Can Matt Groening's Disenchantment be the fantasy version of the sci-fi Futurama? On Friday 17th August, the first ten episodes were released on Netflix.
Disenchantment follows Bean (Abbi Jacobson), a teenage princess looking for her destiny. Preferably, a destiny which doesn't include marrying one of the many arrogant princes. She's joined by Elfo (Nat Faxon), an optimistic and naive elf and Luci (Eric Andre) a demon who's been sent to corrupt Bean. Though it could be argued she little needs his help - when we first meet her she's drunk at a bar, gambling and causes a riot.
You immediately warm to this trio. Bean is a type of princess we'll never see in Disney and has been billed as the 'anti-stereotype'. She's flawed, furiously independent to the point of reckless and an alcoholic. Abbi Jacobson does a great job of giving her a confident but equally vulnerable voice which makes her a wonderfully rounded character. Elfo and Luci basically act as the angel and devil on her shoulders, but they have great development themselves.
It's difficult not to draw Futurama comparisons. Elfo is the Fry to Bean's Leela and Luci is most definitely a demonic Bender. But that's only a side note. The wonderful world they've created gives a fresh take on these flawed people in an almost psychedelic world.
The world itself is a medieval fantasy, with a lot of myth and fairytales thrown in. It's massively referential and pokes fun at its own genre. There is a throne of swords, like Game of Thrones. In another episode, a random character (who frankly looked a little like Scruffy the Janitor) comments:
Things get confusing in a world of occusaional magic and curses. And while I am a fan of such worlds, I just feel some more clearly set out rules for what can and cannot happen would help us-
Whereupon, he gets shot in the chest with an arrow by a Viking. Because of reasons.
We see griffins, demons, witches and even Hansel and Gretel in a particularly morbid episode. There have been no dragons so far, but I'm sure that's just a matter of time.
From the beginning of the series, you could see this was going to be a serialisation. There's a narrative arc going on while the trio gets into weekly (or episodic) high jinx. This is hinted at in the first episode by a mysterious pair watching Bean though a magic flame and talking ominously about their plan for her. Before the series came out, in Matt Groening interview with Steve 'Frosty' Weintraub over on Collider, he teased:
The very first thing you see, that's staring you in the face, will give you a clue about the entire nature of what you're watching.
Intriguing! So can be sure the first thing I did (after binging the entire 10 episodes) went back and rewatch the first episode with that in mind.
Hum... Well, unless it's a wind-up, I'm not entirely sure what he means...
My first thought is the title sequence, as it's the first thing we see in the pilot. It also has the brilliantly catchy theme tune over the top which I can't help humming. All this doesn't seem too hopeful, but... If you're one of those terrible Netflix watchers who uses the 'SKIP INTRO' button, you might not have realised that the title sequences changes every episode with hints about what's going to be in that episode.
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I mean, the very, very first thing you see is a title card saying 'A Netflix original title', which already tells you something about the nature of the series.
The fact this is airing on Netflix means it's free from the censors of various broadcasters which Futurama and The Simspons had. Which means you have is a lot more explicit humour. The walrus scene comes to mind...
It makes this an odd series pitched a teenage audience. The humour feels too old to be for a Simpsons audience but not as adult as a Rick and Morty audience. So while I still enjoyed it, I felt the prime target would be teenagers.
While I did enjoy the first ten episodes, I'm hoping the second part of the series is going to take off. There weren't as many laugh-out-loud moments as Futurama for me, but it's a really charming story with some wonderful characters. It's easy watching and fun, and the last episodes hints the narrative arc still as a long way to go with some potential to stir things up.
I've read so many reviews attempting to lampoon it for 'not being the Simpsons', but foisting that sort of criticism on a show which has just started is unfair. Disenchantment has a great deal to offer, it's new, fresh and has a great tone about it.
If you enjoyed Futurama and are open to a fantasy world, I would thoroughly recommend it.