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First there was The Simp­sons. Then there was Fu­tu­rama. Now it’s epic fan­tasy’s turn to be skew­ered…

The first teaser for Matt Groen­inG’s

Disen­chant­ment was so on-the-nose it could have put the hon­est trail­ers team out a job. “You’ve seen the fu­ture in Fu­tu­rama!” wise­cracked the voiceover. “You’ve seen the present in spring­field! so what’s the ob­vi­ous third move? the past, of course!”

hav­ing cre­ated the long­est-run­ning (and, once upon a time, great­est) car­toon show in his­tory with The Simp­sons – and al­most def­i­nitely the clever­est with Fu­tu­rama – Groen­ing’s third an­i­mated odyssey is on a quest right to the heart of Lord Of The Rings ter­ri­tory.

“it felt like the right place to go,” showrun­ner and Simp­sons/Fu­tu­rama vet­eran Josh We­in­stein tells SFX, “be­cause for any of Matt’s shows, you’re re­ally mak­ing fun of and satiris­ing the present day. and since we al­ready did that by go­ing to the fu­ture and be­ing in the present day, the most at­trac­tive other way to do it is by go­ing deep into the past – a semi-mag­i­cal past.”

the show’s cen­tred on Bean, the teenage daugh­ter of the king of Dream­land who’d much rather go out drink­ing with her mates than em­brace her princessly du­ties. her best friends (be­ing a Groen­ing show, that’s a broad term) are elfo, an elf who thinks he has more edge than the rest of his pint-sized species, and Luci, a young de­mon who’s work­ing his first pos­ses­sion gig. in We­in­stein’s words, “it’s very much that they’re the an­gel and devil on her shoul­der.”

“this show is a com­ing-of-age story,” We­in­stein ex­plains. “the three main char­ac­ters are all around 18, 19, 20 years old – though Luci may be 10,000 years old, he’s still a young de­mon – and it’s about that age when you’re go­ing into the world for the first time and not sure what you’re go­ing to do, with all these adults and leg­ends telling you how you should be­have. But when you’re that age, you’re like, ‘no, that’s bull­shit. i’m go­ing to find my own way.’ in the end it’s not about what your el­ders tell you, it’s the friends you have who help you find a way. so as much as the show might be in­flu­enced by things like Lord Of The Rings, it’s more in­flu­enced by movies like Amer­i­can Graf­fiti. With a mag­i­cal set­ting.”

princess power

Be­yond the fact that it’s pop­u­lated by the likes of demons and elves,

Disen­chant­ment marks a ma­jor de­par­ture from the Groen­ing brand, which has al­ways heaped most of its fo­cus on the male of the species and their var­i­ous flaws – prodi­giously un­ex­cep­tional guys like homer J simp­son and Philip J fry.

“We re­ally wanted to have a Matt Groen­ing-style char­ac­ter but have her be fe­male and a re­ally be­liev­able, fun char­ac­ter,” says We­in­stein. “We also wanted to not go for the stereo­type of ei­ther the dainty princess or the mod­ern stereo­type, which is a to­tal kick­ass princess who has no per­son­al­ity ex­cept that she’s a war­rior. We wanted to have a re­al­is­tic 19-year-old woman who was thrust into the po­si­tion of be­ing a princess

in a king­dom where she knows she’ll never be able to rule, be­cause it’s a pa­tri­archy.”

Disen­chant­ment also breaks with the rather con­ser­va­tive tra­di­tions of screen fan­tasy by mak­ing sure that Dream­land’s res­i­dents are not ex­clu­sively white, and that they don’t all speak with english ac­cents – for starters, the king talks like he’s straight out of new Jersey, and has an ap­proach to diplo­macy and in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships that echo those of a cer­tain res­i­dent of the White house.

