Upon Further Review: Disenchantment Still Falls Short

When I first started watching Disenchantment, I had high hopes for the new Matt Groening series.  The fact that it was on Netflix made me even more excited that the gloves were off, and that the limits of the story were endless.  Unfortunately, after the first seven episodes, I had mixed feelings.  I found myself with more negatives than positives, and wondered if it was worth continuing.  I won't rehash my previous thoughts, as you can find my spoiler free thoughts on the first seven episodes by listening to Episode 227 of our podcast.

When I decided to continue watching beyond Episode 7, I did find a moment of hope.  (WARNING:  SPOILERS AHEAD for the final few episodes of Disenchantment.)  As they went on the quest for the vial to unlock the Elixir Of Life, I actually found myself enjoying the series.  The awkward relationship story between the Princess and Elfo seemed to be over, there was a clear path set and the adventure was actually quite humorous...for one episode.  After the vial was found, everything after that was like trying to cram one of those ships into a glass bottle after having already built it.  Honestly, I thought the last few episodes really confirmed how I felt about the show's first several episodes, missed opportunity.  While I won't go into every detail, I would like to talk about a few.

The first missed opportunity, I felt, was when they went back to Elfo's home with the elves.  We had already found out that he wasn't fully an elf, and we were supposed to find out why.  I'm not upset that we did not find out, what upset me was that there were a lot of opportunities to let that play out a bit more.  I'm not saying they had to spend half of the season in the land of the elves, but it seems like there could have been a lot of opportunities for humor that were squandered by leaving too soon.  That's not to say that there weren't any funny moment, especially during the battle, but that all seemed very rushed.  What about Elfo's girlfriend and dealing with that drama?  What about playing out Elfo's relationship with his father and how he would interact with the Princess?  When the soldiers of Dreamland did get there, why rush that battle?  It just seemed like rushing was the theme at the end, when it couldn't have been more different in the beginning.

They spent SO MUCH time in the first several episodes of the series deal with Bean trying to find her own path and being the rebellious Princess to a father she felt never really appreciated her.  It seemed like that dragged on forever, as the trio of the Princess, Elfo and Luci went on misadventure after misadventure.  Then the purpose of the story is finally realized late in Episode 7, and into Episode 8, that it felt extremely rushed.  Again, a missed opportunity to make me care about the show's two biggest moments.

First you have the "death" of Elfo, which not only wasn't surprising, but I felt had almost zero impact.  While it was established how much Bean cared for Elfo, it was hard to buy the emotion from her character after how she was portrayed in the earlier episodes.  The funeral scene was also another instance where the show couldn't decide whether it wanted to be funny or be serious, and the mix of the two really fell flat.  Then there is the thing that this is all connected to, and that is the return of Bean's mother.  This was the one that frustrated me the most, as it was entirely the wrong time to make this reveal.  Not only was this crammed into the final two episodes, so was the big reveal that she was trying to poison the King and take Dreamland for herself.  There are all of these things that the could have done, and started to do, but rushed through once again.  The conflict with Queen Oona, how the King deals with that conflict, how the people of Dreamland accept what's going on, I could go on with all of these possibilities.  These were dealt with swiftly, but to me, were another squandered opportunity for humor that the show was very much lacking for the most part.  Instead you rush through Bean's mother laying waste to the people of Dreamland and introducing us to a whole other set of characters.  You may have missed it, but there was also an end credit stinger with Elfo's body washing up on a shore and being recovered.  So while this show took it's sweet time getting ready for a party, only to realize they were running late and slamming on the accelerator to get there, here's what I was thinking.

Even if you don't change anything that had happened before Episode 7, there was still a chance to make the rest of the season matter.  They could have extended the time at Elfo's home, let the soldiers of Dreamland have more difficulty finding them and let that story play out a bit more.  You would also then have time to make Elfo's death mean something, add to the mystery of who he is and give Bean a bit more emotional depth.  Let the final scene of this first season, or first part of the first season depending on how you look at it, be one of two things:  Bean trying to decide to bring back Elfo or her mother or just let the final scene be her reuniting with her mother.  Once the show returned, you would have another 10 episodes to play with and really tell the story of the Queen's return with more impact and humor.

If you were a huge Futurama fan, you may feel differently about Disenchantment.  To me, the different is that Futurama was delivered with much more confidence, purpose and direction than Disenchantment was.  This show started out with an identity crisis and a crisis of focus that it never really recovered from.  It almost feels like a lack of confidence in the show's future lead to this bumpy start.  In my experience, you cram things into a story like this when you're not sure whether or not the show will go on, or you will be able to keep viewers interested.  The thought being, "let's do something really impactful to hook them and make them come back."  Instead, if the story was structured better, you could have hooked viewers on these characters by giving them more of a linear path.  You also could have succeeded just by focusing on the misadventures themselves, and damn the larger story all together in these initial episodes.  It seems like Netflix was willing to give this show the luxury of time, and the creators didn't get the message.  Given that the show hasn't gotten the praise that I'm sure most were expecting, maybe it's possible things can slow down in the episodes when the show returns in 2019.  Otherwise, I'm afraid it will be down the giant waterfall for a show that looked like it had limitless potential.

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