If there’s one thing that you can expect to hear from TV critics these days, it’s that we’ve reached ‘peak TV’. There’s so much good stuff to watch, in some many different genres, that it’s nearly impossible to keep up, not unless we, in the immortal words of Leslie Knope, ‘work hard, never sleep, and shirk all other responsibilities in our lives.’ Of course, here ‘working hard’ refers mostly to the labour undertaken by our eyes, which may become glazed if not permanently damaged, by excessive staring at a screen.
I watch more TV than a lot of other people I know, one of the few benefits of deciding not to sign up for a regular salary and its (many) perks. Thanks to Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hotstar and the good work of Russian/Belarusian/Indian pirates, I can keep up to date with a load of shows that channels here do not deign to broadcast, or air at inconvenient hours, interspersed with ads. Despite the amount of time I have, I have still not managed to watch everything that my friends assure me I ‘have to see’, like Breaking Bad, or The Wire. Yes, yes, I know, I cannot claim to have lived unless I strike those off my list.
I’m usually reluctant to taste a new show, unless I’ve a) read about it in some esteemed publication whose writers I take seriously or b) been told to do so by a friend whose opinion I trust. My reluctance also stems from the fact that for me, getting into a new show is a huge investment. Once I start something, I usually try to finish it, sticking with it as it makes its way to what is hopefully a great season/series finale. There have been very few instances where I’ve given up on a show I started, and though it may not be the greatest example, Quantico was the last to fall into this category. I tried to be supportive, but I’m sorry PC, I just couldn’t take it after three episodes.
My greatest joy comes from finding a show that has finished its run, and therefore is available in its entirety to binge watch. This January, I stumbled across just such a show. It ran for all of two seasons, has 18 episodes in all, each of which is around 21 minutes, the standard sitcom length. I was amazed I hadn’t found it earlier, given that it hit all of the right notes (for me). Seriously, consider this:
—It’s created by the guy who wrote, among other film successes, Tangled.
—Its music is written by the guy who shaped the music of, among other Disney movies, Aladdin.
—It’s executive produced and written by the guy who is most famous for voicing, get this, Aladdin.
—Oh, and did I mention, it’s a spoof of knightly romances, a convention-spinning medieval tale of spurned lovers, ‘evil’ kings, overlooked squires, badass princesses and subplots galore?
It’s called Galavant, and I devoured it in a little less than three days.
Disney gets many things right (yes, you guessed it, Disney owns this show), and one of them is spoofing its own work. The classic animated films are filled with little puns and Easter eggs that reference others in their fraternity—such as the Genie turning into Pocahontas, or Pumba, in throwaway moments of Aladdin and the King of Thieves. But self-spoofing is elevated to an art in Galavant,
which employs the musical numbers that distinguish Disney’s classics to hilarious effect. The opening title is basically a sum up of our hero, laying out his ‘every fairytale cliche’, and the problem that besets him: his lady love, Madalena, has been stolen by the ‘evil’ King Richard, and he must ride to rescue her on her wedding day. Ring any bells? That’s pretty much the premise of Walter Scott’s poem ‘Lochinvar.’ So yes, cliched premise, but what follows is upturn after upturn of convention, starting off with Madalena deciding, ‘on second thought’, that she’d rather have fame and riches as queen than living a poor, if ‘acrobatic’ sex-filled life with Galavant. And so less than a quarter of the way through the first episode, the opening titles have been debunked—Madalena is not the helpless damsel we expect in so many knightly tales, and Galavant is an out-of-work, wine-sozzled man with a beer gut, no longer quite the picture of ‘ruling in every way’.
But not for long. A mysterious princess shows up, claiming to need his help for vengeance against the nefarious Richard, and promising him the precious Jewel of Valencia in payment. Desperate to strike back at the man who ‘stole’ Madalena, Galavant agrees to come, and thus adventures involving landlocked pirates, ridiculous battles, and singing monks begins.
The cast is perfect, particularly Karen David, who plays ‘ethnically-ambiguous’ Princess Isabella, Mallory Jansen as the ambitious Madalena, and Timothy Omundsen as the hilarious King Richard. Everyone sings, and hams it up, and looks like they’re having such fun with their roles, fully embracing the faux medieval aesthetic and all its Disney splendour. There are plenty of in-jokes, like random signs pointing to ‘Winterfell’, a handsome knight named ‘Sir Jean Hamm’ (played dashingly by John Stamos), and even a dig at Disney’s problematic race record, with Isabella, Sid (Galavant’s black squire) and Galavant singing stirringly about what a wonderfully diverse cast they are. Alan Menken’s tunes are comfortingly similar to what we expect from a Disney production—catchy and filled with digs both at the show itself, and the larger TV universe of it which it forms a part. For instance, my personal favourite is the opener of Season 2, where the cast catches the audience up with what’s happened in Season 1, and celebrates not being cancelled despite not ‘being Game of Thrones’.
Galavant owes a great deal, of course, to Don Quixote, one of the earliest and still best send-ups of the medieval romance. It’s easy to watch, and really seems made for people who want a little Disney feel good in their lives—feel good that is smarter than Once Upon a Time. I loved the show, and I think that anyone who likes Disney, who likes intelligent satire and storytelling, and also just likes to see the typical princess figures turn things upside down, should check out Galavant. Musicals seem to be having a moment, so why not keep the La La Land feels going, Game of Thrones style?