This Disenchantment review contains spoilers.
Disenchantment Episode 6
Netflix Originals have no regard for the rigid running time requirements of conventional television. The length of a show can vary by a not insignificant amount from episode to episode and I don’t care for it. Films have more wiggle room because they’re self-contained one-offs (or at least they used to be, before Marvel enslaved humanity). A film tells one story with one setting and one stable of characters in the amount of time needed. It’s a one-time event that grabs you, immerses you for a while, and then gives you your freedom (or at least it used to, before Marvel devoured freedom whole).
A TV show has you visiting the same place with the same characters week after week and it’s my personal belief that one of the repeated, familiar qualities of a series should be its length. I’m not so rigid about this; obviously an episode can comfortably lose or gain a few minutes and there are always specials if a series wants to do a longer story, but Netflix allows creators to really let their hair down. I know premium networks like HBO pull this kind of thing now too, but they typically do this with dramas. I’m no fan of fluctuating runtimes in any case, but I think the effect on comedies is more pronounced, and Netflix lets all their series, regardless of genre, go nuts.
I can’t say I know what the perfect runtime for comedy is. The present 22 to 23-minute length for network sitcoms is fairly arbitrary, based entirely on how many advertisements they feel like they can get away with making you watch before you get pissed off and change the channel. However, comedy is a difficult thing to sustain. It’s hard to keep people laughing consistently over a long period and 22 minutes is an extremely limited amount of time that forces sitcoms to be quick and punchy. It’s hard to have a dull moment when you have to cram all those jokes and story into such a small window.
Disenchantment shows more restraint than other Netflix Originals. With the exception of the overblown 35-minute pilot, episodes typically clock in at 27 to 29 minutes apiece. That said, there are still flabby moments where I can feel the writers were so pleased they got to let a drawn-out joke breathe, but, if it were up to me, I’d have just cut the hell out of the thing. Long story short, “Swamp and Circumstance” has a well-constructed plot and is also the funniest episode yet, but as it goes on, it drags and meanders, leaving me to wonder how much it’d be improved by a tighter cut.
Meanderings aside, the basic plot is solid. Bean feels useless so Zog assigns her the job of ambassador to the kingdom of Dankmire. She screws it up by making a drunken scene, but later redeems herself in a roundabout way by diplomatically stalling some murderous hicks. There’s a subplot of Elfo fighting with Luci over how he’s a terrible influence on Bean’s life. Subplots have sometimes been weak on Disenchantment, but this one works because it’s tied to Bean’s main plot while still having its own progression and resolution that develops Elfo and Luci’s relationship.
Again, “Swamp and Circumstance” is the funniest episode yet, but, considering I believe this series has a long way to go in the humor department, that just means I laughed at like five things. And here they are!
Bean puking upside-down and Zog subsequently almost puking. The knight who misunderstands the meaning of the phrase “the swamp monster will take care of them.” Zog’s defense of “I was just giving orders.” “Skinny girl? Kitty-cat?? Gross baby?!?” And literally my favorite joke in the whole series so far is Oona’s broken English that results in the line: “Is true. I was class clown. Is joke. Or is?” Also, Luci’s Zog impression (or, if you like, Eric Andre’s John DiMaggio impression) gets a special mention for being spot-on.
Very clever is that there are jokes that are also plot devices. Elfo reading the Dankmire guidebook seems like it’s just a joke sequence, but it comes back later as a funny excuse for why he knows about a secret passageway in the Dankmire castle. The Dankmire custom of bowing to someone whenever they bow to you is exploited by Luci early on just because he’s a jerk, but he later exploits it again to buy the gang some time when they’re being pursued by Dankmire soldiers.
But then, as mentioned, some stuff drags and gets less funny the longer it does. Bean running around on the dinner table mumbling drunken nonsense is one example. The hicks dancing about and singing is so bizarre and unfunny I don’t even understand why it’s in the show. (Much of the hick stuff feels tacked on and like it could’ve resolved a lot quicker.) They also evidently had no idea how to end this episode, as it closes out with Bean’s brother rambling boringly.
“Swamp and Circumstance” is Disenchantment’s funniest episode so far, with good plots for both Bean/Zog and Luci/Elfo. It’s got some sloppy moments (the rednecks get eaten for randomly standing in the wrong place too long) and it’s weird that Bean tells Zog he never says he’s proud of her when he literally said it in the previous episode, but otherwise, good stuff! It could stand to be edited down a bit though, just like this review!
Joe Matar watches a lot of cartoons and a lot of sitcoms. He’s obsessed with story structure so that’s what all his reviews are about. Joe also writes about video games on occasion. He has an MA in English if you can believe it. Read more of his work here. Follow Joe on Twitter for more fun @joespirational!