(Disenchantment premieres on Netflix today, February 9th.)
I wish I could figure out where Disenchantment is going or what it wants to be.
Now in its fourth season, Matt Groening's latest still feels like it’s looking for a voice of its own.
Picking up right where season 3 left it, Disenchantment finds Beanie in Hell, Luci in Heaven, and Elfo captured by ogres. King Zog is on his way to the asylum, and there’s a host of baddies all vying for dominion of the Kingdom.
Once again, the series breaks up the main crew for much of the season to its detriment. Disenchantment works best when Beanie, Elfo, and Luci get to play off each other, but for some reason, the series seems entirely against this happening. Eric André and Abbi Jacobson get some great laughs early on, but their dynamic never expands the way it should. Instead, Disenchantment piles more obstacles and villains into the mix without ever building on the old ones.
At ten episodes, I’d even argue that for the first time, Disenchantment doesn’t have the plot to justify its length. Flashback episodes, like the one about Elfo’s past, are entirely superfluous. They feel like filler to establish more sidekicks for another season, but they’re not funny enough to cover twenty-plus minutes of sidetracking.
It’s all very plot-heavy once again, as well. Almost like the series wants to distance itself from the absurd shenanigans of earlier seasons. But the tone continues to teeter between high-fantasy adventure and glib jabs at itself. Yet none of it lands as it should. Even the background gags, a staple of both The Simpsons and Futurama, feel like first drafts.
Not that everything is a miss. Singular gags occasionally hit it out of the park. The elf-names-describing-their-personality-gag is still a slapper. (“Elves don’t quit. Except for Quito, that’s all he did.”) But there’s a certain level of over-explaining that’s even more prevalent this season. Potentially good gags and lines get repeated, underlined, and played out too often for their own good. Just when you think they’ve landed a good one, someone repeats the same joke in different words. Almost as if every writer in the room needs to get their version on air.
Therein lies the crux of the matter. Disenchantment is everything, all at once. It doesn’t know when to say no. For four seasons, Beanie continues to be on the run. There’s rarely a moment to breathe or for the world to flesh itself out. And after waiting this long, I don’t see a change incoming.
And it’s not like that’s inherently bad, either. There are elements that work extremely well. Steamland, for one, is a fantastic addition to the lore. The darkly humorous war between gnomes and ogres is so outrageously violent at this point that I can’t help but love it. Even the bits in Heaven, where Luci pesters God over plot holes in Christian lore are spot on.
But these elements still don’t tie together. They feel competitive instead of supportive, making the big picture chaotic at best.
The fourth season ends, just as the three previous ones, with the promise of more adventures in store. But I’m not sure how much more stamina I have for it. I want to hang on due to the sunk cost fallacy, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
Maybe season five will decide which show Disenchantment ultimately becomes. Because right now, it’s a decent comedy and a potentially great adventure drama. But as both, it’s beginning to outstay its welcome.