Those fans lamenting the demise of Futurama can finally ditch their petitions and breathe a sigh of relief. Matt Groening and his motley crew of creatives have taken up refuge at Netflix with an all new series called Disenchantment, which for all intensive purposes heralds a return to form and promises to fill the hole in the hearts of devoted fans.
Where The Simpsons and Futurama occupied the present and the future respectively, Disenchantment takes us back to medieval times, paying homage to fantasy-fictions like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, and it is delivered with the same scathing wit that we expect from Groening and his merry men. And of course there’s no better time to be exploring the genre comedically, and to dare tread where others have failed. Mel Brooks gave it a crack in 1975 with his short-lived sitcom When Things Were Rotten (later adapted into Robin Hood: Men in Tights) and many have fallen in their attempts to comically exploit the Middle Ages. Until now, Monty Python have been the only mob to do it successfully.
Set in the kingdom of Dreamland, the series follows Princess Bean and her two trusted sidekicks, Elfo and Luci, as she struggles with royal life and longs for excitement. She is an alcoholic teenager, Elfo is a runaway elf and Luci is Bean’s personal demon, and under the ever-merciless rule of her father, King Zög, the trio of degenerates run amok throughout the kingdom, finding trouble wherever they go.
Disenchantment is immediately familiar, and aside from Groening’s obvious animation style, the show bares a striking resemblance to Futurama, most particularly with its characters. Bean (voiced by Abbi Jacobson, Broad City) is a gender-reversed version of Fry, Luci (Eric Andre, Man Seeking Woman) is a blatant reflection of Bender, and Elfo (Nat Faxon, Friends From College) is a composite of various others including Amy and Zoidberg. Their dynamics are much the same, and they are surrounded by equally familiar characters, giving the show an instant hook before exploring new boundaries. But, while the series may be cut from the same cloth as Futurama, it is a bold and audacious piece of work unto its own.
Disenchantment is hilarious and it does not disappoint. Groening has brought back his stable of writers from Futurama and applies the same discipline. Just as the future offered limitless opportunities to exploit comedy, so too does the Middle Ages. From clever visual gags to ingenious subtleties, the show pulls no punches and dares to up the ante. Free from the censor-abiding clutches of Fox, Groening is able to explore darker themes and dish up the sort of depravity that such an era offers in abundance. The show features dismemberments and beheadings, as well as debauchery and grisly torture… and all with the same level of frivolity as the previous shows. It also references current socio-political commentaries such as the over-use of politically correct pronouns and the rise of the feminist movement. It alludes to these things cheekily and in such a way that the intention could be interpreted in several ways, depending on one’s own persuasion. Not so subtle is the ongoing anti-religious sentiment that’s woven throughout the show, declaring faith-based beliefs as irrelevant and senseless. From the moment a nun shouts “How dare you bring logic into God’s house” there is no escaping the showrunner’s thoughts on the subject.
The show follows an ongoing narrative, episodic in nature with an overriding arc. Each episode ends where the next one begins, thus offering a fresh approach to the signature style. It would also be remiss of me to neglect the opening theme music, composed by Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo fame). Much like Futurama, the opening number is immediately catchy but – at first – underwhelming. But mark my words, by the time you are several episodes in you will look forward to its jingle and won’t want to press that typically convenient “skip intro” button.
Geeks and animation fans alike have no reason for concern: Disenchantment guarantees them a new legacy to embrace. The fantasy genre is mined deeply for richness, and boy does it abound in wealth. If you can think of a trope, it exploits it. Further cause for celebration is the return of Futurama‘s iconic cast of voices. Billy West, John DiMaggo, Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille and David Herman are among the return players, with additional talent such as Noel Felding, Matt Berry and Rich Fulcher also tagging along.
Groening and Co have found a new home at Netflix and kudos to them for hatching up such a wonderful new adventure. May this be the first of many seasons to come.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★ ★ ★★☆
‘Disenchantment’ hits Netflix on August 17.