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'Disenchantment' review: New series from 'Simpsons' creator Matt Groening falls flat

"Disenchantment", created by Matt Groening, tells the story

"Disenchantment", created by Matt Groening, tells the story of three unlikely friends.   Photo Credit: Netflix

THE SERIES "Disenchantment"

WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Princess Bean of Dreamland ("Broad City's" Abbi Jacobson) is the only daughter of brutal King Zøg (John DiMaggio), who rules his kingdom with an iron fist and no brains. He has also decided to marry off Bean to someone she doesn't know as a way of forging ties with another kingdom. Rebellious and independent Bean wants no part of this matrimonial scheme. With the help of her new, and unusual friends — Elfo (Matt Faxon), an elf and escapee from an enchanted candy land, and Luci (Eric Andre), a malevolent spirit sent by mysterious rivals of Zøg to take over Bean's soul — she hatches an escape plan. Chaos and a few animated deaths are the result, but out of this unlikely new friendship, a 10-part series unfolds. Netflix has already ordered a second 10-part season.

"Disenchantment" is only Matt Groening's ("The Simpsons") third series. The other was "Futurama," and some familiar voices from that show will appear here (most notably DiMaggio). It was co-created by longtime "Simpsons'" producer Josh Weinstein.   

MY SAY For his first act, Groening created a cultural colossus. For his second, he launched a cult series that had a highly respectable (12-year) run and is still cherished by fans. It therefore stands to reason that Act No. 3 had better be something pretty special. But, in fact, this is television. Reason has nothing to do with anything. It's a long, shallow money trench with a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality that services a vast, restless audience that doesn't know what it wants other than for it to be cool, groundbreaking, socially relevant and have at least one flying dragon or the equivalent thereof. Groening may have largely kept himself above and beyond the messy fray of this business the past 30 years, but some things never change. The TV biz happens to be one of them.

Therefore, "Disenchantment" also has to be held to this admittedly broad and protean standard. What's most definitely "cool" here is the animation, which has a rich, multidimensional feel. Rough Draft Studios, which also did "Futurama" and is behind "Disenchantment," has also crafted the same bug-eyed animated style of "The Simpsons" (and "Futurama"), but this somehow feels like an advancement, or the 2.0 version.

That flying dragon — or equivalent thereof — should arrive by the end of this first season, or failing that, by next season. After all, "Disenchantment" has every other medieval fantasy trope known to the genre, like giants, elves, sprites, harpies, trolls, ogres, witches, sorcerers and rampaging knights and their flagons of ale. What's a dragon or two?

The missing pieces, arguably the most important ones, are the groundbreaking and socially relevant ones. That proficient and fluid animation aside, "Disenchantment" breaks no ground, offers nothing socially current other than the fact that Bean's a strong, independent woman. (She's also a violent alcoholic, so maybe strike that?)

This is not necessarily fatal because medieval fantasy doesn't exactly lend itself to contemporary parallels. By definition it's supposed to be fantastical and far-removed from the real world. But in lieu of that, what "Disenchantment" absolutely needed was some funny sight gags and razor-sharp lines. Needed but doesn't often get. The jokes and setups can be predictable, or worse, stale, leaving the impression that this is a series that just fell out of a time capsule all right — from the late 1980s.

BOTTOM LINE Great animation, solid voice work. Otherwise, "Disenchantment" can be servitude.      

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