Matt Groening is a household name at this point. With smash hits such as “Futurama” and “The Simpsons” under his belt, it seemed there was no limit to his success. In 2018 Matt Groening released a new show. “Disenchantment” was set in a wacky medieval kingdom and starred Bean the drunken princess, Lucci her inner demon, and the ever-positive Elfo. Fans were eager to see where the new show would go. After a rocky first season, reviews came in describing it as “Lukewarm”. Surely the show would get better with time right? After all, “The Simpsons” didn’t start to gain traction till the third season. Well, to put it bluntly, the show still can’t seem to get it up.
Futurama and the Simpsons
“Disenchantment” suffers plenty from being constantly compared to “Futurama” and “The Simpsons“. Both shows were also created by Matt Groening and have achieved a place in pop culture. “Disenchantment” could be evaluated as its own thing if it didn’t try so hard to market itself towards fans of the other two shows.
Some might say that nostalgia for those shows affects how viewers might respond to the new show, however, the criticism is valid. Futurama’s first episode gave us instantly likable characters and a brand new world to explore in the year 3000. “The Simpsons” had a dysfunctional family that quickly became household names. “Disenchantment” doesn’t really have that. Neither Bean, Elfo nor Lucci have what it takes to carry the show and most of the supporting cast are instantly forgettable. You won’t get any side character as memorable as Zapp Brannigan, Mom, or Mr. Burns here.
Elfo in particular is an insanely grating character to watch since most of his “funny moments” involve him lusting after Bean or getting involved in some awkward sexual situation. None of the jokes really hit home and the ones that do manage to get a chuckle are few and far between.
Why the Humor usually doesn’t work
“Disenchantment” markets itself as a comedy similar to “The Simpsons” and “Futurama“. However, the comedy seems mostly lacking with only minor improvements since the first season. It relies on puns, lackluster slapstick, and generally awkward moments where characters say they won’t do something but then in the next scene they end up doing it. It’s supposed to be ironic humor but it falls flat after the first few times it tries doing it.
If we had to pinpoint where “Disenchantment” goes wrong, it would probably be how it handles the humor. Sometimes it will hold onto a joke for a bit before delivering the punchline. However, during that time the joke goes stale. An example of this would be that one character (Does he even have a name?) that tries to employ meta-humor as to the nature of the show’s world. The joke is grating and gets old quickly but apparently, it was good enough to make it twice. Another problem is repetition. If a joke is made too many times it stops being funny.
Bender drank often in Futurama, however, it is established that he drinks because robots run on alcohol. In fact, not drinking actually causes him to have a hangover. The humor doesn’t come from the fact that he’s drunk but rather from how the world works in the year 3000. Bender is also more than an alcoholic joke. He steals, he cheats, he’s even capable of doing some hilariously evil deeds such as sending his own son to robot hell without blinking. “Disenchantment” has none of this. Instead, the humor feels like what a middle schooler would consider “Adult Humor”. The cartoon character is drinking and said the word “Ass”. Must be what adults watch.
Episodic Comedy or Plot Driven Series?
If there ever has been a show that is confused about what it wants to be it’s “Disenchantment“. At times the show seems to want to go for an episodic formula with different stories each episode. That would be fine and dandy. However, it also tries to have plot threads filled with drama and intrigue that carry over from season to season. Not to say this combination isn’t possible. “Bojack Horseman” manages to blend comedy with a deep and thought inducing narrative. Disenchantment, however, doesn’t seem built for that.
“Futurama” manages to develop its characters across nine seasons. However, the characters are mostly used as props for each episode’s premise. Rather than having long-running narratives and plots, “Futurama” opts to develop its characters little by little. One episode may have Fry dealing with the people he left behind while another episode might shed light on Leela’s origins. These episodes exist to expand each character as well as introduce new ones. However, there usually never is an ongoing plot that needs to be resolved by the end of the season. Unless of course, you count the Futurama Movies.
“Disenchantment” tries to go big with a huge narrative but lacks the charm or the wit to keep viewers fully invested. Season 3 tries to give Prince Derek a strange coming of age narrative which culminates in a wedding with Hagatha. It feels like an episodic narrative where the situation is supposed to drive the comedy. However, this plot is happening at the same time Bean is trying to thwart an assassination attempt. The result is an unfocused mess of an episode that has no idea what tone it’s trying to set. It’s trying to be “Game of Thrones” while at the same time being “Monty Python“.
Pretty to Look at Annoying to Listen to
One of Disenchantment’s strengths comes in the form of its background design and art style. You can tell that this is definitely one of Matt Groening’s most polished series. The show has really deep colors, more shading, and more detailed locations which feels like an evolution of his prior work. The animation is also really cool at times with trippy moments allowing for some really neat visuals. Notable mentions include Bean’s trip to hell as well as anything that takes place in Steamland.
Unfortunately with the audio on many scenes become grating. Elfo’s voice is no treasure and the show gives the audience a few seconds of silence after “Big Jokes” to give them a chance to sink in. However, these pauses just come off as “ehhh” moments. However, it’s not just Elfo who is annoying this season. King Grog is also really grating on the ears since the show spends a majority of the season with him going through a senile phase. Much of his character just becomes “Look how many ridiculous noises he makes. Please laugh.”
“Disenchantment” is still a big mess three seasons later with no signs of letting up. It’s still unfunny and tries too hard to have a long-running narrative. It’s a confused show with no real sense of direction as it spirals down the rabbit hole of mediocrity. Despite this, there are still worse shows to watch on Netflix. I’m looking at you “Big Mouth”. So make of it what you will. If you enjoy it and it makes you laugh then by all means watch it. However, even though I got a few chuckles out of “Disenchantment” I can’t go as far as to say the show is good even after three seasons.