimes of work and effort” just doesn’t land for me. What also doesn’t work are jokes about religion when you set up your worldbuilding to have fairies, elves, and literal demons inhabiting it. Now Land Vikings? That’s funny.
Other jokes just get plain nonsensical, especially the more you know about the period. Let’s take an example: at one point the main character gets thrown out of the castle and ends up staying with her servant. Ok, a good set up for comedy. Well the lady and her husband are shown as one of those with the overly-large family – literally I cannot tell you how many children they are shown to have in that house off the top of my head (it is enough to field a major league baseball team). But then elsewhere in the series there’s also jokes made about orgies and wild parties (with the sex implied). You know, in a world without birth control or reliable medical treatment, people are going to be a bit prudish just for survival. The servant with her plentiful children should be the norm. Ironically I don’t recall ever seeing her go to one of those parties (unless I missed her in the background) which would at least explain how she got the kids. If anything a couple times she’s shown to be straightlaced and a bit prudish – as if the show is implying that not having sex is how you get kids. (is that the joke?)
Let’s take another joke. At one point in an episode a town crier is doing the cliche “X o’clock and all’s well!” stroll through town, only after his cry he begins to amend it adding complaints about diseases and poverty and the other problems the world is having until one of the citizens yells at him. As a joke goes? Eh. But just imagine turning the joke around. What if after the crier said “all’s well” the citizens started interjecting with their many various problems? “I’ve got the plague!” “I lost my kid!” “I shit in a pot!” etc etc The punchline then would be the crier having to amend his shout to get everyone to leave him alone.
There are plenty of avenues to make jokes about with fantasy worlds and tropes. Elfo (who for the longest time I thought was named “Alfo”) being an elf (Keebler not Tolkien) who is naive about the world is the best source of humor. Though there are still times they miss what I think are great payoffs. Like in one episode Elfo lies about a girlfriend, only for the knights in the castle to actually find a giant fitting his description. Hilarious but the joke doesn’t go much further other than a later revelation that she has a master’s degree. What if he actually fell for the giant? What if they tried having a relationship for awhile? There’s some great potential humor there. It’s easy to compare this to Monty Python & the Holy Grail or Princess Bride which are two of the best fantasy comedies ever. Even Monty Python – which did have some chronological snobbery in it – still knew how to deliver those jokes to make them funny. And sometimes it even went the other way, like the peasant Dennis sketch (which has the joke of modern day sensibilities shoved into a context they don’t work in) or the police officers.
By far the strongest part of it all are the characters, but they still feel weaker than those in Matt’s other shows. For one, the main character is a hard drinking, hard fighting princess. I remember when that was an original idea 20 years ago, but of late, that’s the cliche for princesses. In the first episode she gets a personal demon named “Luci” who rounds out our trio. The problem is… the princess is already such a degenerate I don’t really see what Luci adds to the ensemble. A couple of times they try to play it off with Luci being the devil on the shoulder while Elfo is supposed to be the “angel” but given his naivete, Elfo never comes close to persuading the princess to do anything. So then there’s not much to keep interest as the princess is ready to do what the demon wants – more than once the joke is that she does it before he can even try to tempt her. I’d say it would have been much better had Luci been a guardian angel trying to coax the princess into doing good – and driven to drink because of it. The show does finally get more interesting – and humorous, when the princess finally starts to shape up and try to get her life in order. It is debatable whether this arc takes too long to realize or was it necessary.
There’s enough of a solid core to the show that I will watch it some more before giving up. Here’s hoping it improves because I want to like this show.