Rating: 2.5 out of 5
The most painful reviews to dispel are those from an ensemble of beloved talents collaborating on a single, cohesive project. The first season of Disenchantment had a wealth of potential, boasting the astounding voice talents of the primary cast, Abbi Jacobson, Eric Andre and John DiMaggio; who imbue their characters with overflowing personality and uncontainable ego plus series creator Matt Groening, Disenchantment promised equal things familiar and fresh. Groening, however, does very little to improve upon the slightly underwhelming first season. Not that Disenchantment was bad, but this was not The Simpsons or Futurama. It lacked the effortless wit of Groening’s most popular work while showing an occasionally detrimental commitment to world-building. The first season of Disenchantment could never be accused of harboring a lack of ambition, it’s second season continues to pursue a lofty balancing act between drama-comedy and fantasy but fails again to cohere multiple disparate threads into a satisfying whole.
The second season picks up immediately where the first left off, Bean (Abbi Jacobson) has made a grave mistake that has resulted in the demise of many of her family and friends. The first three episodes of the season hit the ground running with energy, verve and a renewed sense of direction. This is snubbed, however, to return to the meandering pace of the previous season. Once the dilemmas and betrayals of season one are resolved they are largely abandoned. Dreamland, the city at the center of the show, emerges into focus. If the first third of the show is about Bean’s relationship to her mother, the middle third is about her relationship to her city as a princess and as a woman. There is some great material here, whether she’s staging a heist to help the elves during an oppressive financial regime begun by her father or attempting to become a rebellious poet-writer, speaking truth to the people, Bean is an endearing character and Jacobson continues to deliver a sympathetic, rambunctious lead character.
The middle-third of this series struggles all the more due to the momentum of the first three episodes. The stakes at the end of the first season were raised to their fullest. Every character was at risk, all their lives stood to be uprooted by Bean’s final decision and the second season sustains that sense of excitement before settling back into its routine upon concluding the lingering demand for resolution. A narrative move such as this would not be out of place in a twenty-thirty-plus episode season but in the space of a limited ten episode run that Disenchantment has been allotted to it felt rushed, like the creators were insecure with how far they had drifted into the realm of action/adventure and needed to course correct back towards a traditional comedy. This is also the first half of a two-part season so the pacing of the narrative had to get the audience to a point of both closure for the first half and eagerness for the second half of the season, an odd antithesis where some episodes feel restless and others drag, inducing a strange stagnation that is cumbersome to endure, like the writers are deliberately wasting your time in order to meet a quota of episodes they are required for the season.
While the narrative is plodding, the interpersonal dynamics between the characters and the growth that transpires between them is quite affecting. Elfo (Nat Faxon) begins to become more pragmatic and independent, frighteningly so. He no longer fears death quite as much as he once did, perhaps it’s the journey back from hell, but Elfo’s character has a painful, increasingly confused existence this season that he has learned to mask with humor and booze. Luci (Eric Andre) is a sentimental sweetheart despite his tough-guy attitude. The animation continues to mix 3D-modeling with 2D animation and the result is fabulous, the trio’s adventure through hell in the early episodes of the season is wild and vividly realized. Dreamland continues to have hilariously titled items at all of their vendors, many of the best jokes are blink-and-you-miss-it, displayed behind the characters in shops and restaurants. When Disenchantment coalesces it is a very fun, colorful show with a vibrant world but it more often than not feels directionless and unenthused about the prospects of its own duration.
Disenchantment threatens to be an awesome show, but has perhaps too much confidence for its own good. It has a smug self-assurance that is certainly natural to arise when you are a powerhouse creator like Groening working with high-caliber talent like Abbi Jacobson and Eric Andre but is absent of the competition, experimentation or playfulness that should arise during such a collaboration. This is only the first part of the season so perhaps all will be remedied when the finished season can stand on its own as a complete work but as of now the first half is a messy only sometimes hilarious romp through fantasy-tropes that cannot decide how far it can lean into its dramatic instincts before it forgets to be funny. Disenchantment is not nearly as enchanting or resonant as it thinks itself to be. In spite of itself, Disenchantment, occasionally reaches the heights it promises thanks to the committed performances and distinct characters but fails to deliver a worthwhile narrative.