Despite a few culturally insensitive missteps, part of the success of The Simpsons, and to a lesser degree, Futurama is that both shows brought transgressive humor into mainstream sitcoms. By virtue of being animated shows, Matt Groening created a sensibility that fused immature jokes with sly high-brow humor. However, his latest project is mostly the former and none of the latter. If The Simpsons and Futurama worked because they appealed to the 13-year-old that lived inside a grown-up, then Groening’s latest series, Disenchantment only appeals to 13-year-olds.
Disenchantment, as many mainstream TV critics would have you believe, is not bad. In fact, it’s actually marginally good insofar as it pokes fun at fairy tales and upends various fantasy conventions. Here, a nice Princess acts like a hilarious drunk thug and a happy Elf has an existential crisis. It’s the kind of humor that makes people quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail and still makes the concept of the Shrek movies or the novel Undermajordomo Minor seem clever. But, Disenchantment is mostly just the dressing for things that could be a little more interesting. Its biggest crime is that it isn’t near as smart as the one-liners in a bad Shrek movie or half as funny as a Patrick DeWitt book, putting it in a weird space of just being kind of okay.
Weirdly, Disenchantment is also not raunchy as it could be, meaning that if you were only watching it for crass jokes, it will weirdly fall short of your expectations. On some level, Disenchantment presents itself like the movie Old School meets The Princess Bride, only animated Simpsons-style. But instead, it feels more like a copy of movies you’ve already seen, but in those Simpsons voices you’re already so familiar with.
Here’s an example: in the first episode, the princess character, Bean (Abbi Jacobson) is drinking in a bar with a bunch of ruffians. If you remember the first scene in which we meet Marion (Karen Allen) in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s pretty much like that, only the joke is Bean is trying to cheat at cards and drink the guys under the table. What’s brilliantly subversive about the Marion drinking scene in Raiders is only kind of subversive and competently funny in Disenchantment. Plus, because it’s not an outright homage, it’s hard to say who the scene is for. But again, a 13-year-old who thinks these kinds of things are funny will probably chuckle.
To be clear, Disenchantment isn’t made for teens, nor could I recommend it to families to watch with their teens with a clear conscience. But, if for some reason your young teenager wants to watch it, you’ll probably find yourself laughing at least one time per episode. Just don’t expect to feel smart afterward.
Disenchantment is streaming now on Netflix.