Disenchantment: How Netflix Changed Matt Groening’s Storytelling Approach

Matt Groening changed animated television comedy, but will Netflix change him?

When the streamer enlisted Groening to create a new series, he decided to take characters he’d been sketching for years and create a new world far removed from The Simpsons and Futurama. Groening is traveling back to medieval times for Disenchantment, which follows a foul-mouthed, partygirl princess who no longer wants to adhere to the rules set forth by her royal family. Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) voices Princess Bean, who finds friends to cause mischief with along the way: an elf named Elfo (Nat Faxon), and a demon named Luci (Eric Andre).

The adventure comedy is more Futurama than Simpsons, but Groening still found himself in a new position. After 29 seasons of being shackled by the structure of network television, he found it refreshing to be given a blank slate for Disenchantment.

“Working with Netflix has been a dream in part because they’ve been enthusiastic about every single thing we’ve mentioned,” Groening said during our roundtable interview at San Diego Comic-Con. “And they’re equally enthusiastic when we change our minds and go the other way. It’s incredible.”

Read Our Disenchantment Spoiler-Free Review

The writers’ room is able to tell stories in a new way with a shorter episode order, without being restricted by the half-hour format. Disenchantment executive producer Josh Weinstein, who had a long stint over at The Simpsons, said they wouldn’t have been able to abandon the cookie-cutter sitcom format on Fox or another broadcast network.

“[On broadcast] you reset at the end of every episode, and we don’t do that because we’re telling one long story,” Weinstein said. “There are lots of individual stories. As a writer, it’s really annoying that you have to reset at the end and reset at the beginning. And instead, we keep going and our characters keep going and growing, and that’s a lot more fun for us to write.”

Though they have free reign on Netflix, it doesn’t mean the writers gave in to their raunchiest of influences.

There’s certainly no censorship at all,” Groening said of Netflix. “When we originally talked about this, we thought maybe we’ll go a little more risque, a little dirtier, and we wrote a few jokes that way, and we said, ‘No, this doesn’t feel right.'”

Crucial to writing for the Netflix audience was bringing in a younger writing and animation staff. Half of the staff is over 50 and half is under 30.

“This is very intentional, because we’re old farts,” Weinstein joked. “I think that there is a younger set of writers and animators who grew up on The Simpsons and shows like South Park. They’re already more evolved than us. They had a base. I grew up on Scooby Doo.”

We’ll see if a new generation of streamers will connect with Bean, Elfo, and Lucci when Disenchantment releases on August 17th on Netflix.

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