I guess I’ll never be a top-notch review superstar since it took me several days to work my way through Matt Groening’s new Netflix exclusive series Disenchantment. To be fair, I had a good reason– the show was meh.
Now, let me be honest, as a child I, like many others, grew up on Growning’s shit– The Simpsons, Futurama, all great stuff. In fact, over on one of my other blogs, I am working on a Futurama-related book project. It is safe to say that I don’t have a grudge against Groening (even if I haven’t watched an episode of The Simpsons in forever). Even so, however, I just wasn’t feeling Disenchantment.
Is this a shame? I don’t know; what I do know, though, is that it feels regrettable that Groening’s new IP didn’t live up to expectations. In an effort to work through why I feel it is regrettable, let me rant a bit about my grievances with Disenchantment.
Firstly, the characters feel rehashed: recently, there was an IGN review that said the following:
It would be unfairly reductive to label Disenchantment as a medieval version of Futurama, but it does often feel as though the core trio of Fry, Bender and Leela were basically thrown in a blender and remixed to form Bean, Elfo and Luci. For instance, Bean has inherited Fry’s fish-out-of-water status, Bender’s self-absorbed hedonism and Leela’s perpetual struggle for recognition in a manocentric male-ocracy. Elfo gets Fry’s good-natured naïveté and Leela’s uncertain heritage. And Luci? Well, he’s pretty much just Bender 2.0.
I agree that to call Disenchantment the above would be reductive, since the characters do have a bit more going on than being merely a rehash of the Planet Express crew. All of that said, you can see the influences not only as the IGN article remarked, but in other places as well, such as Bean’s father channeling Mr. Panucchi (Fry’s boss from the 20th century) and Fry’s father; the king’s advisers, meanwhile, can easily be seen as a sort of duo based off of Mom’s trio of sons. At times, especially with the voice actors, identifying characters with other characters becomes impossible and is a prime reason why giving new talent a try should be mandatory.
To be fair, I did warm up to the characters after a few episodes. Because even though their cookie-cutter archetypes rarely hit their deconstructive purpose, the exchange between them– which can be seen as a sort of extreme morality tab with each character inheriting one side of the moral spectrum– can result in amusement.
That, of course, is the key word– amusement. Not comedy. Amusement.
Honestly, the writing regarding the characters feels off. Sure, as a Dorkly article recounts, it is unfair to say that Disenchantment’s supposedly limited run of episodes should be compared to Groening’s other shows when each of them has had an immensity longer to work themselves out than Disenchantment has so far. And yet, that is all the more reason I was expecting something a little more worked out, something a little more original; if Disenchantment is going to encompass no more than two or three dozen episodes, I was hoping for characters with motivations beyond “I don’t want to be a princess with no responsibility” or “I must escape the friend-zone!” It is stale, fetid crap.
My other major issue is that the universe just feels boring. It feels empty. Sure, we see a lot of what exists outside of Dreamland but it is not very remarkable; some bland forests, elfland hidden from the world via magic, an ancient desert city, and a big drop-off to, presumably, the other parts of the world. There are some viking-pirate types out at sea while the forest dwellers of Dankwood espouse far-eastern culture but nothing feels original. Everything feels like someone lazily combed through the internet looking for inspiration or just throw random darts at a board pinned with aesthetics.
Why I think that the world is dull relates to how the writers conceived of the world.
Again and again throughout Part 1, the writers convey this idea that Bean is a modern upper middle class teenager. The trick is that it is a game pierced through with a medieval lens. It is like the show is saying, “hey, want to find out how a modern teenager would live in a medieval fantasy land?” This is why it is boring– because it is not historically relevant.
I strongly believe that what the show should have done is this: hire scholars to act as advisers while they provide copious notes as to the every day life of people in the middle ages, and then, using that vast data, reconstruct the average life of a young person in the middle ages while inflecting it with modern sensibilities. Instead of doing what they did, with them implanting modern life tapered over with a medieval coating, they should of started with the accurate medieval, added some modern dressings, and used the fantasy setting for spice and interest. What they did here was to take the lazy road and represent the medieval period as it has been typically conceived of forever– as just a primitive, violent precursor to (post-)modernity.
All of that being said, do I dislike Disenchantment? Not necessarily. Do I find it reductive? To a degree, but do I find it to be a bad show? No. I just find that it is lacking. In part 2, I am hoping that the characters find some depth, I am hoping that the universe they live in becomes more fleshed out, and I am hoping that the writing becomes sharper. Unrealistic? Maybe. But I have hope.