We’re not even into 2015 yet, but Galavant is making a bid for the year’s most improbable television success story: a fairy tale musical comedy—for grown ups. One of its cast, Karen David, describes it as: “Monty Python meets The Princess Bride.” Realistically, this is an impossibly high bar… yet I am only going to encourage the attempt.
The Princess Bride is certainly the gold standard when it comes to fairy tale comedy: a sincere heart, with—as has been proven since the dawn of the internet—endlessly quotable wit. But that is thanks to the talent of writer William Goldman, director Rob Reiner and a first rate cast. Monty Python’s lunatic humour was as sly as it was slapstick, from a mostly Cambridge-educated group. What kind of talent can we expect from a midseason fill in?
Enter writer and producer Dan Fogelman, who has built up quite the résumé for underappreciated, smart, and touching comedy: Cars, Crazy, Stupid, Love, The Neighbors. He created the show and brought on board composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater to co-executive produce and provide songs. Menken is best known for his work on Disney animated films, but between Little Shop of Horrors, Newsies, a song in Captain America, etc., etc., you know more Menken tunes than you think you do. Slater, a frequent collaborator with Menken, calls Galavant a “Holy Grail… that combination of funny, heart, and adventure.”
It’s not the first time that these three have come together on a project. Fogelman drafted Menken and Slater in for a musical episode of The Neighbors, which unabashedly poked fun at Broadway and the musical genre. Before that, there was Disney’s take on the Rapunzel tale, Tangled.
I’m going to come right out and say it: Tangled is a better film than Frozen. It might lack that viral package of Let It Go, but Rapunzel and Mother Gothel have a far more layered and logical relationship than Elsa and Anna’s against-the-odds sisterly devotion—even if Rapunzel does get over eighteen years of psychological manipulation in five minutes flat as the movie rushes from climax to happy ending. Rapunzel, Gothel, and lovable rogue Flynn Rider are all quippy characters given backstory and depth amid a rollicking fantasy adventure complete with a comedy horse.
It was while working on Tangled that Fogelman got the idea for Galavant. He, Menken and Slater applied the fairy tale musical skills they had honed on Disney animated fare to live action, a longer running time… and for an adult audience. That last manifests in (non-graphic) sex and violence in the story, as can be seen in this five minute preview:
(More clips from the show are spreading on Youtube, or watch The Making of Galavant special, available on ABC’s website—be warned, it contains minor spoilers for the entire series.)
In contrast to the creators, the regular cast is mostly unknown and British, featuring such luminaries as former Premier League Football (soccer) player, Vinnie Jones, and one of the more obscure Harry Potter alumni (Lee Jordan, for the 90% of you who are familiar with Hogwarts’ register.) No vehicle for a celebrity here, which suggests a more ensemble approach. Considering the quasi-European Middle Ages setting, the six main characters are refreshingly diverse—only half of them are white men, which makes for a better ratio than many shows set in modern day New York. Promisingly, all the actors were cast in part for their ability to sing, and many have a background in theater.
Judging by this tweet from Alan Menken, there will be thirty four songs across the eight episodes. Even if half of that number are reprises, that’s still at least two completely original songs per episode—all fully choreographed, earning ABC’s marketing term of “extravaganza!” Besides the theme song (already available on iTunes), snippets of more than half a dozen others can be heard in the Making Of—with Hero’s Journey being a standout. (I also have a soft spot for the non-nautical pirate ditty). A full soundtrack release seems both inevitable and very welcome.
The guest star line up also requires singing voices but is more celebrity-heavy, from Rutger Hauer to Ricky Gervais, with my personal favorite being Weird Al Yankovic as an a capella singing monk. (If that alone has not convinced you to watch the show, then you and I cannot be friends.)
Early buzz suggests that Timothy Omundson as villainous King Richard will be the scene stealer, and the preview material has already highlighted his chemistry with henchman Gareth (Vinnie Jones). But the good guy trio of Sir Galavant (Joshua Sasse), squire Sid (Luke Youngblood), and Princess Isabella (Karen David) also has a lot of energy in its dynamic, while Mallory Jansen’s Madalena is clearly a much meatier role than might be expected for the object of affections. The humor has received as much attention to detail as everything else: from character names like Sir Jean Hamm to signposts for Winterfell.
The only thing missing from the previews is the show’s heart. It’s always the norm for comedies to be marketed by their punchlines, but it’s impossible to judge if we will actually be invested in these characters. Due to the creative team, it’s a safe bet that we will be asked to feel sympathy for Galavant, Isabella et al at some point. If Fogelman succeeds in making us care, that’s what will elevate this show into Princess Bride territory. Even if it’s only half as good, this show would be worth watching, and early reviews are excitingly positive.
Honestly, it could be another Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but they had me at ‘Fairy Tale Musical’. I will be blogging this extravaganza every week through January. Watch out for more Galavant coverage here on Post Show Recaps.