Damien Love’s TV highlights plus seven-day programme guide
Disenchantment Friday Netflix
THE good news about Netflix’s new animated series Disenchantment is that it’s the first new show in two decades from Simpsons creator Matt Groening. This, though, is also bad news for Disenchantment itself, as it means it is doomed to be instantly judged against the revolutionary phenomenon of
The Simpsons at its long, magnificent peak, and the great, daft tapestry of Groening’s cultishly adored follow-up, the sci-fi cartoon Futurama, rather than being taken for what it is. What it is, then, is a fun, smart and amiable, if slightly ambling, little fantasy spoof, skipping along taking knowing digs at the swords and sandals genre, while cracking any other gags that come into the writers’ minds along the way.
The other curse facing Disenchantment, however, is that it’s a fantasy parody that has appeared after the world-devouring success of Game Of Thrones, meaning some viewers might be expecting a full-on lampoon of that particular show. But while there are nods in the direction of King’s Landing (including a dumb but terrific Iron Throne sight gag in episode one), Disenchantment is more in the lineage of earlier, half-loving
genre pastiches, from The Princess Bride to Shrek, Terry Pratchett and, particularly, the Monty Python of The Holy Grail – all squished through a Matt Groening strainer.
Instantly recognisable as Groening’s work from the character design DNA (“weak chin, buck teeth”, as one bug-eyed character berates another), Disenchantment also replicates the dense texture of his other shows. It doesn’t yet have that relentless sensoryoverload assault, but many of the jokes are happening in the background, in shop signs and passing décor. Meanwhile, some gags step out from the terrain altogether, to offer self-aware asides, or set up corny punchlines that are funny precisely because you can see them slowly coming.
The action takes place in the magical, medieval, near-bankrupt kingdom of Dreamland. Our heroine is Princess Bean, a layabout misfit, not content with her allotted role – like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, but with silver hair and gambling addiction. Her grouchy father King Zog has set her up for a juicy arranged marriage with a simpleton prince from a neighbouring royalty. But Bean would rather be out, boozing, playing cards.
Into her life come two faintly magical little rebels: Elfo, a sweet elf who has exiled himself from the elves’ hidden candy land, because he can’t stand how unremittingly happy they all are; and Luci, a sly, sleek, black demon, sent by shady wizards to curse Bean, for reasons still unclear. Together, the three go on the run. For a bit.
Unlike earlier Groening series, which have stuck to the traditional sit-com setup, where each episode’s story is more of less self-contained, Disenchantment teases an ongoing, unfolding narrative, to do with Bean’s destiny. Really, though, plot remains simply an excuse to hang gags and slapstick from. Where development might come is in the deepening of the texture, the evolution of the characters and their world.
In Groening’s universe, Disenchantment lies nearer Futurama than The Simpsons. As well as the genre-poking stuff, the Bean-ElfoLuci relationship recalls Futurama’s Leela-Fry-Bender chemistry. Luci – a weird, one-eyed, inky shadow cat with a cigarette habit – has cult potential, beautifully voiced by Eric Andre as a cross between Bill Murray and George Sanders.
Fans will recognise other voices, notably John DiMaggio, previously Futurama’s cranky robot Bender, excellent here as the dissolute King Zog. There’s also a Mighty Boosh semireunion, with roles for Noel Fielding, Rich Fulcher and Matt Berry. The latter, of course, plays a polymorphously horny princeling. Thus, while Disenchantment’s journey has only just begun, at least one destiny is fulfilled.
Sorcha Groundsell Photograph: Paul Stuart Cover image