The first part of Disenchantment's first season is everything I hoped it would be, for better and worse.
As Futurama was to sci-fi, Disenchantment is Matt Groening's deep dive into the world of fantasy and all the humor that can be mined from it. Elves, wizards, demons, swords and sorcery, it's all here, and it's all ripe for parody. Groening has played with fantasy stories before, notably in Futurama's third movie, Bender's Game, which was one of my least favorite things they ever did on that show. I'm not quite as into fantasy as I am into sci-fi, so I was hopeful but hesitant coming into Disenchantment.
Both of Matt Groening's landmark shows started out rocky. The characters weren't quite fleshed out, the actors were still finding their voices, and the writers were still getting used to the world they were creating. Disenchantment falls right in line with The Simpsons and Futurama in this regard. The first few episodes are pretty rocky and may turn people off from continuing to watch it. They just aren't that funny apart from a few chuckles here and there, and without any broadcast time constraints, episodes often hover closer to a full 30 minutes in length.
Thankfully, the show gradually finds its footing throughout the season, and hits its stride impressively in the last few episodes. Unlike Futurama and the Simpsons, Disenchantment is a serialized show with a continuous story that builds throughout the season. It doesn't quite play out as advertised until the end, but it's an exciting new format for Groening and hints at an even more adventurous part 2 for later this year. His unique comedic voice translates well to the fantasy world, and the writing (both the story and the jokes) gets uniformly better as the show goes on. One of my favorite things about The Simpsons and Futurama are the funny sign gags littered throughout the scenery, and there are plenty of those to be found here.
The biggest thing his shows have, though, are their huge rosters of funny and memorable characters. Disenchantment has gargantuan shoes to fill here, but things are off to a good start. The main characters, Bean (Abbi Jacobson), Elfo (Nat Faxon), and Lucy (Eric Andre) are all immediately enjoyable, and they're surrounded by a wide assortment of supporting characters. Some standouts including King Zøg, Sorcerio, and Odval, voiced by Futurama alums John DiMaggio, Billy West, and Maurice LaMarche respectively. The fantasy setting allows for a boundless supply of weird and wonderful characters , and I can't wait to see what else they have cooked up.
The production values leave something to be desired, especially at first. The art style is a lovely mix of Groening's cartooning and storybook art, but the animation isn't handled quite as elegantly. The action scenes are especially and surprisingly lacking, even though there's a lot of clever violence to be found. They just aren't very well-directed or exciting. There's a weird emptiness to the sound design that is reminiscent of Futurama's first season, which doesn't help things.
Really, everything can be summed up with "it gets better later in the season," which is perfectly in line with Groening's other shows. If you can get through the first half, you'll enjoy the second half. I'm very excited to see where part two takes us later this year. Between the great cast, the signature Groening humor, and the interesting story, I have hopes that Disenchantment will continue its ascent in quality with Part 2 and beyond.