Disenchantment has been described as Futurama set in a mythical fantasy land, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Outside of the typical Matt Groening humor and cel-shaded aesthetic, these two shows have little in common. So if you tuned into Netflix’s newest animated comedy to fuel your Futurama fandom, this show might have left a sour taste in your mouth.
With a fantastic cast, an award-winning writing team, and a Netflix-sized budget, there was an incredible amount of potential in the series. Despite all of this, it didn’t manage to cast a spell on its audience. Here’s why Disenchantment was such a disappointment for Groening’s fanbase.
The most striking difference between Disenchantment and Groening’s other shows was the storytelling format. The Simpsons and Futurama are both animated sitcoms. This means they follow traditional sitcom tropes rooted in commedia dell’arte, and each episode stands alone. For the most part, sitcoms don’t have long story arcs over many episodes — the main action resolves itself in a tight 25-minute timeframe. Futurama and The Simpsons thrived in this kind of narrative.
In Disenchantment, the arguably thin plot unfolds over a series of ten episodes. It’s not an animated sitcom, it’s an animated action-adventure series. This might not make a huge difference to the viewer, but it has a radical impact on Groening’s writing style.
We’re glad that Groening breaks away from the trite damsel-in-distress archetype found in traditional fantasy narratives with protagonist Princess Tiabeanie, a.k.a. Bean. However, apart from wanting to rebel against the patriarchy (a very noble cause), Bean’s stakes are pretty low. Her main objective didn’t become clear until about halfway through the season in “Castle Party Massacre.” Things didn’t really start to get interesting until the very end of the season in “Dreamland Falls.”
Disenchantment would have been more gripping if less time was spent on exposition. The story should have started at the top of the roller coaster rather than at the entrance to the amusement park. This kind of long-form storytelling is a huge departure from Groening’s comedic writing style. The magic formula that gave The Simpsons and Futurama so much success simply did not work in this story-driven format.
Disenchantment brought along a lot of the same voice talent from Futurama, but there were many newcomers as well. Abbi Jacobson of Broad City fame, Eric Andre from Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show, and The Mighty Boosh star Noel Fielding round out the cast. (If you haven’t yet seen the comedic masterpiece that is The Mighty Boosh, do yourself a favor and watch this clip below.)
These irreverent comedians are known for their off-color, nonsensical, R-rated humor. Fans were expecting humor somewhere along the lines of other Netflix animations like Big Mouth or Bojack Horseman. Instead, viewers got something that was very tame, too tame. Wholesome, even. It’s as if these brilliantly dark comedians were tranquilized before entering the recording booth. Now, there were redeeming moments, but they were few and far between.
The switch from broadcast television to Netflix might have been the final nail in the coffin, so to speak. The Simpsons and Futurama were both made for Fox’s primetime lineup, so the target audience was decidedly older. Since Disenchantment can be streamed at any time, night or day, the audience for this show is much broader.
Netflix has to cater to the late-night crowd as well as the Saturday morning cartoon crowd, and as a result, this series is equal parts dark comedy and after-school special. This combination works as well as mint chip ice cream and hot sauce — which is to say not at all.
Why, exactly, did Netflix target such a broad audience with this show? It could be that Netflix is already saturated with adult comedy content. Considering Netflix’s main competitor, Hulu, just added a vast collection of children’s programming to their platform, it’s safe to assume that they intended to compete with this series. But it’s just not working.
That being said, the series still has incredible potential. Maybe this show doesn’t need to be a clone of Futurama with fantasy references instead of sci-fi. Like Futurama, this series could just be taking its sweet time to find its voice. But in any case, Disenchantment is certainly not working in its current state.
Perhaps Netflix will take fans’ feedback into consideration when creating the next three seasons slated to come out in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Disenchantment ended Season One on a pretty great cliffhanger. That could be enough impetus for fans to tune in again and give this series another chance.