Monday, 9 February 2015

Galavant - Season 1 Review

Galavant is a new show for 2015 on ABC and just finished a very short 8 episode first season.

I’ve always found something hilarious about musical comedy. Characters singing for no reason, with clever wordplay and some solid puns, almost always makes me smile. I love that musical episode of Scrubs, and I always look out for the re-runs of the musical episodes of Buffy, or Malcolm in the Middle, or The Simpsons. And I’m always keeping an ear open for the songs in South Park, and Futurama, and Family Guy.

But for all that, I couldn’t stand Glee. It made my skin crawl. And I’m not all that drawn to musical cinema, or theatre, or opera, or really all that much music in general. But there’s something about musical comedy that I really dig. Maybe it’s the playfulness, the light-heartedness, the fact it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Galavant does not take itself too seriously.

In a non-specific medieval land near Valencia, the mean King Richard has kidnapped the beautiful Madalena and plans to marry her. She and Galavant were in love before this kidnapping, so he sets out to rescue her from the castle. But upon arrival he finds out that, well, she’d really rather marry the King and become his Queen.

A year goes by, and Galavant has rather given up on the whole heroism business. The love of his life left him, and so the fire has gone out of his heart. But then the King isn’t having all that great a time of it either. Despite conquering the nearby land of Valencia and taking all of their riches, he just can’t keep his new bride happy. And so the King concocts a plan to win his Queen over, to lure Galavant back into danger by forcing the imprisoned Princess of Valencia to lead our hero into a trap. Got that? Good, that’s all the plot you need to know.

The episodes half follow the misadventures that come from King Richard’s attempts to be the sort of King that everyone fears and respects, and half follow Galavant and the Princess (and Sid) on their quest. Both of these are fun to follow, neither take themselves too seriously, and they both have the dark fairy-tale edge to their stories that gives them a slight bite and stops them from being too ‘nice’.

As a tongue-in-cheek fairy-tale comedy it does a very good job. It’s funny, and there are laughs. Good solid belly laughs from puns and pratfalls and everything. But that said, it can be somewhat predictable; most episodes start with someone realising they have a problem and end with that person learning a moral lesson which solves their problem. Galavant is too self-involved; Galavant learns to appreciate others. The King worries he isn’t manly enough; The King learns his real issues are with his dead father. This isn’t a bad thing at all, it’s fun to watch and gives a good source for the comedy, but it’s not very adventurous and that makes the adventure feel tame. There isn’t much peril, and so there aren’t high stakes to the quest despite the narrative danger Galavant is in. And because the episodes always feature two separate plotlines, each plot has to be kept short. It’s the same issue that ruins Modern Family: these plots can only feel like tiny vignettes, never having the space to breathe because they’re so insecure about wearing out their welcome.

It’s harsh to criticise light-comedy for being light, especially when it is enjoyable to watch and the jokes and performances are so praiseworthy. And these short 22 minute episodes fly by and really are thoroughly good fun.

But the real draw here is the musical-comedy, and so the real effort has gone into the songs. They are the centre-pieces of the episodes. They are packed with the most jokes and they clearly took the longest to make. The longest to write and to learn and to choreograph. The most expensive as well, most likely. And as a result, they have to be used sparingly. The best feature of the show, and they are usually used to book-end the episodes, with maybe a shorter song or a brief refrain in the middle. But because of this, they don’t wear out their welcome. Just don’t expect this to be all-singing, all-dancing. It’s mostly a multi-camera comedy about a cruel King and an heroic knight.

Galavant has great charm, and it’s a worthy new show to start off 2015 brightly. It’s funny and a genuine hit. I really did feel myself looking forward to the two new episodes each week more and more. So I'm a big fan, and I'd expect most other people would be too. But by being light-entertainment it feels thoroughly lightweight, and so it’s hard to recommend it as ‘must-watch television’. Still, as I said, I'm a big fan, it's funny and has great songs, and I can't wait for more episodes.

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