Back in the olden days, before binge viewing, it sure was easier to give developing shows a fair shake. Disenchantment—Simpsons and Futurama creator Matt Groening’s first venture onto Netflix’s fertile turf—feels, well, pretty much like the initial seasons of his other shows, with some clunky construction, slow-growing characterizations, and lots and lots of bulgy-eyed comedic potential. Based on the first seven episodes, confidence is fairly high, even if it currently resides mostly in the “affectionate chuckle” phase.
Set within a low-rent magical land, the story follows a boozy princess (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), her pint-sized personal demon (Eric Andre), and a melancholy elf (Nat Faxon) as they attempt to... okay, the overarching plot isn’t quite clear yet. The high fantasy tropes run fast and hot throughout, ranging from party-crashing Vikings to the 1,001 uses for elf blood and oh-so-many good-hearted jabs at George R.R. Martin. Plus, there’s an island full of horny singing walruses, which is always a good thing.
And now, the downsides: As with the later seasons of The Simpsons, there’s a tendency here to overexplain the gags, marring the cleverness with self-congratulation, and the main performances feel a shade flat—especially when pitted against supporting turns from Futurama vets. (As the King, the great John DiMaggio has crafted a hilarious whopper of a voice that somehow borrows equally from Miller’s Crossing’s Jon Polito and a stump grinder.)
Still, Groening & Co. have certainly earned some goodwill, and Disenchantment displays enough progression to ensure that receptive viewers will remain on the couch. By the fifth episode, which combines a part-time executioner’s gig with some not-right-at-all versions of Hansel and Gretel, there’s the promising sense that the braintrust has established enough framework and characters to start getting weird. Bring on the walruses.