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Groening’s “Disenchantment” highlights the issue with serialized comedy

This review might catch me some grief.

This week, I watched Matt Groening’s newest series, the Netflix exclusive Disenchantment. And the only reason I chose this show over Flavors of Youth is because I had a ten hour long round-trip train ride. I needed an actual show to watch. Unfortunately, it only made the ride more painful. I couldn’t get through a single episode without pausing it at least once.

I didn’t hate it but I couldn’t quite see what the appeal the show was.

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From left to right: Luci the Demon, Princess Bean, Elfo the Elf

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of Groening’s work. I understand the cultural influence The Simpsons and Futurama have had on our culture. I understand why people enjoy those shows. I’ve seen a few episodes, here and there:  there’s quite a few Treehouse of Horror episodes I enjoy and I’ve cried watching “Luck of the Fryish” and “Jurassic Bark” but generally speaking they just don’t appeal to me. And I won’t go out of my way to watch them.

I was hoping that Disenchantment could change my mind and let me see why Groening’s work is beloved. Unfortunately, if there was anything great about the shows I missed it. I think, in large part, this has to do with the show’s presentation.

The narrative style of Netflix shows don’t work well with Groening’s signature style. Netflix shows are written to be easily bingeable. Groening’s shows and most episodic shows aren’t as bingeable as BoJack Horseman because they lack cliffhangers.

Like most of Groening’s work, the humor in Disenchantment largely consists of jokes regarding sex, drug and alcohol use, as well as, jabs at contemporary issues like gender roles, gender identity, sexual harassment and politics that fall flat. Mostly, it’s just pointing these things out; it doesn’t provide any kind of insightful commentary or criticism, nor does it parody any attitudes.

The jokes just aren’t funny.

There’s one episode where the jokes bothered me in particular. It wasn’t anything outrageously offensive. But it demonstrated that somebody on the writing staff has a vore kink. Or is at the very least, into extreme size differences.

Otherwise, there was absolutely no reason to have an entire episode dedicated to Elfo pretending a random giant was his girlfriend. The whole plot just fell so forced and awkward. It didn’t even feel like the main plot of the episode contributed anything the overall arc.

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Elfo and his “girlfriend.”

Which brings me to the main issue: unlike The Simpsons and Futurama, Disenchantment is serialized. Though each episode has its own self-contained story, many of the plot points build up to the season finale, which changes the “status quo.”

If the show was largely episodic, by which I mean continuity between episodes is not a guarantee, the show might work better. At the very least, it would be able to take better advantage of its setting rather than having to return to the castle at the end of every episode. For a show that is supposedly making fun of the fantasy/adventure genre, not a lot of adventuring actually happens.

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One  of the few times that the characters travel anywhere

But, even changing the story-telling style wouldn’t necessarily improve the show considering the characters are just…not very interesting.

The worst offender is Elfo. And what makes him the worse is that not only does his personality do a total one-eighty in the first episode, but that he has a crush on Bean which seems be the basis for most of his personality and motivation.

While the crush is also portrayed as creepy in the show; it’s pretty unnecessary and doesn’t make any sense considering Elfo was pretty happy boinking his girlfriend Kissy when he was still living in the Elf Village.

Bean is an adequate character. She’s nothing special: She’s a princess whose unhappy with her role because it means she only exists to create alliances with other kingdoms through marriage. She’s also depressed from watching her mother turned to stone, has issues with her father and step mother and copes with it by drinking.

But there’s not a lot of character there. She’s basically an exaggerated trope. After ten episodes, I don’t understand what her goals or motivations are. In the first few episodes it’s clear she doesn’t want to get married and wants to live freely. But then both her fiancès are rendered unmarriable, so then she has no motivations.

She’s very selfish and cynical, but doesn’t have enough other traits or charisma to make her a “likeable asshole” character. Plus, she doesn’t really grow out of this personality; Matt Groening’s character are very static. In episodic television, this isn’t an issue. And it typically works to the show’s advantage. In serialized television, you can’t do that. The characters need to grow and change.

Luci is Bean’s personal demon, gifted to her by a mysterious group. He’s there to bring chaos to her life and help her fulfill her destiny, which has been hundreds of years in the making. Or something like that. Honestly, the season doesn’t provide many details on it.

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Luci with ladies

But, either way, Luci is clearly the best character. Despite constantly pushing Bean towards alcohol and bad choices, he becomes a friend of sorts. Bean starts to care for him and him, Bean. He’s snarky and sarcastic, with a hidden emotional center. He’s kind of like Bender, I suppose, but I find him much more enjoyable to watch. He’s definitely the most entertaining character in the show.

The issue with the main trio, I suppose, is that they all have a mysterious past that will propel them forward towards an unnamed destiny, or there’s some kind of prophecy. Elfo is apparently not a full elf. I somehow managed to miss that during my viewing of the show, but everyone else is talking about it. And it just seems kind of ridiculous.

Unless this is something the show might mock later on, as the “Chosen One” is a core archetype in the fantasy genre, it just feels kind of lazy.

There’s nothing in this show that hasn’t been done before and done better in Matt Groening’s work. And the things that Groening hasn’t done before have been done far better in other works. The show is around mediocre at best and just derivative and annoying at worst. Obviously, the show is going to get a second season.

I won’t even question it.

But don’t expect me to watch.

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Overall Score: 4/10

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Information

Rating: TV-14

Length: 10 episodes, ranging from 27 to 36 minutes

Available: Netflix

Creator: Matt Groening

Developers: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein

Producers: Matt Groening, Josh Weinstein, Claudia Katz, Eric Horsted, Bill Oakley, Patrick M. Veronne

Voice Actors: Abbi Jacobson, Eric Andre, Nat Faxon, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille, Matt Berry, David Herman, Sharon Horgan, Maurice LaMarche, Lucy Montgomery, Billy West

5 thoughts on “Groening’s “Disenchantment” highlights the issue with serialized comedy”

  1. Just goes to show how much tastes differ. Futurama is my favorite show of all time. Disenchantment is in my top 10. I can’t stand BoJack Horseman. Usually I remind people that the first 10 episodes are only half of the first season and that it’s less a comedy show than a serialized fantasy with heavy comedic elements. But if you really couldn’t get through a single episode without pausing, then nothing is going to convince you. No problem. As the saying goes, “de gustibus non disputandum est.”

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