Matt Groening Offers a Comically Twisted Take on Fantasy in Disenchantment
Netflix lands the Simpsons creator's latest show.
Disenchantment. Available now on Netflix.
Matt Groening once described his moderately unhinged show The Simpsons as a cockeyed version of Leave It to Beaver and the other family sitcoms he grew up with. "Bart is like what would happen if Eddie Haskell got his own show," Groening said. "He was a deviant."
If that's so, then Groening's new animated series, Disenchantment, might fairly be described as what would have happened if Draco Malfoy wrote a Harry Potter movie. In Disenchantment, a renegade princess, a derelict elf, and a rookie demon roam a decaying medieval fantasy kingdom, back-talking kings and wizards much the way Bart Simpson does parents and teachers.
Bojack Horseman's Abbi Jacobson voices the brawling, boozing, and belching Princess Bean, who rebels—well, rebels more—when she learns her pop, the king, has arranged a political marriage for her. "I thought I'd get married for true love, or because I was wasted," she complains.
Luckily, inadvertent help is on the way. Elfo (Nat Faxon, FX's Married), a malcontent who has just escaped from the relentlessly happy world of Elfwood, where even the few heretics are hung from gumdrop trees ("It's like they all have peppermint sticks up their asses," he grumbles), blunders into the wedding ceremony and wrecks it.
With some help from Luci (voiced by comic Eric Andre), a personal demon sent to Bean as a wedding gift by an anonymous friend with a peculiar sense of humor, they escape and promptly begin sowing chaos throughout an already-malevolent countryside while under pursuit by the king and his allies.
If imps, fairies, trolls and the not-too-occasional decapitations don't sound like the typical fare of The Simpsons or Groening's now-departed sci-fi workplace comedy Futurama, Disenchantment will nonetheless be instantly recognizable: The crude animation, the chinless, bug-eyed characters, and the mockingly adolescent sensibilities. (That's not intended unkindly; one of the charms of Groening's work has always been that it looks and sounds like it was put together by some really witty kids from the A.V. room.)
And any expectations that the Inner Groening would be unleashed once he was working without broadcast network censors prove unfounded. If The Simpsons and Futurama are PG-13 shows, Disenchantment is maybe PG-14, ever-so-slightly sexier and bloodier. Like the other shows, its jokes are more suggestive than bawdy.
Set in a distant past or perhaps a parallel universe, Disenchantment riffs on contemporary popular culture somewhat less than Groening's other work, but clever allusions are still to be found here and there if you're looking. That chair on which the groom is impaled during the brawl at the wedding—doesn't it look a bit like the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones? And Disenchantment's fairies bear a startling resemblance to Tinkerbell as a weary, drooping whore.
Then there's Bean's stepmother, a vampire, who pish-poshes the girl's complaints about the wedding but does warn that the princess' wedding-night encounter with tentacles or testicles or whatever they are will be much more traumatic than she thinks. "Just leave your eggs on the nightstand and get out of there," the stepmother suggests in a sinister, Natasha-esque accent that's either a reference to Rocky and Bullwinkle or a clue that there are a lot more Russian spies with us than even Robert Mueller thinks.