THE Simpsons has been on air for almost 30 years now.
Even fans who haven’t seen an episode since the 1990s agree that the banana-hued Springfieldians had a great 10-year run in the beginning.
Think about that, a decade of brilliant TV. Even the best and most acclaimed shows barely stretch it to six years before losing creative steam.
So The Simpsons creator Matt Groening will understand that everything he else does will always be compared to his magnum opus. Disenchantment, available from tonight on Netflix, is the first new series Groening has put out since Futurama in 1999 – in other words, we’ve waited 19 years for this.
Groening has been developing the show for 10 years after reading a stack of fantasy books — he wanted to create a sandbox with magic, talking creatures and rebellious royals.
It follows the story Bean (Abbi Jacobson), a teenage princess living in her boorish father King Zod’s (Futurama vet John DiMaggio) realm of Dreamland. When we meet Bean, she’s gambling at the local tavern, inciting a riot on her way out.
This pants-wearing roaming around town is just another night for Bean, who has spent her life bristling against her destiny to be a trophy wife in an arranged marriage to a douchey neighbouring prince.
It’s the last thing Bean wants for her life — she later laments that having to choose between death and marriage shouldn’t be that hard.
Zod’s attempt to keep his daughter “in check” proves challenging, with his knights preferring to join the crusade than guard the princess.
Aiding Bean in her quest for self-determination is Elfo (Nat Faxon), an optimistic and naive but corruptible elf who has ventured away from his cloistered home, and Luci (Eric Andre), Bean’s personal demon who’s was sent by a couple of weirdos standing around a crystal ball who appears to have bigger plans for her.
Disenchantment dropped seven episodes today, half of its first season. Each chapter works as a stand-alone but it also has a narrative arc.
With Groening heading over to Netflix for this project, he’s been freed of the constraints of commercial broadcast TV, the limitations that Fox had placed on The Simpsons and Futurama.
So expect more violence — lots more violence — on screen and a harder, crasser edge to its writing and spirit. Disenchantment is much closer in tone to Futurama than The Simpsons.
But the thing about boundaries on creativity is that it’s not always a bad thing, it often forces writers and directors to be more clever in approaching their storytelling. This is why The Simpsons was so on point in those early seasons — so many of its jokes, storylines and characters worked on many levels so that kids had one experience watching it while adults had another.
Disenchantment doesn’t have those broadcast censors, so it’s much more upfront and, shall we say, single entendre in its humour – it doesn’t imply there was walrus sex, it just tells you it was walrus sex. It doesn’t have those layers and it seems unlikely to achieve the kind of classic status Groening reached with his most famous creation.
But that’s not to say Disenchantment isn’t a pleasant and pleasing show that you’ll happily pass a Saturday afternoon with. There’s a lot going for it — the bright animation, the great voice work and Mark Mothersbaugh’s energetic score.
But it’s no The Simpsons.