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TV Review: Matt Groening's Disenchantment

Disenchantment, Netflix, Matt Groening, Animation, The Simpsons, Futurama, Abbi Jacobson, Eric Andre, Nat Faxon, Fantasy

SYNOPSIS:  In Disenchantment, viewers will be whisked away to the crumbling medieval kingdom of Dreamland, where they will follow the misadventures of hard-drinking young princess Bean, her feisty elf companion Elfo, and her personal demon Luci. Along the way, the oddball trio will encounter ogres, sprites, harpies, imps, trolls, walruses, and lots of human fools.

Disenchantment, Netflix, Matt Groening, Animation, The Simpsons, Futurama, Abbi Jacobson, Eric Andre, Nat Faxon, Fantasy

REVIEW: You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has never heard of The Simpsons. After three decades on the air, The Simpsons has become a worldwide phenomenon that has spawned countless animated series aimed at adults. While Matt Groening's series may have lost a step in recent years thanks to edgier content on series like Family Guy and Rick & Morty, it still commands a wide fan-base. Groening's Futurama also has a cult following that saved the series from cancellation. Now, Groening makes a new attempt to skewer pop culture and genre storytelling with Disenchantment. Set in a fantasy realm reminiscent of everything from LORD OF THE RINGS to GAME OF THRONES, Disenchantment takes a very different approach to Groening's style by telling a serial narrative spread over the season instead of the standalone episodes we are used to seeing on The Simpsons and Futurama. The end result is mixed with some jokes landing with the same bite as the best years of The Simpsons but most of the jokes missing the mark by a lot.

Featuring the voice talents of Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) as Princess Bean, Eric Andre (The Eric Andre Show) as the mischevious demon Luci, and Academy Award winner Nat Faxon (THE DESCENDANTS, Friends from College) as the wholesome and naive Elfo. The trio get into all sorts of hijinks over the seven episodes made available for review including drunken escapades, battles with invading Vikings, and more. Each episode has a loosely standalone plot which you do not necessarily need to have seen the prior episodes to understand, but there are threads and developments in each half hour chapter that build in each subsequent entry in the season. All together, the plot echoes the formula of every medieval fairy tale: a princess must endure the wrath of her overbearing father and eventually find love and live happily ever after. This being a Matt Groening production, that structure comes replete with anachronistic pop culture references, sight gags, and borderline adult humor. Being on Netflix doesn't push the envelope much further than anything we have seen on Futurama or recent seasons of The Simpsons, but the material is still not appropriate for younger audiences.

There is more that does not work on Disenchantment than does. The pacing feels off with the lack of commercial breaks very noticeable. There were at least four instances in the first episode alone of lingering establishing shots of landscape or castles that went on for at least a few seconds longer than necessary. There are also numerous instances where a character falls down or a slapstick gag is followed by no background sound or musical score. This could be due to the screeners presented not having a fully completed soundtrack, but there was no disclaimer from the studio. The entire production feels like it is lacking the same energy that makes Groening's other shows feel so lively and biting. Instead, I found myself really only laughing at a select few jokes in each episode.

Which is a shame because there is so much great stuff in Disenchantment. Eric Andre and Nat Faxon are perfectly cast, with Faxon the only actor forced to do a voice different than his own natural delivery. Elfo is a bizarro version of a Smurf and his pining for Princess Bean is actually kind of cute. Andre, who has played the douchebag buddy before on series like FX's Man Seeking Woman, gets to be the breakout performer of this series and makes Luci the obvious fan favorite like Bender or Homer before him. Abbi Jacobson does a great job of embodying Bean, but no matter how spot on her delivery, the problem is that the main character here is very unlikeable. Aside from Elfo, most of these characters are unlikeable. On Futurama, you want to root for Fry and Leela to get together. As dumb as he is, you want Homer to succeed because he does have a good heart. Here, Bean starts the series as a whiner and very entitled. The writers fail to really capitalize on those traits.

Disenchantment, Netflix, Matt Groening, Animation, The Simpsons, Futurama, Abbi Jacobson, Eric Andre, Nat Faxon, Fantasy

It is a shame to put all of this talent to waste. In the supporting cast are Groening veterans like Billy West (Fry on Futurama), Maurice LaMarche (Pinky and the Brain, Futurama), and Tress Macneille. The animation also varies in quality with some scenes holding their own compared to The Simpsons and Futurama while other moments lean towards weaker animation you would see peppered across the Internet. I wanted to like the show but it never felt more than great background viewing for when you have nothing else to watch. The premise has a fair amount of potential but the execution here is lacking. Not even from an ironic standpoint does Disenchantment work and serves as nothing more but proof that you cannot always replicate the magic of The Simpsons.

All ten episodes of Disenchantment's debut season premiere August 17th on Netflix.

Source: JoBlo.com

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