Disenchantment may as well be that one precocious kid in class that, despite all of their smarts, ends up tanking the SATs. The Netflix series, which recently returned for the second half of its first season, simply doesn’t live up to its potential. This drawback could be excused in last year’s first batch of episodes; after all, the characters and the world itself were just being established. After these ten new episodes, though, it’s becoming clear that lackluster humor is an unfortunate fixture of Matt Groening’s latest project.
This run of Disenchantment suffers from the same issues as the preceding one: namely, it just isn’t funny enough. Jokes are often predictable and punchlines tend to land with an underwhelming thud. Attempts at hot takes, including tired references to emotional support animals or the music industry, aren’t even tepid. The lightning-in-a-bottle writers rooms that made the first several seasons of The Simpsons and the entirety of Futurama so consistently hilarious are clearly not easy to replicate.
The lack of humor falls more on the shoulders of the writers than the voice actors, who try their best with what they’re given. Abbi Jacobson finally seems fully comfortable playing the reckless princess Bean. Nat Faxon is as eager as ever as Elfo, and Eric Andre shines as the demon Luci despite having a character arc that, while touching, is poorly executed. John DiMaggio’s gruff King Zøg is always a bright spot and the pretentious prince-turned-pig Merkimer (Matt Berry) often gets some of the best zingers.
While the humor may be somewhat lacking in part two, Groening and company successfully give more texture to the world that Dreamland occupies. Bean travels to the lands of Maru (a low-rent Egypt) and Steamland which—you guessed it—is a whirring, metallic steampunk mecca. Even Dreamland itself becomes richer, with the elves moving into the kingdom and creating their own little neighborhood, Elf Alley, with shop names that, though not quite Bob’s Burgers level, are good for a background chuckle. As with any Groening joint, details of the world established in the first part carry over here, which makes these latest episodes especially worthwhile after revisiting the first 10. The animation itself is stellar: cherubs in heaven seem ripped from a vintage cartoon, bioluminescent jellyfish light up tide pools and zoomed-out shots of the kingdom still feel enchanting. Mark Mothersbaugh’s modern medieval score brings a liveliness to even the stalest of scenes. One of the tunes, emanating from a creepy music box, is bound to get stuck in your head.
Disenchantment’s most distinctive element compared to other Groening projects—its narrative continuity—provides the other highs of part two. The writers sow plot seeds early on that reap rewarding moments, and Bean’s relationship with her evil mother Dagmar proves one of the more compelling arcs. Even some of the episodes unrelated to the overall plot—especially the heist-filled “The Dreamland Job”—benefit from particularly tight storytelling. What they lack in snappy comedy, the writers almost make up for with a well-crafted overarching plot.
Character moments like The Simpsons’ “Do It For Her” or Futurama’s heartbreaking “Jurassic Bark” may have made both series particularly affecting, but they’re not why viewers came back every week. When you sat down for either show, you were guaranteed a half-hour jam-packed with jokes. Disenchantment fails to deliver on this promise, and no amount of rich worldbuilding can surpass 30 minutes of laughs.
Clare Martin writes about comedy, music and more for Paste.