When talking about animated television shows for adults, Matt Groening's name (even if you don't know how to pronounce it) is undoubtedly going to come up. He created The Simpsons, which is the longest running American sitcom, and Futurama, which might not have reached the same level of mass appeal, but has definitely attained cult status.
And now there's Disenchantment.
Disenchantment is a 10 episode animated fantasy series developed for Netflix. It recently debuted on the home streaming service and...it's rough.
Abbi Jacobson voices Bean, our beer-chugging princess protagonist. She is joined by Elfo the Elf (voiced by Nat Faxon) and Luci, her own personal demon (voiced by Eric Andre). They venture far and wide throughout the medieval land of Dreamland shirking responsibility and getting into trouble. Our three main characters meet on Bean's (arranged) wedding day and make an escape after her suitor impales himself on a throne of swords. Luci is a demon packed into a wedding gift meant to turn Bean to the dark side, but instead becomes her best drinking buddy. Elfo has left his happy colony of elves looking for something other than a life of singing and making candy. Sounds cool, right?
It should be. But, it's not. At least not right away. I'll admit that I did find myself enjoying the series, but only after groaning through the first two or three episodes. I don't know if I was just then starting to figure out where the writers were going or if they were. The series picks up steam and laughs around the fourth and fifth episode and is genuinely interesting by the final few.
Abbi Jacobson and Eric Andre are the only saviors in that troublesome beginning. Their characters are clearly defined and they play well off eachother. Nat Faxon's whiny Elfo, however, is a real disappointment. I think it was mostly his lines and delivery that sucked the potential fun out of the room. I don't know if this was intentional as multiple jokes are made by other characters about how annoying he is, but it put a real damper on the introduction to the series. Maybe I missed something in the first episode, but his character's motivations and his demeanor seem at odds. I understand that both he and Bean are unsatisfied with the way their lives have been laid out in front of them and they are meant to bond over this frustration, but a different backstory for Elfo and a little tweaking to their introduction could have gone a long way in making him easier to understand. He plays an elf (who's had dirty sex on the regular with a promiscuous lady-elf, more on that in a sec) that wants a life where things aren't always happy and he strikes out in search of "real life". Nothing wrong here, but later in the series he is constantly seen as shy, timid, self-conscious and naive. Normally you'd think a character so seemingly headstrong would be a little more adventurous and open to new experiences, if not at the very least familiar with even the most basic of social cues. He develops a crush on Bean and struggles with the way to approach her. It's as if he's never spoken to a girl before, lest we forget that we just saw him plowing away on the the town door knob in full view of fellow elves just a few episodes earlier. Oh, and his voice is insanely irritating. I guess I really just had a problem with Nat Faxon.
The animation is, for the most part, gorgeous. Sadly, there are a few characters that seem a little...undercooked. The King, voiced by John DiMaggio, looks like a Homer Simpson sketch from that shows early years. It's as if they started the show with a mock-up and forgot to finish fleshing him out. Elfo (ugh) is another character that looks like he could use a few revisions.
Like I said, things really pick up towards the end and Disenchantment even delivers some poignant moments to go along with the funny. Groening's shows have never really had trouble delivering in the emotional department and it was during one particular scene that I saw a lot of similarities to Futurama. The final few episodes ultimately saved the series for me. They're the reason I'll be returning for the next 10 episodes. Here's hoping that the growing pains are over and we can leave that awkward beginning behind us.
I think Disenchantment suffers from the same fate as a lot of other streaming only shows. When you've been green-lit and you're dropping every episode on a single day you lose out on the premier episode criticism that might prompt a few changes in story-telling and character development. Show runners nowadays don't have to make a show that's killer right out of the gate. They've been given 5 or 10 hours to tell their story and this show has definitely opted for the slow warm up. Disenchantment could have used a few more weeks in the oven.