A new series from Matt Groening of Simpsons and Futurama fame was bound to generate some excitement. Using an epic fantasy/fairytale faux-medieval setting sounds like a fun premise for the kind of genre subverting humour that worked for Futurama. I’m up to the last two episodes and well, it isn’t great. It isn’t terrible but it isn’t great.
There are two issues:
- Quite a lot of Futurama wasn’t that great either but your brain edits in the best bits.
- Disenchantment leans too much on standard jokes and tropes used in its predecessors, making the show feel less fresh and novel.
It gets better, mainly because the characters start working on you and sometimes because of basic plot development. For example, Matt Berry (The IT Crowd etc) has a cameo role early on as an obnoxious prince (basically just doing the standard Matt Berry character) who eventually gets magically turned into a pig…but it’s really only in later episodes when he carries on playing the former-prince-now-pig that the whole thing starts working.
Fantasy comedy is harder I think than SF comedy. It’s not impossible (and there’s no shortage of examples) but even the most serious-faced science fiction has a playfulness that parlays neatly into humour but also an appetite for conceptual jokes that themselves generate SF concepts (e.g. both Hitchhiker’s guide and Futurama have conceptually interesting space travel concepts that are literally intended as jokes). Fantasy humour is harder because mockery of its conventions is an easy temptation that leads to lazy humour which fails to immerse people in the fantasy world. Without that immersion, fantasy doesn’t work — whether a fantasy is meant to be grimdark or absurdly funny, the story isn’t going to work unless people want to keep revisiting the setting. Pulling humour from a fantasy setting without undermining that setting is a clever trick when done well. Disenchantment isn’t there yet.
But, as I said, the show gets better. Some of that is the same process that occurred with Groening’s more famous shows: shallow, one-note characters gradually become more rounded and interesting. Secondly, the show starts settling into itself and makes use of the genre better.
Neither rip-roaringly funny nor an interesting fantasy series, there’s still promise there.