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Disenchantment [Part Two]

30 years after The Simpsons and 20 years after Futurama, Matt Groening's fantasy-comedy (co-created with Josh Weinstein) takes a return visit to the fictional kingdom of Dreamland.  Technically, this second batch of episodes are considered to be the second half of the first season of Disenchantment. However, considering that they were released following a 13-month gap since the first part we have to review them as a separate thing.

It plays out very much as if it was a full season, picking up after the cliff-hanger ending of episode 10 Dreamland Falls. Bean is separated from her friends Elfo and Luci and whisked away by her mother Dagmar to her ancestral homeland Maru, where she finds that her long dreamed of reunion may not be quite what she hoped for. Meanwhile, a heartbroken King Zog- the only Dreamland resident not turned to stone- wanders the halls and streets of his fallen kingdom.

Unlike The Simpsons, or to a lesser degree Futurama, Disenchantment deals in serialised storytelling, with actions and events having consequences for the future. At the same time, there are the needs of the traditional sitcom, which necessitates that everything must stay broadly the same. So having spent the first half of the season building up the central trio only to break them up, there's not a lot of chance they're going to stay that way. Not that that makes a daring rescue mission to the underworld to rescue Elfo any less entertaining.

These two sides of the series are more distinct in this second part. While in the first part, seeds were laid for the ongoing plot in the standalone episodes, here it feels more like the series is divided into two. This part opens and closes with two-part episodes, with more standalone episodes sandwiched in-between.

This means that the main part of this (half) season is made up of the wacky adventures of Bean, Elfo and Luci. The reception to the first season was very mixed, and it depended largely on whether you found it funny or not (a very personal thing). Part two is unlikely to change anyone's mind on that front, as this is much in the same vein as the first. There's some solid gags although it's hard to shake the feeling it doesn't really get as much mileage out of the comedy potential of the fantasy genre as it could. Sometimes being a streaming show actually works against it. Without the limitation of having to turn in a tight 22 minutes, sometimes material that might have hit the cutting room floor in the past gets left in.

Most of the comedy comes out of the characters and through strong voice performances from a strong ensemble. There's less from the British comedians this time around, often in favour of some questionable accents from the main casts. Perhaps the worst offence here is in underusing the wonderful Matt Berry- one of the finest voice performers on the planet.

The central characters continue to be great fun though, and having the show focused on a female lead does help to give it something to stand out from most adult animated sitcoms. And of course, the series is also full of visual gags and packed with references for eagle-eyed fans to spot.

The standalone adventures are entertaining enough, with highlights including a heist episode and a Shakespearean style theatre episode. But Disenchantmenet's biggest strength continues to be its worldbuilding and fantasy elements, best showcased in the more serialised episodes.

We continue to learn more about the richly drawn setting of Dreamland, but the show's world really begins to expand as we discover more locations- the kingdom of Maru, heaven, hell and more. Most excitingly, later in the series, the arrival of someone from a more technically advanced country opens up a whole new world of possibilities that bodes well for the future.

Like the first (half) season, everything comes to head with an unexpected twist, with political machinations coming to the fore. The final episode Teabennie Falls is a fitting counterpoint to the previous finale and sets things in motion for the next batch of episodes.

There's plenty to enjoy in the second half. The character and production design continues to be excellent throughout- this is far and away the best looking series from Groening, and one of the most visually appealing US produced adult animation series. It boasts one of the finest voice acting ensembles in voice acting, with relative newcomers and veterans both at the top of their game.

Every show deserves to be judged on its own merits. Still,  Disenchantment feels like it has some way to go before it has the spark of genius that was found in The Simpsons and Futurama at their best. If this was a brand new show, lower expectations would probably make us more generous. But coming from this pedigree, it's hard not to expect a little more.

FORMAT: Streaming  FROM: Netflix RATING:TV14 [US] 12 [UK] RUNNING TIME : 10 Episodes

IN A NUTSHELL: A slightly disappointing sophomore run, but Disenchantment remains bursting with imagination and potential.