What’s up: Matt Groening, the creator of both “The Simpsons” and “Futurama,” debuted the medieval fantasy “Disenchantment” in 2018. While the first season spent a considerable amount of time establishing the rebellious streak and near-constant drinking of Bean, the show’s protagonist princess, this second season gains narrative verve from sending that character on fantastical quests and thwarting palace intrigue.
The show begins with a boat trip to a decaying kingdom called Maru, “the birthplace of sand.” The very first joke of this season is a queen saying, “ugh, teenagers” to herself when she can’t wake Bean. That kind of simple, well-worn joke dominates the show, but “Disenchantment” also features more clever humor that often finds inventive (and dark) ways to take advantage of the fantasy setting. Fans of Groening’s earlier work that were underwhelmed by season 1 will find much more to appreciate this time around.
The voice cast includes Eric Andre and Nat Faxon, with Abbi Jacobson as the protagonist.
The second season of “Disenchantment” runs for ten episodes of roughly 30 minutes.
Sum up: In a strong narrative decision, the stakes raise to the highest levels possible at the beginning of season 2. This happens both internally, as Bean has to deal with the betrayal of her mother, and also metaphysically, as Bean and her “amigos” must travel to heaven and hell to fight with God and demons. For a show supposedly playing with fairy tale tropes, season 1 mostly squandered its setting with stories that could happen in any era. The immediate deployment of fantastical, high-stakes quests in season 2 is a welcome reset.
In another happy reprieve, Bean barely drinks in the first couple of episodes (unlike in season 1). She’s now a character on a mission, rather than one who wants nothing more than to tune out. Early in the first episode of season 2, Bean’s mother tells her, “You will be the greatest woman this goddamn kingdom has ever seen.” Things don’t end well with her mother, but that sentiment seems to be the driving force of Bean’s actions this season.
Heads up: Many of this season’s jokes rely on lazy uses of incongruous dialogue. For example, a character tells Bean she can explore anywhere while standing next to a mysterious door with a giant skull. When Bean asks what’s behind that door, the character says she can’t explore there. Later when a different character tells Bean to just ring a bell if she needs anything, Bean points out the bell is broken. The other character tells her that the walls are soundproof, so it doesn’t matter.
The show is jam-packed with this type of joke — where a character stumbles into something random but another character says to pay it no mind. This is perhaps most explicit when a viper seemingly attacks Bean and then her mother casually says it’s just a “messenger viper.” Hearing the same joke over and over gets tiresome fast.
Close-up: The best thing about this show (and this is both a compliment and a burn) are the background details. The characters move through richly designed worlds with all sorts of curiosities to spot as a viewer.
When Bean arrives at Maru in the first episode, there’s not just a generic castle; the stairs are flanked by giant, twisting golden horns. That’s the kind of inspired choice that elevates the story simply by making the world these characters traverse through more interesting.
Another detail I particularly loved: Banners and stained glass windows in the show feature the striking symbol of a giant bird with its mouth open to the sky as a bird falls down its throat. A strange, mystical choice.