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Josh Reviews Disenchantment Season One!

Disenchantment is the new Netflix animated series created by Matt Groening.  Mr. Groening, of course, created The Simpsons, as well as Futurama (a criminally undrappreciated sci-fi comedy that is one of my all time favorite shows).

Disenchantment is set in a medieval fantasy kingdom called Dreamland, and tells the story of a young princess named Bean.  Feisty and rebellious, Bean would far prefer to go out and have fun drinking with her pals than act like a respectable princess.  In the first episode, she befriends a runaway elf named Elfo, as well as a Luci, a tiny demon.  The three get up to a number of misadventures in these first ten episodes.

I really enjoyed this show!  Disenchantment represents Matt Groening’s first project with Netflix, but Disenchantment looks and feels like a classic Groening project.  The character design reflects the familiar Groening overbite look, and the show combines heavy joke density with a strong eye for characters — the familiar magic balance that made The Simpsons and Futurama so great.

I used the word familiar a few times in the previous paragraph, and for me there is a comfort in the way that Disenchantment embodies a tone and feel that is familiar to fans of Mr. Groening’s previous shows.  If it ain’t broke…!  But there is enough that is new and different in Disenchantment that this doesn’t feel to me like just more of the same.

I enjoyed the show’s fantasy setting.  Mr. Groening & Josh Weinstein (who co-developed the show) and their team mines a lot of comedy out of the way they play with the settings and character-types that one might expect in fantasy stories.  If you love Game of Thrones and other fantasy sagas, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in Disenchantment.  but I think this show’s appeal can stretch far beyond the fantasy audience.  Any fans of comedy (and who isn’t?) will easily love this show.

The show looks gorgeous,  As I mentioned above, the character designs fit into the Groening oeuvre, but it’s fun seeing these Groening-style characters in a fantasy world.  The backgrounds have a lush, painted look.  The artwork is gorgeous, and the level of detail on the backgrounds and characters is impressive, beautifully fleshing out this world.

As one might expect from a Groening-led production, the cast is terrific.  Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson is perfect as Bean.  She’s so funny, with perfect comic timing, and she’s also able to bring a lot of warmth to Bean.  This is a character who misbehaves a lot, but Ms. Jacobson’s gentleness makes sure that the audience cares and roots for Bean.  That’s critical.  The secret of Mr. Groening’s shows have always been that, despite the places where they push boundaries, they have a sweet-hearted core.  That Ms. Jacobson can land this balance successfully is critical.

Nat Faxon (who I will love forever for The Way, Way Back, which he co-wrote, co-directed, and acted in) is very, very funny as Elfo, as is Eric Andre as Luci.

I was pleased that so many familiar actors from Mr. Groening’s stable were involved in the show.  John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama) is perfect and supremely funny as the gruff King Zog, Bean’s father.  Tress MacNeille (who has played so many characters on Mr. Groening’s shows, but my favorites would be Agnes Skinner on The Simpsons and Mom on Futurama) plays Zog’s amphibious second wife, Queen Oona.  Maurice LaMarche (Calculon, Kif, Morbo, Lrr, and so many others on Futurama, as well as the man with one of the best Shatner impressions out there) plays the three-eyed advisor to the King, Odval.  David Herman (Michael Bolton in Office Space, and a multitude of voices including Scruffy, Roberto, and Ogden Wernstrom on Futurama) plays several characters, including the King’s droll herald/announcer of visitors.  Billy West (Fry from Futurama) pops up all over the show in a variety of small roles, including Sorcerio and the Jester.

I was also delighted to hear Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe) in an important guest role at the end of the season, whose details I won’t spoil here.

Mr. Groening and David X. Cohen’s Futurama had a number of mysteries built into the series, many of which took years to come to light.  I loved that about Futurama, and I was happy to see similar elements incorporated into Disenchantment.  Several secrets come to light in the finale (such as a doozy about Bean’s mother), though several (such as the identity of the two characters observing events in a mystical flame) are still unanswered.  (As it should be.)  As an attentive viewer, I love this stuff.

All ten episodes of this season stand alone, but I was pleased that the show had a gentle continuity, with events from one episode carrying forward into others, and characters from one episode popping up again later in the season.  By the time episode ten comes around, a number of slow-burning subplots and mysteries build to a head in a very pleasing way, and the finale ends with a terrific cliffhanger that left me impatient for more episodes.

I love the way this continuity was handled.  Like many, I have gotten a little bored by the style of many streaming shows in which one episode flows into the next, without individual episodes having much to differentiate one from another.  On the other hand, the strictly episodic traditional style of The Simpsons can feel a little archaic in this day and age.  Mr. Groening & Mr. Weinstein have found a pleasing compromise.  This is something I wish more shows were able to do as successfully.

These first ten episodes feel like a complete season, but actually, this is just the first half of the first production season, with ten new episodes coming later next year.  Soon after I finished watching these episodes, I was thrilled to read that Disenchantment had been renewed for a second twenty-episode season, meaning we really have THREE more seasons guaranteed to come for this show.  That is great!

I really enjoyed these episodes, and I can’t wait for more.  If you’ve enjoyed The Simpsons and/or Futurama but have delayed in giving this new Netflix show a try, don’t wait any longer.

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