Matt Groening is back, did you realise? Old mate from The Simpsons and Futurama has a new show on Netflix called Disenchantment and it’s pretty decent. Some of the early reviews weren’t fantastic but that’s what you get when you try judge an entire show on the basis of a handful of episodes. Sceptical though people may be given the current state of The Simpsons, this one goes good, Groening’s right back in the shining light, a real return to form.
Although, to be fair… did Matt Groening lose form with The Simpsons or did The Simpsons simply outlive its own potential? There’s a reason it’s the longest running scripted television show in American history (and it’s not even close) – TV isn’t supposed to last this long. But The Simpsons cultivated such a well-designed world with such a vast array of instantly recognisable characters – not to mention universal acclaim – that it could afford to coast off into cultural irrelevance whilst still making money.
Because say what you will about the utter trash that The Simpsons has become* but the absolute genius of the first… eight? ten? twelve?... seasons leaves it beyond reproach. Like, you can always just not watch the new stuff. And you can always always watch the old stuff, it ain’t going anywhere. And, bloody, what about Futurama? Futurama was superb. What an incredible show that was. Love me some Futurama.
*(The last new release episode I watched was a few years back after an illegally streamed NFL game on Fox and it involved Homer getting kidnapped by aliens and held in a zoo on their home planet and it wasn’t even a Treehouse of Horror episode – I’ve never bothered since, it was too much of a betrayal)
Ah but that’s a full on discussion for another day. Point being that Matt Groening has a new show called Disenchantment. Centres around a nineteen year old bucktoothed princess called Bean who maybe drinks a bit too much and constantly clashes with her father (King Zøg) within the kingdom of Dreamland. Her best friends are an elf called Elfo and a demon called Luci. Together they embark on hilarious adventures.
At the time of writing we’re looking at a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 57%, which is enough to be considered a disappointment considering the pedigree of Matt Groening. The ratings were a lot better but those early reviews have killed the buzz a little. If I’m honest, the first couple episodes are a little heavy on the character establishment, which has probably affected a few of the middling reviews. The Simpsons was contemporary, Futurama was set in the future and now Disenchantment is ostensibly set in the past – albeit a Game of Thrones-esque fantasy past. As such it takes a fair bit of work to figure out the rules here and, just as ‘future science’ allowed Futurama to play with the boundaries of believability, here they have the same drama with sorcery and magical creatures. It takes a second. There are plenty of laughs in the early episodes but they don’t necessarily come easy as might be expected of show like this.
It takes a few episodes to find its feet. All I can say is that by the time things take a dramatic shift in the last three episodes (another reason to be wary of the snap judgement reviews), you’re pretty invested in these folks. Or at least I was. Not only the rambunctious Bean and her complimentary buddies but, in true Groening fashion, the extended world of characters. The sorcerer (Sorcerio) and the third-eyed prime minister (Odval). Zøg himself with his mumbling and bumbling. Minor figures like The Herald, Bunty and that hooker Fairy (you’ll know these references when you watch it). The show isn’t there yet, ten episodes isn’t a huge amount when, unlike Groening’s previous two hits, we’re also dealing with some subtle overarching storylines… but the groundwork is being laid out beneath all that.
Disenchantment was released as ten eps to begin with. That split sample size has its advantages but it’s also got a lot to do with the misinterpretation of this whole thing. Just as the show is settling into a nice rhythm it goes and ramps things up with a few call-backs to clues littered through the early episodes. There’s nothing wrong with the show in its more serious state but, yeah, it is a rather dramatic shift that goes on in the final three episodes, leaving the half-season at something of a cliff hanger (the first episode literally ends in a cliff hanger too). You’d have to figure that it stabilises in the long run, in fact I’m immensely confident that it will.
That expository stuff’s important to creating a show with longevity in a crowded telly landscape, no doubt about it. But it has to be said that I preferred Disenchantment at its more casual rhythm with Bean doing something mildly rebellious and then learning a happy lesson by the end of it. Nothing risky at all about that, nothing ground-breaking either, but it was fun. It was funny. And the eighth episode, where a plot twist allowed Disenchantment to really explore its wider universe, was probably the funniest of all (the laughing horse, the earnest griffin, the stealthy knight… good times). It’s just that switching the tone of the show so swiftly maybe shook a few people up.
You know what though? Futurama and The Simpsons both started with some very serious, almost depressing takes too. While Disenchantment begins leaning heavily on split-family dynamics and emotional rebellion, you’ve gotta remember that Futurama began with Fry realising all his friends were centuries dead and Bender was trying to kill himself in a suicide booth while The Simpsons’ first ever episode involved Homer and Bart ending up at the racetrack trying to find a way to fund a financially bankrupt Christmas for their family. Both started slow and heavy, each soon found their feet. Disenchantment is still in the slow and heavy stages, albeit with a few glimpses of a glorious future to follow. That’s what you’ve gotta hang your hat on.
Where Disenchantment hits its marks immediately is with an almost unparalleled cast of voice talent. Abbi Jacobson of Broad City legendary status voices Bean, our main character. Needless to say, she’s superb. Eric Andre is also great as Luci the demon (often mistaken for a cat). Cartoon icons Maurice LaMarche (Brain from Pinky and the Brain!) is there, so is Billy West (various voices in Futurama and Ren & Stimpy). English magicians Matt Berry and Noel Fielding have little cameos. Plus, mate, the animation is remarkable. Such a beautiful show to look at.
There are ten more episodes guaranteed, probably to premiere early next year but that’s just a guess. Chances are it gets picked up for more with the positive ratings numbers it’s gotten so far. I really hope so because I can foresee a future not all that far away where this is a bloody excellent show. It’s already close, I highly doubt I’m alone in smashing out that first half-season. A little more refinement and stability is all it’s going to take and forget about the muppets who made up their minds after four episodes.
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