'Disenchantment' Review: Like Drunk Homer Recapping 'Game of Thrones'
When the creator of The Simpsons and Futurama does a fantasy series for Netflix, it inevitably feels a lot like Homer Simpson going to Westeros. But rather than being anything like the legitimate Game of Thrones spoof that happened with the The Simpsons Season 29 premiere, Matt Groening’s Disenchantment sometimes feels like a drunken smattering of fantasy themes and tropes, as if Homer was recapping Game of Thrones but kept getting it confused with other fantasy stories because he had one too many Duff beers.
Any fan of Groening’s previous work will find themselves perfectly content watching Disenchantment, but for new viewers unfamiliar with his earlier shows, it might come off as slow and a bit mind-numbing.
The animation style and character archetypes remain nigh identical to Groening’s other work, even as Netflix’s production budget makes everything look just a little prettier. It’s not just aesthetics, though — the show recycles the same old jokes about dumb people and vice-ridden heroes, with more than a few voice actors from past Groening shows returning. The only twist is that rather than being set in suburban America or the far-flung future, it’s a magical fantasy realm called Dreamland.
To be honest, that’s totally okay.
For Groening fans that preferred Futurama to The Simpsons anyway, seeing the same style of animated storytelling happen in a different genre is refreshing. To top it off, Broad City star Abbi Jacobson voices the lead character Princess Tiabeanie, or just “Bean” for short. She’s disenchanted with her life as a teenaged princess slated for marriage when all she wants to do is rabble rouse and drink. Her sidekicks include an elf named Elfo (Nat Faxon) who is similarly bored with his home among the other elves. (Think less Legolas and more Keebler when it comes to these guys.) There’s also Bean’s personal demon Luci (Eric Andre), assigned to corrupt her by some distant villains.
Therein lies the larger plot of Disenchantment. Luci has been sent by some nefarious witch and wizard scheming to corrupt the already uncouth princess. We don’t really know why after only a few episodes, but this conceit helps establish some semblance of a longer narrative arc, unlike Groening’s previous, more episodic shows. But because we learn so little, there’s no sense of urgency to this longer plot. Instead, it’s shuffled into the mix to manufacture an additional punchline or two per episode.
In this way, Disenchantment does balance some kind of ongoing serialized story with the more procedural episode structure we’ve all come to expect from Groening.
There’s an episode where Bean fends off her impending marriage with a mermaid-themed bachelor party for her betrothed that involves sexy walruses. In another, she does drugs and takes up thievery with Elfo and Luci. There’s also one where her ginger father of a king gets sick and goes away to a spa, so she throws a huge party in his absence. For the most part, this adventure-of-the-week format works for the show, while the occasional scene hints at the darker story lurking in the background.
The choices Bean, Elfo, and Luci make do have lasting consequences. At least there’s that to make this a bit more refreshing than the modus operandi of The Simpsons (or to a lesser extent, Futurama), where most consequences are meaningless.
Bean’s father, King Zog (John DiMaggio), is one of many characters, locations, and tropes in Disenchantment that viewers may casually read as Game of Thrones satire. He’s a fat ginger with a temper that’s prone to drink, so he’ll draw inevitable comparisons to Robert Baratheon. A neighboring king and queen are also brother and sister, just to poke fun at Jaime and Cersei Lannister. There’s a litany of ways viewers can watch Disenchantment with Game of Thrones in mind, but rest assured that the animated series leans much further into magical fantasy than HBO’s murderous live-action series.
Disenchantment has plenty of magic to play with, especially considering two of its lead characters are a goofy, hapless elf and cat-like demon.
We also meet trolls, gnomes, and even prostitute fairies in a world that seemingly has no consistent rules around magic or its more fantastical elements.
Groening seems to care more about vaguely referencing Monty Python and the Holy Grail than he does anything more contemporary. Game of Thrones is all about the big players in Westeros, and while Disenchantment focuses on a princess and her companions, a lot of the jokes land on the destitute citizens. There’s a cart that rolls around collecting all the dead people, reminiscent of Monty Python’s “Bring out yer dead!” bit. The Plague is mentioned frequently. Humble farmers are so aggressively humble they’ll throw out any guest who complements them too much.
Disenchantment could do more to gives its overarching narrative momentum, but based on the first few episodes, Disenchantment is content to take its time. Anyone who appreciates this brand of humor that sometimes feels outdated and recycled from previous Groening jaunts will find the show totally watchable. That might not be enough to keep new viewers entertained, but it’ll be enough for plenty of people out there.
All 10 episodes of Disenchantment Season 1 hit Netflix on Friday, August 17.