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Josh Reviews Disenchantment Season Two

Matt Groening’s animated Netflix series, Disenchantment, doesn’t seem to me to have made much of an impact on the pop-culture scene.  And, let’s be honest, Disenchantment isn’t The Simpsons.  It doesn’t come near to approaching that series’ transcendent heights.  And it’s not even Futurama, Mr. Groening’s sci-fi comedy that, while it hasn’t made a hundredth of the cultural impact of The Simpsons, might just be even more beloved by its true fans — including me.  So, OK, Disenchantment isn’t as good as two of the greatest animated TV shows ever made.  I still think it’s quite good!  If you’ve previously enjoyed either The Simpsons or Futurama, Disenchantment is worth a look.  (It was one of my favorite TV shows of 2019!)

Disenchantment is set in a medieval fantasy world, and the writers have fun playing with the tropes that fans of anything from Game of Thrones to Dungeons & Dragons might expect.  As was the case on both The Simpsons and Futurama, Mr. Groening and his team have done a great job at developing the reality of this universe.  I enjoyed the many nooks and crannies that were developed and explored here in season two.  It’s fun to feel like you’re getting to see a fully-realized new world, one that has been carefully thought about and designed.

The Simpsons has always been very episodic.  Futurama was too, though that series gradually developed a very enjoyable continuity.  The characters were able to stay in their archetypical status quo, but at the same time, their personalities and relationships developed.  Meanwhile, as Futurama continued, viewers discovered that there were all sorts of fun mysteries built into the world, which were gradually revealed.  Disenchantment has been designed to move even further into serialization.  It’s a choice that makes sense, both as a reflection of the modern television landscape and also as a way to bring momentum to these short (10-episode) Netflix seasons.  Disenchantment is more about the series larger story-lines than Futurama was.  There are times when the show seems to value these unfolding storylines above the need to have a funny joke every few seconds.  Disenchantment is a very funny show, but I’ve never found it to be fall-off-your-seat funny the way The Simpsons and Futurama were at their best.  That’s not a criticism at all, just an explanation that the show has a different “vibe” than either The Simpsons or Futurama.  I like the choice.  There are hundred and hundreds of hours of those two previous shows.  It’s nice for Disenchantment to be able to be its own thing.  At the same time as the show has embraced serialization, it never falls into the trap of being a movie chopped into 10 parts, like so many other streaming shows are these days.  Each episode is still, thankfully, a distinct and complete story on its own.  I find that to be so important.

While I like Disenchantment a lot, I don’t yet love it at the level I do The Simpsons and Futurama.  I think the main difference is that I don’t yet love any of the characters the way I so quickly fell in love with the ensemble of weird characters on those prior two Matt Groening shows.  I like Bean, Luci and Elfo.  They’re voiced by the incredibly talented trio of Abbi Jacobson, Eric Andre, and Nat Faxon.  But none of the three characters, for me at least, quite have the magic that I found in the characters on The Simpsons and Futurama.  (For example, somehow Luci’s misanthropy has never been quite as funny as endearing as that of Bender on Futurama.)

That being said, I love how Disenchantment is far more focused on the main character’s personal growth and journey than either of those shows were.  I’ve really enjoyed the way these first two seasons have developed the young woman Bean.  Bean is a complicated and interesting character and a very unique lead for a show like this.  I like how flawed she is, but also how brave and heroic.  Season two devotes a lot of time to exploring the mysteries of Bean’s past, and how she is torn between her step-mother and her biological mother, and the different cultures and worldview they represent.  I’m eager to see where Bean’s story goes from here.

Season one ended on a terrific cliffhanger, “Dreamland Falls”, and it takes the first several episodes of season two to resolve all of those story threads.  I liked that everything wasn’t immediately returned to the status quo!  As the season progressed, I loved getting to learn more about the history of Bean’s homeland, Dreamland (and the revelation that there’s a reason for the city’s name)!  It was fun to also explore Luci’s background — and actually visit Hell in episode two — as well as Elfo’s family and the community of Elves.  I was happy that Bean’s father Zøg (voiced by the amazing John DiMaggio) got a lot of focus this season; he’s probably my favorite of the supporting characters.  He’s a very funny character, and this season gave him a lot of pathos too.  I was also happy to get to know more about the mysterious figures (apparently named Cloyd and The Enchantress) who we’d seen watching Bean throughout season one — as well as their hapless assistant, Jerry.  I was pleased that season two gave us lots more of Maurice LaMarche as Odval, Dreamland’s scheming three-eyed prime minister.  And I was thrilled that Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe) was back as Queen Dagmar, Bean’s biological mother.

Just like season one, season two also ended on a cliffhanger, the similarly-named “Tiabeanie Falls”.  I like that parallel structure, and this was another great “to be continued” ending.

I hope it’s not too long a wait for Disenchantment season three!

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