Christiaan digs into Groening’s latest Animated Series, Disenchantment.
Disenchantment is the latest animated Netflix series and is from the legendary animator Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Futurama. The show has been marketed as the successor of both Futurama and The Simpsons, as Groening’s unique design style is at the show’s forefront. Behind-the-scenes, longtime Futurama and The Simpsons collaborators David X. Cohen, Patric Verrone and Bill Oakley, return as producers. This immense level of talent alone has allowed the show to stand-out amongst the deluge of Netflix’s other animated originals, but Groening’s newest show struggles slightly to find its legs.
Taking place in a fantasy world of knights and magic, Disenchantment follows the misadventures of Bean, the drunken and irresponsible princess who is heir to one of the most powerful thrones in the kingdom. Bean makes for a strong and dynamic central character as a wayward soul struggling to find herself. She also breaks the mold of Groening’s other shows that mostly star hapless everymen like Homer or Fry. In fact, most of the show seems to be Groening and crew experimenting with new characters and ideas. This experiment works in most cases, such as Bean’s and her father, King Zøg’s, relationship. Their interplay emulates the father-daughter dynamics in high school sitcoms, with a small twist of The Honeymooners. Zøg’s constant and inept frustrations are an endless mine of comedic gold, along with his mostly inept council of elderly wizards, while Bean’s complex emotions are deftly explored.
Where the show falters is in the format the crew attempts to play into: The “Netflix Format”, a term I lazily came up with right now. Basically, Netflix tries to structure its original shows after Orange is the New Black. Instead of making one-off episodes, Netflix likes its shows to have season-long story arcs that make every episode feel a part of a larger story, creating the feel of a long movie. This is because Netflix knows its audiences will binge episodes in an afternoon or over a couple of days. While this work for shows like Bojack Horseman, where a character’s drama can slowly unfold, it doesn’t vibe well in Disenchantment.
This flaw is best seen in the first and last episode of the first season. The first episode, for example, introduces Elfo the Elf as a existentially-lost pervert that leaves his town after sleeping with the mayor’s daughter and feeling a need to explore the world. By the end of the first episode, however, Elfo simply becomes fantasy Philip J. Fry, even falling in unrequited love with Bean. Disenchantment also struggles to juggle its comedic tone and the overarching plot when Elfo is killed off in the ninth episode, turning a wacky show about drunk fantasy creature into a dark conspiracy concerning the fate of the world. The tonal shift feels sudden, despite the shadowy presences of evil magic cults teased throughout the show. Fortunately, this shift helps to develop Bean and Zøg but it leaves characters like Lucy, Bean’s personal demon sent to spy on her for a cult of wizards, left out in the cold.
Groening shows are notorious for having weak first seasons. The first season of The Simpsons is an entirely different beast than The Simpsons at its peak, or even its modern incarnation. Most of the first season of Futurama is forgettable, as it started fleshing out its worlds and characters in the second season. Unlike those two shows, Disenchantment seems to have a stronger foundation and has already introduced a dynamic world and characters in its first season. The only things that need to be ironed out are the show’s future direction and tone. From there, Disenchantment will hopefully find its comedy unfolding naturally enough to match Futurama and The Simpsons at their best.