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Disenchantment [Season One]

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Dreamland, lived a Princess named Bean. Her father, King Zog tries to marry her off to the Prince of a nearby kingdom, but all Bean wants to do is drink and have fun, with her friends Elfo (an elf) and Luci (her own personal demon).

Disenchantment is the debut Netflix series from The Simpsons and Futurama creator Matt Groening. His co-creator is Josh Weinstein, a veteran from what few would dispute was The Simpsons' golden age, who later went on to work on Futurama, Gravity Falls, Mission Hill and Strange Hill High. The first season consists of 10 episodes, and debuted on Netflix around the world on August 17, 2018.

A series created by the man behind two of the most beloved animated series of all time, reuniting with much of the team who worked on those same series is always going to have a lot to live up to. So is Disenchantment any good? Yes, it is. Does it live up to those lofty expectations created by illustrious predecessors? Maybe not just yet, but it is off to a more than solid start.

The premise is pretty irresistible. Having done the family sitcom and sci-fi, Groening and team turn their hand to the fantasy genre. In fact, the world of Dreamland is a fairly flexible one. It's part historical fiction (medieval Europe style), part high fantasy, part fairy tale, and the writers are able to take in whatever direction the story requires- or for the sake of a joke. So while the medieval political machinations are pure Game Of Thrones, the elves here are more santa's grotto than Lord Of The Rings. And somehow, in the world as presented, none of it seems out of place. From the off, this is a coherent and richly drawn setting, where a lot of thought has clearly gone into the worldbuilding.

This is reflected in the animation too, as this is something of a visual feast. The characters have the distinctive Groening look (complete with overbite), but this is quite a step up from his past works on a technical level. Beautifully painted backgrounds are well integrated with some well done, not overly intrusive CG (employed similarly to in Futurama). The character animation is excellent, too.


This is the first of Groening's shows to be explicitly described as adult animation. However, the move to the looser climate of Netflix hasn't resulted in a series with that much more notably adult content than any of his other series. There's some fantasy violence, and occasional drugs and sex references (and Bean's alcohol consumption would probably result in notes at other networks) but there's not much in the way of bad language, or other risqué content.

Instead, the move to streaming has allowed the series to embrace serialised storytelling. Although the episodes are fairly self-contained for the most part,  things that happen in one episode will have consequences for what comes next. It begins to subtly lay in elements of story threads that will pay off later. Sometimes, even something that seems like a throwaway gag will turn out to be something important for a future episode. At first, the serialisation feels fairly light, but ultimately it all pays of in the final few episodes, with dramatic turns and leading up to some pretty significant events and one hell of a cliffhanger at the end of the season. Just as Futurama was as much sci-fi as it was a comedy, Disenchantment really commits to its fantasy and dramatic elements too. There's some pretty bold storytelling here, of the kind you can't imagine its predecessors tackling.



Which of course, is not to say that it's not funny. There's plenty of great gags here, both in the dialogue and with visual and slapstick humour. And as is traditional in a Groening show, there are lots of blink-and-miss-it freeze-frame gags and easter eggs that mean this rewards repeat-viewing. And while the fantasy setting is often used as a lens to makes jokes at our world, there's not many jokes that rely on pop-culture references that could make it date quicker.

The series feels closer in tone to Futurama than The Simpsons, not least due to the appearance of much of the former's voice cast here. John DiMaggio, excels in the blue-collar take on Zog, with Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille, Dave Herman and Billy West also turning in stellar performances. But alongside these voice-acting legends, it's the new-comers that really help the series find its own voice.



The central trio are voiced by Abbi Jacobson, Eric Andre and Nat Faxon. Jacobson brings real heart and humour to Groening's first female lead, while Andre and Faxon are also extremely accomplished performers.

The medieval cod-European setting is also a brilliant excuse to bring in a group of performers from the British comedy scene. Matt Berry, Noel Fielding, Lucy Montgomery and Rich Fulcher (actually American, but known for his appearances on British TV like The Mighty Boosh) and Irish actress Sharon Horgan round out this extremely strong ensemble.

The mix of these different sensibilities creates a series that -while it does have similarities with past Groening shows- also is able to create something distinct.  The fact that it doesn't really reach the heights of the best of those past shows just yet is nothing to be ashamed of- after all, few shows ever do.

It's not unusual for new series to take time to find their feet but Disenchantment has arrived fully formed with a remarkably confident opening season. If this first season is anything to go on, the future of this series is already looking very bright indeed.


FORMATSStreaming
FROM Netflix
RATING TV-14[US]
 12/[UK]
RUNNING
TIME

10 Episodes [TV Series]




IN A NUTSHELL: Groening and Weinstein's new show hits the ground running with a strong debut that leaves us eager for more.








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