Disenchantment is not only the latest ‘Netflix Original’ series, but it’s also the newest project from The Simpsons creator Matt Groening. Despite the many times previews of Disenchantment auto-played when you were just trying to binge-watch Bake-Off for the eightieth time this week, overall hype for the show was low, possibly due to either the rate at which the endless stream of Netflix Originals flows these days, or due to the lackluster quality of the later episodes of Groening’s previous animated shows, The Simpsons and Futurama. Before giving it a go I wondered if Disenchantment would be Groening’s American Dad, a surprisingly good sister show, especially when its creator leaves it to more talented producers, or his Cleveland Show, a soulless spin-off designed to drain more money from your ever dwindling followers. But Disenchantment isn’t competing with the works of Seth MacFarlane, or even Matt Groening, it’s competing with other shows and films on the behemoth that is Netflix: so is it worth your time to give Disenchantment a shot, or is it time for your nine-hundredth re-watch of Breaking Bad?
Well, in short, yes.
Disenchantment, if you didn’t know, is an animated series, executive-produced by Matt Groening, set in a Dungeons & Dragons-esque fantasy world. The show follows Princess Bean (played by Abbi Jacobson, Broad City), her personal demon Luci (Eric Andre, The Eric Andre Show) and magical elf Elfo (Nat Faxon, Ben and Kate) as they drink, do drugs, adventure in Dreamland and try to find their place in the world. They also drink quite a bit. Rounding out the cast are Groening-series veterans John DiMaggio as King Zog, Tress MacNeille as Queen Oona, Maurice LaMarche as Prime Minister Odval and Billy West as Sorcerio. There’s also a bit of a Mighty Boosh/Snuff Box feel to the cast, as Rich Fulcher, Matt Berry and Noel Fielding all have recurring roles in the show.
The problem with being advertised as the next creation from the mind behind The Simpsons and Futurama is that the viewer immediately begins judging Disenchantment with its much beloved predecessors. While that line, around which most of the advertising focused, may draw viewers in, it gives the show a lot to live up to. While the most-recent series of Futurama and The Simpsons were…just not good, that’s not what people remember when they think of those shows, they think of the best of the best – they think of the dizzying highs, not the terrifying lows or even the creamy middles – so Disenchantment had to hit it out of the park from episode one to stand a chance of coming off favourably.
And it didn’t.
The first few episodes of the show are alright, but only that. They’re certainly not bad, and definitely not Futurama movie or Simpsons after Season 10 or so levels of bad, but they’re not great. The first three or so episodes really do have Groening’s fingerprints on them, with an odd off-beat humour to them. It’s really hard, especially with the setting of the show, to fairly compare this to early Simpsons, as it doesn’t provide the same opportunities for biting satire or deep, relatable emotional moments – everyone has been a sad little girl or a disappointed 10-year old boy, but not everyone has been a drunk princess, a lovelorn elf or a mischievous demon, so it’s too much to ask of the fantasy show to hit the mark set by the Simpsons in the mid-late 90s. Futurama, however, is a much more comparable show, especially with producer David X. Cohen at the helm of both shows.
At the time of writing 10 episodes have been released, and though the show isn’t bad in its opening three or four episodes, it really picks up steam in the latter half of its run to date. The binge-friendly platform of Netflix really helps the show, as I can’t imagine some of the contiguous story beats or running jokes working as well in the traditional episodic television format. As much as I derided them above, the Futurama films – Bender’s Big Score, The Beast With a Billion Backs, Bender’s Game and Into the Wild Green Yonder – offer the easiest comparison in Groening’s back catalog, with the main difference that Disenchantment is actually, consistently, good.
The animation is smooth throughout, and the character design is undeniably Groening-esque. The voice acting is great, if a little distracting at times – people like West and DiMaggio have range, but rely on similar-sounding voices to those used in Futurama, for instance, and people like Matt Berry have too iconic a voice for their own good, and can take you out of the show at times. The writing is snappy, and the best in a Groening show in a decade. It’s funny, witty, and doesn’t rely on referential humour like a lot of its contemporaries – don’t get me wrong, there are a few nods, winks and fourth-wall breaking jokes scattered throughout, but it isn’t as hopelessly relied upon like it is in modern episodes of The Simpsons, for instance.
Netflix does a lot of things right, but one thing it seemingly always does wrong is promoting its shows. Ads and previews of Disenchantment wanted to make me avoid the show at all costs, as they have done for shows like Sense8 or Big Mouth before it. At 27 minutes per episode (roughly) Disenchantment is more than worth your time. Netflix has already commissioned ten more episodes of the show, and I guarantee that, if you loved Futurama in particular, by the after-credits scene of the final episode you’ll be hooked.
While it certainly stumbled out of the blocks, by the time the finishing line was crossed it had reached a respectable final place – or whatever sporting metaphor you’d prefer. If this was a traditional week-to-week show I might say give it a skip, catch it later when you have time, but having the entire run of the show (to date) at your finger tips, it’s an instant watch. One to bump to the top of your to-watch list for sure.
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