One of the many advantages of the emergence of Netflix as a dominant force in the creation of new tv shows is that it allows some of the best creative minds of our generation the freedom to create and build with any overt interference from pushy studios and producers. This fact is certainly evident in Disenchantment, the new animated comedy series from the mind of The Simpsons creator Matt Groening. With The Simpsons approaching the end of its long life, and unfortunately no longer being quite the satirical force it once was, Groening has turned his attention to an ambitious new project which is exclusive to Netflix’s streaming platform.
Although Disenchantment perhaps lacks some of the sharp observational wit of its illustrious predecessor, it retains enough originality and quirky humour to stand alone and avoid some, if not all of the inevitable comparisons with Groening’s other creations. We are introduced to Princess Tiabeanie Mariabeanie de la Rochambeau Grunkwitz (Bean for short, as the character frequently reminds us) a rebellious, hard drinking, mayhem-causing, LSD-taking princess, the only daughter of the King of a mystical country called Dreamland. It is a familiar idea. Her father expects her to be one thing (namely, marry a rich prince) and she strives to be another (namely, an alcoholic). The premise is good, if a little clichéd, but Groening’s deft handling of the narrative helps to overcome any stagnation that this might cause. Princess Bean is assisted in her endeavours by her two constant companions, an elf called Elfo (voiced by Nat Faxon) and her “personal demon” Luci (voiced with brilliantly relaxed nefariousness by Eric André).
I was somewhat confused, yet pleasantly surprised, by the structure of the series’ ten episodes in that although each episode features a new adventure for the mismatched gang (usually involving some kind of alcohol or drug abuse) it is unlike the Simpsons in that there is definite structural narrative and an attempt to tell a larger story, which becomes more evident as the season progresses. I found myself, for better or worse, forgetting at times that this was a comedy and starting to treat it more as a humorous drama. Although the humour is not as strong or as witty as The Simpsons (there are still a few gloriously random comedic gems buried in there) the strength of the narrative helps the viewer to forgive this. Even if you are not laughing out loud every minute, there is more than enough substance to the series to keep you watching between chuckles. In its essence, Disenchantment is entertaining, easy watchage that combines Groening’s unique humour with a more structured narrative to what are, overall, positive effects. The highlight of the show, quite apart from the feisty, fiery yet likeable Bean is undoubtedly André’s portrayal of Luci, a black demon often mistaken for a cat, who encourages Bean to do all the things she knows she probably shouldn’t do with the kind of laconic, laid-back devilishness that is so appealing to an audience. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Elfo who although occasionally involved in a funny joke, usually at his expense, is rather overdone and transcends the boundary from comedically annoying to actually annoying rather too often.
Overall, Disenchantment is more than worth the watch, it is funny enough to keep you smiling if not always guffawing, the characters are for the most part engaging and relatable (who hasn’t struggled with parental expectations as a teenager?) and there are plenty of shrewd allegories in the fictional medieval world of Dreamland for the issues such as gender stereotyping that are more than relevant in the real world. Disregarding all this though, Disenchantment is, at its heart, just pure fun watchage and it definitely worth pursuing for the ten, 30 minute or so long episodes that are available to stream.