Thursday, 15 November 2018

Funny one-liners, flimsy plot

Funny one-liners, flimsy plot
23 Aug

A signboard says, “King’s council in session. Eavesdroppers will be dropped from eaves,” and a one-liner from Bean goes like this, “I drank so much, I can’t remember if I drank anything.”

The creator of the nearly three-decade-long-running animated sitcom The Simpsons, Matt Groening, comes to the house of Netflix with Disenchantment, an animated fantasy series that’s set in the medieval period.

Indians might look at the landscape of Dreamland, a fictional town ruled by King Zog, in Disenchantment, and immediately compare it to the grandeur of Baahubali’s Mahishmati. There’s a river that runs through the towns, lots of houses and tiny shops, and a host of bumbling characters in both of them that it makes me wonder if these writers are drawing their materials from a common pool of imagination.

While Mahishmati doesn’t include elfs, demons, griffins, and 12-feet-giants, Groening’s Netflix offering is generously peppered with these forms of living creatures, and it pokes fun at them at every given opportunity. The dark humour, that the creator and his writers dunk their characters in, is reminiscent of another brilliant animated show, BoJack Horseman, where animals, humans, and birds live in a world that doesn’t discriminate the beings based on their appearances.

For a standard set-up such as this, Disenchantment has humour and suspense in unequal measures. The series opens with a gambling princess (Tiabeanie, also called Bean; and voiced by Abbi Jacobson), and we follow her story for quite some time till she is joined by a demon named Luci (voiced by Eric Andre), who’s kind of modelled on the darker side that we all have inside of us – hence the total blackness of the character – and, an elf named Elfo (voiced by Nat Faxon), who has abandoned the jolly land of Elfwood to understand the miseries of the world because he’s always made to sing happy songs.

Groening’s strength seems to be in developing quirky visual gags. A signboard says, “King’s council in session. Eavesdroppers will be dropped from eaves,” and a one-liner from Bean goes like this, “I drank so much, I can’t remember if I drank anything.” These ingenious images and dialogues drive the show forward, but it’s hard to figure out the larger curve it’s going for. The traces it leaves behind, as, when one looks back, is nothing but a series of hilarious memes. If you’re digging for coherence and light knuckle-punches at pop culture in this scripted show, this may bypass your expectations and give you something you hadn’t signed up for.

The various supporting characters are also present to add an extra edge to the sight-and-sound jokes – a three-eyed minister hides his third-eye below the cap he wears, a groom-to-be turns into a pig, and a scientist tortures Elfo to extract his blood to make the elixir of life. And, even here, all the dialogues don’t sparkle with fire and ecstasy since Luci and Elfo pull strings from different corners and it becomes a game of bad-versus-good soon enough.

But the connection between Disenchantment and life in India isn’t just built over the Baahubali Bridge. Princess Bean is strictly not in the mood to get married, and, yet, she wants to be loved by a person who doesn’t see her as a princess. Likewise, there’s a whole truckload of mother sentiment – Bean is raised by a nanny, and the absence of her real mother is a cause of worry – that’s closer to what the Indian writers produce on a regular basis compared to their counterparts in the West. If not for anything remarkable, at least, for these homegrown elements, the series rings a loud bell.

Groening may not have reached for the stars altogether, nevertheless, he has, certainly, made spacecrafts for future creators to hop on and explore the area of fantasy universes. In that sense, Groening is to American television, and Netflix, what Hayao Miyazaki is to Japanese anime.



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