As a born Simpsons fan who was watching Matt Groening’s classic animated sitcom in the womb and frequently gets the Futurama theme song stuck in my head, it pains me to report that his new Netflix show is extremely skippable.
Disenchantment is an unfunny mess, unsure of what it’s satirizing, and unfortunately wastes talented voice actors and a rich world on hollow jokes. Most gags trod on the already downtrodden have-nots of Dreamland, the show's trope-y fantasy kingdom backdrop, instead of punching up. The exceptions are (usually hamfisted) allusions to Trump. Beyond that, every romantic relationship unfailingly reinforces tired gender stereotypes.
Shows like Bojack Horseman, Steven Universe, and even Rick and Morty have laid out how to make a compelling animated series in 2018, and it’s disappointing that Disenchantment doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity to respond to the Apu controversy and learn from other criticisms of The Simpsons.
The show follows princess Bean (Broad City's Abbi Jacobson), who drinks and fights to cope with the insensitive parenting of her toxically-masculine father, King Zøg (John DiMaggio). Bean’s mother died when she was young, and Zøg married a cold, humorless swamp creature with a vaguely European accent named Queen Ivank—er, I mean, Queen Oona (Tress MacNeille) to cement a political alliance with a hostile foreign nation. Bean resents Zøg for forcing her to follow in their footsteps and marry a wealthy prince to fill Dreamland’s empty coffers.
Before the wedding, she opens a mysterious package that contains a demon named Luci (Eric Andre) binding them for eternity. He causes mischief, enables bad behavior, and acts as the main source of meta comic relief. At times, he’s genuinely the funniest part of the show, like when Bean takes a side job as an executioner and he quips, “I always wanted to be in the entertainment industry.” However, his bad decision juju frequently crosses the line of predatory creepiness, like when he pours several shots of liquor into Bean’s glass when she’s not looking.
The green-skinned Elfo (Nat Faxon) is introduced in a distasteful scene that ends with his fellow Candy Elf villagers trying to lynch him with a licorice noose for sleeping with the chief’s pink-skinned daughter. He escapes because “Elves are too light to hang” and abandons his life of economic security and sexual repression to “taste flavors other than sweetness.” He soon stumbles into the castle of Dreamland just in time to ruin Bean’s arranged marriage and escape with her and Luci into a bog.
Elfo is immediately infatuated with Bean (yawn). That night they make camp and she instructs Elfo and Luci to sleep in an area she designates “The Friendzone.” This is such an exhaustingly flimsy framework for the tension between them that even Joseph Gordon Levitt recently admitted that his “friendzoned” character in (500) Days of Summer was a dick. Instead, it becomes the defining characteristic of the show between two characters with zero chemistry—there's a weird one-sided leery sexual tension from Elfo, which Bean only entertains in moments of deep insecurity or when she's literally on drugs.
Just as cringeworthy as Disenchantment’s dated take on relationships is its toothless commentary on class. The peasants are the butt of the joke more often than not, and watching their suffering feels like those clips from America’s Funniest Home Videos that just make you sad.
In the first episode, Bean is cheating at cards in a tavern instead of walking down the chapel aisle. The heiress wins, but is called out for her dirty tricks by a ragged man with a cockney accent. Bean, who presumably knows that any danger she gets into can be sorted out by the city guard, escalates the fight, gets cornered, and in a last-ditch attempt to escape, scatters the gold on the ground. The money obviously never meant anything to her, but it's a life changer for anyone in that bar. It’s hard to laugh at her shenanigans when you empathize more with the horde of peasants than the one percenter fucking them over.
Zøg is the worst example of this. He’s a schmuck, and the gags at his expense highlight how low-class he acts for a ruler. “I had the dogs lick me clean, twice,” he says proudly early on. However, we’re also supposed to laugh when he responds to a snarky jester by plunging him through a Moon Door-like hole in his throne room. In the show, the jester who is supposed to speak truth to power rarely gets a genuine laugh.
Disenchantment has gotten a lot of comparisons to Monty Python and the Holy Grail—a “Bring Out Yer Dead”-style cart makes several appearances, none of them very funny—but let’s remember how that nearly 40-year-old film lampoons class division.
The king in both worlds is an idiot, but one is an idiot who constantly exercises his power to brutal effect on peasants, jesters, foreigners, and his own daughter in ways that frankly are a little too real to be mirthful. The other king looks and acts the part, but is bested by a few muck-covered peasants spouting Marxist rhetoric. You tell me which one is funnier.
The most disappointing thing about Disenchantment is that Dreamland is genuinely interesting. There's political intrigue, an Illuminati-like mystical sex cult, and mysterious evil sorcerers pulling the strings. There are magical portals, islands to explore across the sea, and mysterious forests. It's a world I could see myself getting lost in. I would like to have a reason to keep watching, but truth be told, none of the first seven episodes of season one contain many laughs.
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