Tonight premieres ABC’s newest take on fairytales, Galavant. The limited series, running in the void left by Once Upon a Time‘s hiatus is a musical comedy: part Princess Bride, part Spamalot, part When Things Were Rotten, and a small part Shrek, Galavant is a musical comedy in eight half-hour segments. ABC should be applauded for going outside the envelope by presenting us with an strange medieval mix of self-aware sitcom (cue anachronistic 21st Century references) and broad Broadway-saturated extravaganza.
The show revolves around to converging stories: one in the court of the rotten King Richard (Timothy Omundson), his wife (and Galavant’s true love Madalena), and his henchman Gareth (Vinnie Jones). The other follows unlucky knight Galavant (Joshua Sasse), his squire Sidney (Luke Youngblood), and Valencian princess Isabella (Karen David) on their quest to help Isabella’s family reclaim the lands stolen from them by King Richard. And ultimately, for Galavant to win back his true love and his happily-ever-after ending.
There are some little twists here and there to shake up the viewer’s expectations about such old tales. For example, the princess, forced into marriage by the ruthless, albeit powerfully dimwitted, king chooses to go with the fame and fortune of queen-ship than pine away for her “true love”). And there are some genuinely funny moments as well. But too much of the comedy is too broad and predictable to be great. Or reasonably funny. On the whole, Galavant is a noble experiment, but, ultimately, a failed foray into a new genre. It’s worth a watch, if only for the novelty, but, instead, you might want to stream The Princess Bride or download the soundtrack to Spamalot while watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It would be time better spent.
The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies. Ever. Spamalot, one of my favorite 21st Century musicals. I was intrigued to see what such a mating might have on network television, especially since the music has the incredible pedigree of Alan Mencken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast) behind it. The result, in my opinion, is a mixed bag.
What makes The Princess Bride so extraordinary is that, while is sends up fairytales–and their 20th Century film renderings, at its heart, The Princess Bride carries with it great emotion and heart. We’re right there with Inigo Montoya and his quest to avenge the murder of his father by the movie’s villain. And Inigo could very well have burst into song since he was played by the musically gifted Mandy Patinkin. Anyway, I digress.
Although Galavant has a longer time frame to work in (It’s nearly three hours of running time if you add up the eight 22-minute segments), its format leaves it little room to breathe between jokes and singing, so we really don’t care very much for the characters, since they often seem like mere vessels for the next song or one-liner.
But the series also owes much to Spamalot, where the joke’s the thing, and the tunes are memorable and the lyrics cynically brilliant. Galavant doesn’t quite measure up to the music hall feel of Spamalot, nor the wicked, silly, self-aware comedy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, upon with Spamalot is based.
That is not to say that I disliked Galavant completely. There is a lot to like about the series, and, as I said, ABC should be applauded for bringing this odd, self-aware musical comedy-cum-sitcom to network TV. It’s a risky endeavor, and I love the idea. I just wish it had been better executed.
The musical numbers, while not all really memorable, are filled with innuendo and double entendre. I really loved the musical number in episode three (which will air January 11), stripping away the mythology of the Arthurian knight and knocking Galavant off his knight’s “high horse.” It is a musical set piece that moves forward the story in a classic musical theatre style while commenting on social class conflict between the working class squires and the highborn.
On the other hand, in the same episode, I cringed mightily during a storyline that has Galavant’s squire Sidney (Luke Youngblood) return to his village and to his parents (Michael Brandon, Faith Prince), who are two of the most stereotypical New York Jews I’ve seen rendered on television since Rhoda Morgenstern’s mother in the classic 1970s comedy Mary Tyler Moore Show (or maybe Fran Dresher’s Nanny). It’s not that I dislike the Jewish comedy. I adore the show-stopping “You Can’t Succeed on Broadway if You Don’t Have Any Jews” in Spamalot. But this just made me cringe. Full stop. I longed to put on my Princess Bride DVD and re-watch the far funnier and (believe it or not) subtler Jewish humor of Miracle Max (Billy Crystal) and Valerie (Carol Kane). OY!
There are pop culture references and anachronisms galore–all self aware, nodding to the notion that no one would have heard of such things back in the Middle Ages. Some are spot-on; others are too much, seemingly trying to shove in one more clever bit. And there are fun appearances by some well-known actors (John Stamos as a knight, Ricky Gervais, Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey). So give it a try, and let me know what you think after the first two episodes, which air tonight, January 4 at 8:00 p.m. (ET) on ABC, and then reprised next Saturday night. Tweet me or comment below. Then tune into Let’s Talk TV Live Tuesday night, when I’ll be joined by two other critics for a lively discussion of this and other TV premiering this week.
You can follow Galavant on Twitter using the hashtag #Galavant[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00003CXC3,1476764026,B0007OY2TE,B00005O3VC]