*This is a spoiler free review of the first four episodes of Disenchantment’s debut season*
From the creator of Futurama and The Simpsons comes a new series exclusively for Netflix, Disenchantment. A young princess named Bean struggles against the expectations of royalty, her overbearing father and the general feeling of aimlessness most young people are cursed with. Joining her is Elfo, who is an elf, and her guardian demon, Luci. The three embark on adventures around her kingdom and home, Dreamland.
The first four episodes were fairly funny, though not without scenes that could have used the sound of crickets as a score. The plots, despite the fantasy setting of the series, are not as remarkable as one would hope. The series biggest strength is the characters, though not all them are as fully realized as the writers may have hoped.
Bean is a young princess who has become disenchanted with the predestined path her life is to take, something evident from the beginning of the series’ first episode. Not the usual princess many viewers would be accustomed toward seeing – Bean is an alcoholic, prone to trouble and is still in the process of figuring out her morals. Her real enemies seem to be youth and a lack of experience. Complex and well written, with some impressive voice-work to boot, she is a fantastic lead for this series.
Her compatriots vary in terms of interest, though each one does compliment Bean’s journey thus far in the series. Elfo Seeks to leave his overly happy elf kingdom and explore the full emotional spectrum, something incredibly interesting but never really explored beyond the first episode. He becomes very generic and uninteresting after that because the initial conceit of his character is quickly forgotten by the writers.
Bean’s personal demon Luci is the devil on her shoulder and does his best to cause her to do the wrong thing. The character’s comedy leans heavily on gallows humor and Luci takes great pleasure in the suffering of others. Luci is, however, not entirely devoid of any growth as the series’ first four episodes do let viewers see a softer side to the demon.
How funny is this series? Disenchantment relies heavily on dark humor and for the most part the jokes work well. There are times where it can feel forced and this leads to inconsistent humor which does bring down the show’s quality. The weakest jokes and moments of the series are in the premiere, but from that point onward the series more or less entertains.
Groening’s works often poke fun at pop-culture, history and aspects of everyday living. Disenchantment takes the coming of age narrative, then throws in some jabs at the fantasy genre and references to the darker aspects of living in medieval Europe. Bean’s enemies are much bigger than she is, such as a patriarchal structure that struggles to assimilate the rebellious teen. She is fighting against systems bent on controlling her, deciding Bean’s fate for themselves without proper consultation. The Kingdom itself should feel familiar to many viewers, as well as its self-centered and childish ruler. This mixture creates a series that should feel relevant and fresh, but for some reason that is not the case with Disenchantment.
In Futurama Groening took full advantage of the science-fiction genre to tell very imaginative stories with big ideas, with each tale being grounded in charater. For some reason he seems averse to that direction in the development of Disenchantment because despite the fantastical setting and existence of magic, some of these initial episodes feel very mundane. It is a shame that Groening and the writing team could not consistently take full advantage of what the fantasy genre has to offer.
One other notable, and intentional, difference between this series and Groening’s prior work is that Disenchantment does include a longer story arc that is seeded throughout each episode. From what I have seen, these small glimpses at the bigger picture are all gags thus far and Disenchantment is not forthcoming on what the series holds in store for the main characters… yet. Curiosity got me through the boring stories and made the good ones much more enjoyable.
The animation is superb, with Groening’s signature style allowing for expressive character designs that bring the cast to life. The backgrounds are stunning and Dreamland – which is probably the series greatest joke and a perfect title – is visually rich, with a castle that stand out from other fantasy series.
Disenchantment is definitely inconsistent, but there is some fun to be had and a couple of compelling characters. This is only the first part of the season, so hopefully Groening and the writing team can fully realize the potential Disenchantment has in its DNA with the remaining episodes. I would recommend giving this series a chance when it premieres August 17th on Netflix.
Tentative Rating: 7/10
What do you think of my initial thoughts on Disenchantment? Are you excited for Groening’s new series? Leave a comment to let us know and stay tuned for my definitive rating for the entire first season.