It’s hard not to approach a new animated comedy from Matt Groening with exceedingly high expectations. The guy created “The Simpsons,” a show whose overly long run hasn’t diminished its place as one of the most meaningful and influential TV statements of the past 30 years. With the town of Springfield, he has managed to build a world that encompasses family life, pop culture, and politics in America, satirizing and embracing them at the same time. And his second series, “Futurama,” developed into a sly commentary on religion, consumerism, and environmental degradation.
But still, Groening’s new Netflix animated series, “Disenchantment,” which he co-created with Josh Weinstein, falls short. It inspires a judgment that was popularized by “The Simpsons” in the 1990s: Meh.
I’m not saying the show, whose first season is available Friday, is a big botch, or even nearly so. It’s sweet enough, it offers plenty of witty sight gags, and it features some distinctive voice work, particularly from Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City.” I can imagine spending a brainless Saturday afternoon watching Groening & Co. poke fun at the tropes of medieval drama, which they do in a way that’s almost Disneyesque, despite the characters’ Groening-ian bulging eyes and chinless faces. But the show is nonetheless terribly slight, a familiar spoof that inspires only a few mild laughs. As far as larger themes go, I can scarcely pick out one — the limitations of traditional gender roles — and it is hardly expanded on.
Certainly the popularity of “Game of Thrones” helped pave the way for “Disenchantment,” which is set in the kingdom of Dreamland. It’s a sendup of magic-tinged “GoT”-like tales in which a princess is always being traded off to a tyrant, where a bad little demon and a good little elf stay by her side, where the queen is literally a reptile with a long, sticky, bug-noshing tongue. Also setting up the animated comedy: “The Princess Bride,” “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and a short-lived ABC musical series called “Galavant,” all of which travel through similar comedic territory. But “Disenchantment” doesn’t move the story beyond easy parody and old-fashioned humor into a more original and timely place.
Jacobson lends her endearingly scratchy voice to Princess Bean, a reckless young woman with freckles who has no interest in being a dainty and dutiful daughter to the bad-tempered King Zog (John DiMaggio). She drinks too much, she gambles, she has hookups, and when he forces her to marry, she works to come up with ways to evade the inevitable. She is always with her two supernatural pals, a doofy elf named Elfo (Nat Faxon) who has fled his unbearably happy homeland and its “Jolly Code,” and a demon named Luci (Eric Andre) who is given to Bean as a wedding gift by a pair mysterious figures. Together the trio fall into dangerous adventures, running from all kinds of monsters as the one-liners fly. It’s somewhat entertaining, but you may feel as though you’ve seen it all done before, and better.
Starring: Abbi Jacobson, Nat Faxon, Eric Andre, Billy West, John DiMaggio
On: Netflix, season one streams on Friday
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.