The one thing to always keep in the back of your mind is that the key ingredient to a great television show, let alone a successful one, is luck. There are many factors at play that helps launch a great series, whether it’s internal with its creative process or external with its platform, marketing strategy, or whether or not it can find an audience. You can have one of the best shows of all time in the works and it could easily fall through if a particular cylinder isn’t firing properly. The TV industry is a tough business in which anything can rear its ugly head. Luck is completely out of one’s hands but if you have the right tools prepared, you are more likely to end up with a true gem. Other than Matt Groening being no stranger to the ins and outs of TV, here’s 5 reasons why I think his new Netflix series, Disenchantment, has a superb chance of being a brilliant show. If you aren’t up to speed, here’s the official comic con trailer below of this new upcoming project:
5. Challenging Narrative
According to executive producers Matt Groening and Josh Weinstein, Disenchantment’s 10 episode first season and overall series will be concentrated with an over-arching narrative, similar to a drama series. The show’s humor and jokes will be written around a serialized story, while each individual episode will manage to stand on its own. How deeply serialized or dramatic this narrative may be remains to be seen, but nonetheless it’s definitely a bold change in formula compared to The Simpsons and even Futurama, which the latter to a lighter extent has delved into a specific, continuing mythology throughout its run. Disenchantment is also implied to have moments of foreshadowing in the pilot to its season finale, as well as an end game to the entire series already in mind.
Many comedies, from Seinfeld to Curb Your Enthusiasm, or The Office to Parks and Recreation have maintained a continuing story throughout most seasons, so it’s not as if the concept is new, but I do wonder how innovative Disenchantment sets out to be here. Will it be standalone stories with a small thread of serialization (character goals, comedic payoffs) like many great shows have previously accomplished or are we getting one of the first deeply serialized comedies? And yes, South Park in recent seasons has been dabbling with this formula using a central idea to drive the season’s ongoing story to the point where if you missed one episode, you might get lost. However, week to week it seems more off-the-cuff, using political satire and topical humor in the hope for some outlandish payoff that more or less falls flat. From what we’ve seen and heard from Disenchantment, it feels like the story could be a bit more personal and carefully thought out.
4. Distinguished World
As a cartoonist, Matt Groening has stuck to the same signature design for his characters throughout all his work. From his comic strip Life in Hell, to The Simpsons and Futurama, all of his characters have big round eyes, an overbite for a mouth, and all strive to be recognizable in silhouette ala Mickey Mouse. Despite this common trend, each piece of work is completely different from one another in terms of genre and presentation. The first 13 seasons of The Simpsons used hand-drawn cel animation, eventually shifting to digital and later HD, while Futurama took advantage of a 3D city landscape and universe for its hand-drawn/digitally animated characters to occupy. Disenchantment seems to be using a cel-shaded 3D animation for its unique fantasy setting (castle, buildings) while applying complex shadowing and coloring to certain scenes that we’ve never seen before in his previous shows. The world has a level of vibrancy that seems fitted for today’s modern HDTVs thanks to Rough Draft Studios’ (animation company for Futurama) imaginative visualization and direction.
Animation aside, in Disenchantment, we’re being thrown head first into a world of fantasy. If The Simpsons turned the American nuclear family sitcom on its head, and Futurama did the same for science fiction, then we can expect a similar level of subversion from typical fantasy tropes and all the while an embrace towards the genre from a sincere, learned approach. The ecosystem of the universe’s characters are also distinguishable from The Simpsons core family or Futurama’s diverse Planet Express workplace. It’s a princess for the lead, an elf, and a demon, all of whom seem drawn to each other as outcasts. ‘Bizarre’ isn’t anything new in Groening’s worlds but you can bet there will be a unique chemistry here, fresh from what we’re used to seeing, especially in this beautiful new playground of a setting.
3. Quality Writing and Voice Talent
If Groening is the one to map out the conceptual universe to his shows, it’s then the collaborative effort of his writing staff and the performance from the cast to help elevate and carry it forward. One misconception to the general layman TV watcher is that the creator of a TV show is the sole creative genius behind it, like an author to a novel. In many instances, an artist’s vision behind a series can take the large sum of deserved credit in the mold, vision, and finishing effect of the work, but a television show at the end of the day is still owed to the entire creative team involved. TV shows like Louie or South Park are special cases where the creators do the lion’s share of the work, but that doesn’t make a collaborative effort any less accomplished if that’s what the project asks from itself. In some cases, it’s even more admirable when a show can sustain it’s quality when there are a variety of moving parts behind it.
