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 and company 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.