Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons' is a cornerstone of modern popular culture and, for that, anything that Groening turns his hand to is invariably going to be measured against it and very often found lacking.
In a lot of ways, it's probably his own fault. Groening has only been involved with three series to date - 'The Simpsons', 'Futurama' and now 'Disenchantment' - so the benchmark that he's set is based off the previous two. 'Futurama' didn't immediately connect with audiences and its deep trove of sci-fi references didn't resonate in the same way as the heartfelt humour of 'The Simpsons'. With 'Disenchantment', it could very well be that it needs another season or two to find its groove, but TV shows rarely get that kind of latitude nowadays.
The series opens with Bean (Abbi Jacobson), a princess who is betrothed to be married and is too rebellious and independent to be tied down. When her wedding ceremony is interrupted by an elf voiced by Nat Faxon and a demon voiced by Eric Andre, she goes on the run with Prince Merkimer (Matt Berry) chasing after them.
Like 'Futurama', the series draws on fantasy tropes with aplomb and makes use of the conventions for humour, but it's all done in such a safe and predictable manner than none of it feels particularly funny. In fact, the whole time you're watching 'Disenchantment', you're reminded that this kind of self-aware take on fantasy has been done far better in 'Shrek' or something like 'Adventure Time' or 'Dave The Barbarian'. Even leaving that aside, the humour is pitched so strangely throughout and veers between absurd and mean-spirited so sharply that it's hard to keep it all down.
Still, the cast assembled for 'Disenchantment' is admirable and they're all giving their strongest take even when the writing isn't even close to matching them. Matt Berry fits perfectly into the over-the-top fantasy world as Merkimer and is able to deliver the most preposterous lines perfectly, calling to mind the great Phil Hartmann. Eric Andre, though a great comedic talent, feels out of place here as it's all too conventional for him to really cut loose. Abbi Jacobson adds some much needed warmth, and our own Sharon Horgan also enjoys some great some lines in there as well. 'Futurama' alums Tress MacNeille, Billy West, Maurice LaMarche and John DiMaggio are reliably fun when they can be, but it just doesn't happen nearly enough as it should.
If 'Disenchantment' is to continue and flourish in the way Groening's previous efforts has, there needs to be far sharper writing here than what the first season has to offer. The jokes needed to be sharper and smarter and the voice talent needs to be used in a way that speaks more fluidly to their individual sensibilities than what's on show. The only one who seems to really have a handle on things is Matt Berry, but even that doesn't work every time.
It's a shame that 'Disenchantment' doesn't work as well as it could, but given how there's such a glut of animated comedy nowadays of every stripe, 'Disenchantment' wouldn't be discussed half as much if weren't for Groening's legacy.