That said, it’s important to note that Groening won’t be the only ‘genius’ involved, but as previously mentioned he’ll be showrunning it along with Simpsons, Futurama, and Mission Hill alum Josh Weinstein. Weinstein not only wrote a handful of classic episodes of The Simpsons along with Bill Oakley (another hired writer of Disenchantment!) but served as showrunner with Oakley for the show’s impeccable seventh and eighth season. Futurama’s lead showrunner David X. Cohen will also be on the writing staff along other familiars like Patric M. Verrone and Eric Horsted.
Princess Bean will be played by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson, Elfo will be played by Nat Faxon, and Luci will be played by Eric Andre (The Eric Andre Show). On top of that, the supporting cast will feature the voices of Futurama vets such as Billy West, John DiMaggio, David Herman, Tress MacNeille, and Maurice LaMarche. If you ask me, I believe everyone listed here on the cast and the writing staff make the recipe for a successful hit television show all the more promising.
2. Creative Freedom
After 30 years of The Simpsons on Fox and Futurama spending the first half of its run on Fox before getting picked up, post-cancellation, by Comedy Central, Disenchantment’s debut on Netflix might be the most creatively flexible platform that Groening and team have ever worked on. Has network and basic cable ever prevented The Simpsons and Futurama from being the critical and commercial success that they are? Of course not. In fact, working around network guidelines and censors can provide some of the most rewarding and inspired material. Still, it is sweet to hear how happy Matt Groening has been with the streaming service so far. Netflix seems to be supportive of any direction the show wants to go in. It will be supremely captivating and fresh going forward to see what limits the show will set for itself. What stories or jokes could be told with less restrictions that otherwise couldn’t be done on Matt’s former shows? And yet, do lines get crossed for the sake of being crossed or will they discipline themselves from being gratuitous?
1. Vision & Timing
It’s no secret that The Simpsons, despite the powerhouse of a show it was in the first third of its lifecycle, has experienced a swift decline in quality, the same way any show would if it went for a record, back-breaking count of 639 episodes. Futurama also saw a softer decline during its revival on Comedy Central. So why should Disenchantment be considered in such good faith to be any less different, even from the get-go, of being a similarly hollow shell compared to Groening’s shows when they operated at their best? I think what people need to keep in mind is that Matt Groening is not the George Lucas of his shows. He may defend the The Simpsons as still being as great as ever but that’s just promotion and good favor. In reality he has always been one of the show’s toughest critics even during its golden years and it was no surprise in 1999 when he focused his full attention on Futurama, because he knew The Simpsons had accomplished so much by that point. He knew the show was in good hands (having not been a showrunner since season 2 regardless), but most importantly it was time to move on and work on something entirely new.
It was exactly this keen sense of awareness and visionary outlook that helped make Futurama become just as much of a smash as its predecessor. Futurama was not a cash grab, but a project of beloved science fiction which he and David X. Cohen were passionately bouncing around with for a while in The Simpsons writers room long before it came to fruition. Point is, I believe Matt Groening knows when a show has outstayed its welcome and also knows when a new show should begin. It shouldn’t be force manufactured off a conveyor belt just because there’s a gap in time is to be filled with money to be made. Instead, the right idea comes at the right time and in 2018, five years after his time as a more of a creative consultant on the last season of Futurama, his new passion project is here.
Any long-time Simpsons fans remember what it was like to watch Futurama’s pilot when it aired nearly 20 years ago?
It felt like The Simpsons era was possibly on its way out (we weren’t fortune tellers) and this new, strange Futurama show might be the next big thing. In the first minutes, we instantly sympathize with the lead character as he traverses a bleak New York City alone on New Years. All of a sudden, we’re launched 1,000 years into the future to this bright, colorful world full of endless potential. It was hopeful and exciting and little did many viewers know that it would become one of their favorite shows. It’s this hopefulness and excitement, feelings that most likely has been lost on many fans for a while, that I believe if you keep an open mind, we stand a likely chance of encountering again with Disenchantment. It’s a brand new world with a totally different character to feel gravitated towards which is majorly essential in facing that new frontier of biting, edgy comedy and contemplative screenwriting. I do not expect Disenchantment to be an old shoe masquerading as a new shoe, but a series with a pure, eager spring to its step that can only exist in this point in time of television. And I can’t wait.
Matt Groening and Josh Weinstein as showrunners have something to offer with this show. You could tell they’ve worked hard conceptualizing Disenchantment for who knows how long and they’re dying for people to see it. If you’re interested, you can fire up your Netflix subscription and binge the entire 10 episode first season on August 17th. Season 2 is already in the works. I could be wrong, but I personally think we’re in for a real treat. I’ll definitely be tuning in and be my own judge. What do you guys think?