After much anticipation and promotion, Galavant finally made its debut on Sunday night with the first two episodes back to back. This scheduling was a wise call on the part of ABC as the first episode is almost entirely exposition to set up the ongoing story, and it’s not until the second episode that we really get a feel for what Galavant is as a show. On the other hand, its biggest problem is that it feels compressed—most notable in the songs which have a habit of ending just as they have whetted your appetite. When a puffing Galavant declares that Hero’s Journey is a long song, my answer is: “Not long enough, Knight Boy.”
It is tempting to wonder what Galavant might have been like if it was written for four hour-long episodes instead of eight half-hour ones. We are getting eight stories instead of four, but the characters, the comedy and, yes, the songs have proven enticing enough that I would have loved for Fogelman et al to give us a little more depth—or at least another fully choreographed stanza.
The compression was most evident in the pilot. When Ben Presley’s narrator sang: “And so begins our plot, / Of which there’s quite a lot!” he wasn’t jesting. The whole backstory of Galavant and Madalena’s romance is dealt with in five minutes flat and rightly so since it’s deliberately clichéd fare—we can watch any Robin Hood for the details. The wedding scene served as this unfilmed movie’s climax, giving off a strong The Princess Bride vibe with Joshua Sasse doing his best Cary Elwes in delivering his speech up the aisle. Then, of course, Madalena chooses fame and fortune over true love and our backstory is established.
Unfortunately we still have a series to set up, and the rest of the episode is bogged down with Galavant and Isabella expositing over dingy tables. The princess suffers the most from the time constraints as she needs to be worse at hide and seek than my three year old. Despite Karen David’s energy, Isabella gets pushed along by the plot, and the (well spoiled by previews) twist that she’s actually Richard’s pawn doesn’t help. She needs the second episode to establish her in the more modern archetype of a strong-willed princess who can fight—not to mention her fantastic line in medieval-punk clothing.
Sid the squire and rooster aficionado comes off a little better, but only because he’s not in the plot enough to bow to its conveniences. The problem with the ‘good guys’ is that they are all fun enough characters, but they don’t in themselves stand out… yet. Even Galavant, for all his screentime, has gone from generic shining knight to generic warts and all hero. He and Isabella dutifully share aspects of their past with each other to progress their relationship along with the plot, but it’s not like either of them killed a goat named Jenny.
Even so, everything along the way has been funny. The joust was priceless: from the gross out (vomit-through-a-visor) to the slapstick (battle to stand up), not forgetting the deadpan (“I slept on the horse,”) and the extra visual punchlines edited in (the horses casually walking off). If every episode can deliver like that, we’re onto a winner, even without the villains’ scenes.
It seems that King Richard and Madalena can’t encounter Galavant again until the climax of the series which poses a storytelling problem of how to touch base with the antagonist. So far we’ve had a dream sequence and parallel romances sharing the same duet, but the most promising tactic is to give the villains their own storyline as the King tries to win Madalena’s heart as well as her hand.
Given the dearth of female characters outside of the main cast, it looks like Galavant will be failing the Bechdel test on a regular basis, so I confess to being a little disappointed that Madalena is not the lead character on the villain side of things. The love interest who spurned romantic ideals is a great concept for a fictional woman, and conquering an entire kingdom for the sake of one jewel proves Madalena is evil rather than merely a pragmatist. While she may end up being the greater villain of the two, it would have been a nice divergence from the backstory if she rather than the King were the main antagonist.
Fortunately, the childish yet tyrannical King Richard is every bit as fun as the advance reviews promised, and none of the romantic couples has chemistry like that between King Tummy-flowers and Gareth (so manly he has chainmail curtains on his four poster bed). Then there’s the hapless but good humored Welsh Chef, played by Darren Evans who is making an early bid for my favorite character. While the heroes’ joust was the biggest comedy setpiece, the villains are winning on nuance.
Richard and Madalena’s story can be propelled by the characters rather than outside circumstances, and so the two of them already have a more nuanced relationship. Richard is the more submissive, yet he concealed his discovery of the jewel of Valencia out of spite. Madalena keeps emotion as well as sex from her husband, and when Richard cracks through her armor over dinner, she ends it in the most hurtful way she can, telling him that his childhood servant was paid to love him. King Richard abandons all attempt at manliness to weep in Gareth’s arms—and Gareth, in turn, gives up his principle of never hugging another man. Congratulations, Mr. Fogelman, you’ve got me emotionally invested in your characters.
Trivia: Valencia is a real place in Spain, but Isabella’s kingdom was most likely named in homage to Valencia, California, where Walt Disney founded the California Institute of Arts. This creates a retroactive Easter Egg in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which at one point shows a (barely legible) signpost pointing to Valencia. I don’t know if the signpost on episode two (pointing to Valencia and Game of Thrones’ Winterfell) was a deliberate homage to Beauty and the Beast, but that’s how I like to think of it.
I don’t know much about music but I know what I like, so in place of a meaningful critique of the songs, let’s just say I don’t feel we’ve had a miss yet. Any soundtrack that includes a training montage rock ballad (sung by Sebastian Bach) is doing something right, and the first episode’s She’s All Mine set the bar for wit in lyrics and choreography.
Hero’s Journey was my personal favorite, partly because I am a soft touch for any song with multiple character solos, but also because it’s named for the very trope its singing about which hits all my happy meta buttons. However, as ABC have not seen fit to provide us with a lyric video of Hero’s Journey, I shall bow to the popular choice and leave you to sing along with the number that plays fast and loose with the terms ‘romantic’ and ‘duet': Maybe You’re Not the Worst Thing Ever.