Matt Groening needs no introduction in entertainment. From his comic book Life in Hell to the game changing comedies of The Simpsons and Futurama, he’s accomplished a lot to promote himself to animation icon. Without Fox on his shoulders during his migration to Netflix, a lot of hype is behind his new series taking an opposite approach to the adventures of Phillip J Fry. The only catch is writer Rich Moore doesn’t have his back. Question is do we judge this based on the entirety of his previous shows or only by the first season? Let’s actually compare this to other adult animation since it’s been a growing market in recent years.
Princess Bean (Abbi Jacobson) of Dreamland is forced by her father, Zog (John DiMaggio) into a political marriage. She’d rather go out drinking and partake in grand theft carriage with her alcoholic friends. One of them happens to be a wedding gift in the form of her own sarcastic demon, Luci (Eric Andre). Meanwhile on the other side of a magical door survives the cynical Elfo (Nat Faxon) yearning for more than his literal Keebler conveyer-belt life.
A lot of quality shows in the signature animation and jokes during the pilot. From eye-gouging war mongering giants to elf death sentencing, the timing and dark direction make a sinister combination for the best punchlines in the foreground and background. Refreshingly, the computer animation coats itself with a hand-drawn aesthetic blending in without opting to look too realistic. It’s a nice twist seeing as low quality animation is the default for adult shows good and bad (thanks South Park). But after that the pacing gets very villain of the week, never venturing past its hub world. Ideal for weekly cable, but not for a binge friendly subscription. Popular shows from Bojack Horseman to Rick and Morty know that continuing storylines are the standard in hooking the audience. The scenarios stoop to modern SpongeBob SquarePants levels by recycling plots from other Groening shows, making it a chore not to lose interest after a stupendous headliner of an introduction. By confiding inside the kingdom and not world building on multiple quests, it gets really boring until the ending twist. Which is a shame because episodes that end with a walrus army or a confrontation with Hansel and Gretel (complete with candy warfare) elevate the suspense and adventure by having one trick after another around the corner. If more Grimm fairy tales were included in the mix, this definitely would stack up to other beloved programs.
The humor is half and half with the timing landing perfectly on some and others just sitting in awkward silence. Somewhere there’s a laugh out loud happy ending for those moments, but it never comes to fruition. Then there are the contradicting characters. As funny as Luci’s outlook on life affects everyone around him, Bean is already rebelling against her father so it seems a bit pointless to have a demon add more fuel to the fire. Same with Elfo who starts out as a clever homage to Hermy from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but ends up being the naïve simpleton that’s a staple for Matt’s other work. Their personalities alone and working off each other save most of the shortcomings, but why set up these arcs if the characters will ignore them later on?
Disenchantment had a lot of expectations to live up to, so chances are there were a few areas where it wouldn’t reach the same heights. The old saying of television is the first season of any show is the hardest to sit through. On its own and compared to the competition, there was a lot more that could’ve been done with the setting given how much it repeats plots from it’s cousins and doesn’t venture far from its comfort zone. The main problem is the content is a 101 crash course among the growing popularity of adult animation. Groening was ahead of his time with Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire and Space Pilot 3000, but the bar is set so high that even the trendsetter can’t fully get lightning to strike thrice. With the newly greenlit second season hopefully someone like Rich Moore can bring their A game and turn this around for the better. It might be too early to judge as a whole, but it’s got enough bright spots to warrant a watch. At 22 minutes an episode, it’ll take less time to sit through than other shows that clock in at the standard 50 minutes.