This week, Disenchantment was released on Netflix. Disenchantment is an animated series about Bean, an alcoholic, spoiled princess (literally), her personal demon Luci, and an optimistic elf, aptly named Elfo. The series follows their adventures in Bean’s kingdom, Dreamland, and the hijinks that follow them.
Disenchantment also comes from a long legacy of great shows. Its creator, Matt Groening, helped create The Simpsons, helmed Futurama, and now is putting his efforts into this comedic fantasy adventure.
The show excels in its humor, art, and characters. Or, at least some of them. Bean is refreshingly well-meaning, but troubled. She never wants to hurt others, but she’s willing to do anything else. Even if that includes drugs, stealing, lying, and more. However, she pauses on the thought of killing, even if in the context of self defense or dire straits. Luci is a demon who loves to do all things bad, but does grow fond of his companions and wants to protect them from too much danger. Her father, King Zog, is an idiot, is selfish, and is the butt of a lot of jokes. However, at his core he is a caring father, though he has absolutely no clue how to execute that well. And then Queen Oona is his strange, amphibious second wife and, personally, she’s hard not to adore.
Overall, the show has so much to enjoy. Their best gags are in the background, the kind of fluid humor that follow a viewer around the whole series. One of the best gags they have is a pub that Bean frequents called “The Flying Scepter”. The show revealed it’s called that because, when enraged, King Zog throws scepters across town, often landing in the bar. Continuously, through the rest of the season, the bar has various scepters around, Zog is thrown tossing the scepters when angry, and it all references back to the fact they made a whole bar around this commonplace event. Much of their humor is smooth and fluid like this, and quite subtle. Each episode has obvious comedy, too, but they cleverest ones are like this and keep watchers chuckling.
However, the sharp humor and interesting characters don’t cover up the show’s unfortunate, glaring issues.
While there is a lot to like about Disenchantment, there’s also a lot to be frustrated with. The show suffers from a few tired tropes, too much plot fit into too little time, some botched characterizations, and dropped plots/characters that could prove more interesting than the show allows.
To start with the tropes. Disenchantment does some clever things: making Bean a multi-leveled ruffian, booz-lover, and rogue with an affinity for for protecting life, and not just giving Luci the typical “liar revealed” plotline. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t fall into some traps, though.
For example, Bean’s elf friend, Elfo, has a crush on her. Quickly, the show falls into “nice boy likes pretty, wild girl” tiredness, and hints annoyingly hard at their possible future relationship. The pair share little romantic chemistry and most other shows let something like this grow instead of shoving it so quickly in viewer’s faces.
There’s also her “anti-princess” complex, her father’s rage against any boy’s interest in her despite trying to marry her off, and a “chosen one”-esque twist. It’s all a bit much.
And speaking of being a bit much, for only ten episodes, the shows has way too much going on. There’s a plot involving some villains, Luci, and corrupting Bean. There’s a plot about Bean feeling useless. There’s Elfo’s love for Bean. There’s the issue of Dreamland’s safety. There’s the elixir of life plot. There’s the Bean’s dead mother plot. Mind you, most of these plots are at least mentioned in every episode. It’s a lot to handle in less than a dozen episodes, and it leaves the show very unfocused.
Also, despite all these plots, because of their muddling of each other, nothing noteworthy happens until the final few episodes. These plots may have in theory sounded important, but Bean resistance towards getting married doesn’t cause war with the nation wanting her hand. Other ambassadorial blunders fail to result in war. While bad things happen, Disenchantment doesn’t have any stakes or real progression until the last two or three episodes. In an adventure story, that’s a bit of a problem.
Now to the miniscule elephant in the room. Personally, Elfo is terrible and disjointedly written. In the first episode, he’s a frustrated elf who craves experiencing more than sugar sweetness. When he leaves, it seems he’ll turn into a character obsessed with experiencing all the terrible things he can because he lived where it was forbidden. He gets imprisoned? He could marvel at how cold the bars are and how uncomfortable he is, with a smile on his face the entire time. It sounds like a fascinating, slightly masochistic character in the making.
However, the second he gets to Dreamland, he becomes this optimistic, encouraging, ray of sunlight. His interesting beginnings are washed away to be some strange, innocent dimwit who just happens to like drinking and princesses.
And the trope of the nice guy liking the girl out of his league, and the show’s hints that he will eventually get her, are exhausting. While great friends all deserve love, why can’t the Bean-Luci-Elfo trio be just that? Friends. In one episode, Bean’s dedication to find Elfo love is far more endearing than any “romantic moments” between them.
Finally, there are just some confusing aspects of the show, and confusing enough that it’s troublesome. For example, why doesn’t Bean become a member of the guard, or go see the world on her own? Her best skills have been shown off as being a quick-of-their-feet fighter and adventurer. It would be an easy device to get her on adventures and it could be the place she can figure out who she wants to be. If her father doesn’t mind her being an executioner, it’s doubtful knighthood would be that crazy. The show just has so many missed opportunities that it hurts. Wasting that possibility to explore this cool world they’ve built is tragic.
Despite complaints, the humor is still solid enough to keep interest, as are most of the core cast. The world is interesting and nearly begs to be explored. The first seven episodes seem like endless set-ups for three characters who don’t actually get to do anything until the final three. And, speaking of, those final three begin what could be a great show before stopping and leaving fans hanging.
A personal theory is that the season length might be Netflix’s doing by giving episode count restrictions, scrunching down twenty or so episodes worth of plot, expansion, and growth into a measly ten. That would explain why it’s so over bloated, why some threads or threats go nowhere, and why the final episodes are the only ones that seem balanced at all. However, it’s nothing but a theory, and it doesn’t excuse the show’s flaws.
The show is hardly bad, it’s just far from great. It has a lot of issues to iron out before it becomes something amazing.
Disenchantment has very good bones, but it just tried to do too much in too little time, felt unfocused and disjointed, and used Elfo as a plot device, not a person. But the show is likeable enough to want a second season to see if it’s chipped away some of its less favorable kinks. However, if you’re not looking to muck through a weird, funny tunnel with no certainty of light at the end, wait until season two comes out and then binge it all.