REVIEW: Disenchantment – Season One (2018)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following review is of the ten episodes released on August 17, 2018.

Say what you will about the quality of Netflix films, but one thing you absolutely cannot deny is the high quality of Netflix’s American adult animated series. Although I didn’t care for F Is For Family, last year’s Big Mouth starring Nick Kroll and John Mulaney was a surprisingly strong animated series. But the cream of the crop in adult animation on Netflix is Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s BoJack Horseman, which I think is one of the best things Netflix has ever greenlit.  

Therefore Disenchantment has a lot to live up to, but, then again, it should be able to. You see, Disenchantment comes from Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons and Futurama — two of my favorite adult animated series ever made.

Unlike The Simpsons, which takes place in the present, and Futurama, which took place in the future, Disenchantment takes place in a medieval fantasy past, and it has multiple mythological or fairy tale elements to distinguish it from the other two shows. Furthermore, Disenchantment doesn’t just reboot at the beginning of each new episodes. What happened in the previous episodes have a direct impact on the upcoming storylines.

In the first ten episodes of Disenchantment that were released on Netflix on August 17, 2018, the series follows Princess “Bean” (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) and her two otherworldly new acquaintances Luci (voiced by Eric Andre) and Elfo (voiced by Nat Faxon).

“Bean” is a fighter, a drinker, and a gambler — basically, she is a princess in title only. The character, like most of the characters in the series, is presented with the classic Groening-designed overbite-look. In general, the characters look more at home in the world of Futurama than The Simpsons, though, as the human characters have human skin colors like they do in Futurama.

Elfo the elf, however, is completely dissimilar from the character-design of “Bean.” Instead, this elf, who, in the realm of elves is presented as very naughty, has greenish skin, and his character design almost resembles Bart Simpson’s. The voice couldn’t be farther from Bart, though.

Luci is perhaps the most interestingly designed character in the show. Luci is a demon — “Bean’s” own personal demon, as a matter of fact — and he is presented as a small shadowy ghost-like black shape that may to some resemble a misshapen feline. Luci Introduces the devil on the shoulder trope, with Elfo being the closest thing resembling an angel who is clearly smitten with “Bean,” who absolutely is the central character in the show.

These characters meet in the disappointing series premiere A Princess, an Elf, and a Demon Walk Into a Bar, in which Elfo and Bean wish for different lives. Bean wants to be where people are happy and not in the medieval land that she is a princess in, whereas Elfo wants to be in a place that isn’t like the magical candy-colored realm of the elves. Luci, on the other hand, is presented as a gift for Bean.

Disenchantment was one of my most anticipated new shows of 2018, but I have to admit that it is a pretty big disappointment. Groening’s previous success with Futurama and The Simpsons makes audiences expect something of that quality, but, unfortunately, that is not what we get here.

This first episode does a lot of heavy-lifting by introducing all three central characters, bringing them together, and taking them on an adventure in an enchanted forest. Unfortunately, the heavy-lifting doesn’t really pay off, as the series doesn’t find its footing in the first half of the ten episodes released. The first episode is overlong, slowly paced, and uncompelling. The season as a whole has those problems as well. The plot is too heavy for this show in its current state.

A lot of the humor, I felt, was too spelled out, so to speak, but I must admit that the show’s humor had its moments of brilliance. There is a fun bit with walrusses in For Whom the Pig Oinks, and a clever Hansel and Gretel sequence in the episode Faster, Princess! Kill! Kill!. Generally, though, while there are some fun lines of dialogue, and a small handful of decent fairy tale or legend sequences that I enjoyed, I don’t think the show ever fully lives up to the potential of its serialization concept in Groening’s take on medieval fairy tales.

I also just don’t think the show manages to make you care about the central characters. I never warmed to Elfo, Bean did not carry the show as well as I had hoped, but I will say that I think Eric Andre’s Luci comes across quite well as the show’s funniest main character, in my opinion. The saving grace of the show is the quality of the last three episodes in the ten-episode season, which brings together most long-running storylines to tell a pretty good adventure in the search for the elixir of life.

It makes sense why Netflix would be desperate to get a show from Groening, nevertheless it doesn’t come close to matching the quality shown in shows like Big Mouth and BoJack Horseman. With all of that having been said, I must admit that it pleases me that the show does work much better in the last three episodes released now, and that does make me hopeful for the future of this series. But, as it stands, Disenchantment doesn’t get enough right with its first ten episodes.

C

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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