“fan­tasy can be such a white world, which doesn’t make sense to us, be­cause the real world is won­der­fully di­verse,” says We­in­stein. “that’s why we wanted to make sure our fan­tasy world is too, be­cause it rep­re­sents the real world. so with­out try­ing so hard that it seems like you’re try­ing too hard, we wanted to be re­al­is­tic. that’s also true with our writ­ing staff – you don’t want them to be all old, male, white sit­com hacks. You want young peo­ple, you want women, and you want dif­fer­ent voices of com­edy to come to­gether. oth­er­wise it’s just go­ing to be the same old thing.” HIS­TORY LES­SON

if Disen­chant­ment’s fa­mil­iar vis­ual style is un­mis­tak­ably a de­scen­dant (or should that be fore­bear?) of The Simp­sons and Fu­tu­rama, look be­yond the trade­mark Groen­ing over­bites and you’ll no­tice that the back­grounds are markedly dif­fer­ent – and not just be­cause the in-jokes here are more likely to feature a trip to the Vii-Xi (say it out loud) than a fu­tu­ra­ma­like cruise down .

“We knew that the char­ac­ters had to have that Matt Groen­ing look be­cause that’s what peo­ple love,” ex­plains We­in­stein, “but we knew the back­grounds had to be ex­tra good be­cause the level of an­i­ma­tion – and what can be broad­cast and streamed – is of much higher qual­ity these days. so we re­ally pushed the an­i­ma­tors to have these rich back­grounds. We wanted it to have a more hand-painted feel, so hope­fully they feel much more like clas­sic storybook il­lus­tra­tions. if you watch it again and again, you’ll no­tice some things in the back­ground that may be im­por­tant – or just make you laugh.”

those gags aren’t just riffs on epic fan­tasy, ei­ther. Much as Fu­tu­rama was nir­vana for any­one with a science PhD, the new show gets prop­erly nerdy with his­tory.

“there are a few Game Of Thrones jokes in there but i’m more into ac­tual leg­ends and me­dieval his­tory,” We­in­stein laughs. “We’re stick­ing in cer­tain me­dieval ref­er­ences that me­dieval schol­ars might get, and for other peo­ple it’ll just be some­thing pass­ing [in the back­ground]. i’m not go­ing to brag and say it’s some huge amount – but it’s like Fu­tu­rama had those math equa­tions snuck in.”

one thing Disen­chant­ment won’t be do­ing, how­ever, is cel­e­brat­ing a me­dieval equiv­a­lent of “homer’s 305th ev­ery­thing is Back to nor­mal BBQ”. the fact that it’s stream­ing on net­flix means the first sea­son will be avail­able for in­stant binge – and that this is the first Groen­ing show where an arc plot is high up in the sto­ry­telling mix.

“net­flix re­ally give us com­plete cre­ative free­dom,” says We­in­stein. “We look at each sea­son of 10 episodes as a huge epic movie in­volv­ing these char­ac­ters. each one stands alone as its own con­tained story, but some of them are more deeply canon­i­cal. so view­ers will find in episode nine and 10 that a story that’s been brew­ing since episode one comes to a head. We have arcs planned out loosely for a num­ber of years, should we be lucky enough to con­tinue, and we also know where we want to fin­ish the se­ries when it ends. that’s quite dif­fer­ent to The Simp­sons and Fu­tu­rama, which kind of re­set at the end of ev­ery episode.”

so see­ing as – as this pre­view proves – it’s more or less im­pos­si­ble to talk about

Disen­chant­ment with­out talk­ing about the pre­vi­ous shows from the Groen­ing sta­ble, how do its cre­ative team feel about fol­low­ing those par­tic­u­lar oliphaunts in the room? isn’t mak­ing another 2D an­i­mated, satir­i­cal show just ask­ing for trou­ble? “it’s in­cred­i­bly daunt­ing be­cause peo­ple love

The Simp­sons and Fu­tu­rama so much,” We­in­stein ad­mits. “We know peo­ple will be watch­ing it like, ‘Do they still have it? is it go­ing to suck?’ But i think we fall back to the way we did The Simp­sons and Fu­tu­rama, which was that the jokes have to make us laugh and the sto­ries have to in­volve us. in the early days of

The Simp­sons, be­fore the in­ter­net, that’s the way it was. We had to count on our­selves to know it’s good. then hope­fully if it’s some­thing we re­ally like, there’ll be enough peo­ple out there who like it too.”

Beer gar­dens had started to get more edgy.

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