Even if Matt Groening hadn’t made another series after The Simpsons, his legacy in the world of television and pop culture would’ve been secure. But Groening kept working and despite a number of stops and starts and stops again was able to turn Futurama into beloved animated series that has legions of obsessive and dedicated fans. With The Simpsons still going and Futurama well in the past, Groening has developed his new show for Netflix, Disenchantment. Another strong and funny series from Matt Groening and his frequent collaborators, Disenchantment plays a lot more like a medieval Futurama than, say, Game of Thrones mixed with The Simpsons. It’s a show that features Groening’s trademark character stylings and an irreverent sense of humor rife with clever wordplay and allusions to both mythology and history.
Princess Tiabeanie, who goes by the moniker Bean (voiced by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson), continues Groening’s long line of inept protagonists. Despite her royal bloodline, Bean is happiest getting blotto in the dank taverns of her father’s expansive kingdom. However, her drunken ways don’t please her father, King Zøg (John DiMaggio). Bean is soon joined by a couple of miscreants who fit in well with her knack for inebriated mischief in Elfo (Nat Faxon), an elf exiled from his home world of sugar drops and whimsy, and Luci (Eric André), a demon from Hell sent to ensure that Bean falls down an unrighteous path. Of course, this oddball trio will find themselves immersed in all sorts of medieval mayhem.
Disenchantment isn’t like The Simpsons in that the events of each episode carry over into the next – there isn’t the automatic reset between episodes that have become a trademark of Groening’s most famous series. In crafting these episodes, Groening has assembled a team of veterans familiar with his comedic sensibilities, with Simpsons and Futurama veterans like Josh Weinstein, David X. Cohen, Bill Oakley, and more contributing to the mythological madness. Of course, the character designs for Disenchantment closely resemble that of Groening’s other creations, so there’s a familiarity to the film’s voice and its visual style.
One aspect that works incredibly well in Disenchantment is the way that the show’s writers blend medieval fact with mythological fiction. Bean is in a society that values hereditary monarchy and believes in the natural inferiority of women, meaning the show’s protagonist has an array of obstacles present no matter what misadventure she seeks to get in depending on the episode. This is an era where superstition takes precedent over science, and that gives the show ample room to kind of reverse engineer jokes about scientific and societal progress like an inverse Futurama.
Having watched seven episodes of Groening’s latest animated show, it’s clear that Disenchantment, like the early days of Futurama, needs a bit more time to fully find its legs and live up to its potential. Sometimes the episodes are uneven with some wobbly stretches between killer jokes, but when the show does have jokes that land they’re absolutely fantastic. Thankfully, Netflix has already picked up Disenchantment for a second season, so here’s hoping that the show finds that proper balance between its story and gags and lives a long prosperous life on the streaming behemoth and not the on-again/off-again rollercoaster of Futurama’s turbulent existence across multiple networks and broadcast formats. In its early going, Disenchantment doesn’t quite live up to the towering expectations of a new animated show by Matt Groening, but it definitely has all the makings of a future classic. There are enough laughs to warrant a recommendation but this is still a comedy that’s figuring out its voice – and if Groening’s other two shows are any indication, that’s just around the corner.
Matt Groening’s Disenchantment is still finding its voice in its first season, but when the animated comedy works it resembles a medieval Futurama, with clever visual gags and wordplay.