There is an immediate sense of familiarity within the first few moments of Netflix’s Disenchantment. It’s somewhat comforting. After all, the new animated series hails from Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and Futurama, and you can see aspects of both shows throughout. Simplistically, you can describe Disenchantment as Futurama but with fantasy in lieu of sci-fi; or if you squint, you can say the main character vaguely resembles a bootleg Bart Simpson. And just like those two shows, Disenchantment has a shaky beginning that hints at promise — but this time around, it might be buried under too much mediocrity.
Developed with Simpsons veteran Josh Weinstein, Disenchantment (which premieres Friday) takes place in a past medieval kingdom and quickly introduces us to our heroine Bean, a rebellious princess whose favorite book is “the hollowed out one with the booze inside.” Bean’s father, King Zog (John DiMaggio), is set on marrying her off in order to form a political alliance but, like so many other rebellious princesses before her, Bean isn’t too keen on the idea. From there, Disenchantment introduces the other two big players: Elfo (Nat Faxon), an elf who leaves his utopian and perpetually-happy forest because he’s seeking a more human world “where people are miserable,” and Luci (Eric Andre), Bean’s “personal demon” given to her as a wedding gift, who is frequently confused for a cat (which are, of course, personal demons in their own way). “Get used to it,” he informs her, “because you are stuck with me for all of eternity.”
Luci is mostly around to encourage Bean to do the wrong thing (although it never takes much convincing) to further push the three into weird little adventures that are often fun and inventive, even if they don’t go anywhere. Elfo is around to, well, kind of just pine after Bean and occasionally interject some humanity into the episodes. The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be much going on under the surface to propel any of them. (Even the brief hints to a greater story about Luci are few and far between, not adding much.) And, unfortunately, none of them are developed enough for this to be just a fun and casual animated show where viewers are content to go along with the shenanigans.
Some of the issues are due to the lightly serialized nature of the show, which feels lacking, but there’s also the absence of any push-and-pull between the characters. Much of the time, there doesn’t seem to be a point to Luci (although Eric Andre is doing fantastic voice work, as is the rest of the cast) because he doesn’t exactly have to work hard to convince Bean to do something dumb or evil. The slightly-longer runtime doesn’t work in Groening’s favor either (the pilot runs 35 minutes but doesn’t need to; the rest of the episodes are thankfully shorter).