I’m detecting a pattern in my Sunday hour of Galavant. The first episode struggles to find its feet then the second is a joy to watch. I admit, two evenings is not a scientifically representative sample, but so far it’s holding true.
An episode called Two Balls and featuring a eunuch should probably be funnier than it actually was. It even had backstory on one of the supporting cast, and I love that kind of thing. Its central premise, maintaining the lie, is a trope that’s been told countless times, but that shouldn’t be a drawback in a show that’s about tropes. Unfortunately, in this instance, while Sid’s lie escalates to the point that he becomes engaged to Isabella, there’s no pay off, no subversion, not even a lampshade. Instead it’s all a vehicle for Galavant to learn how hard Sid has it and understand him better—we see Sid talking to his parents at the end, but we don’t see their reaction and it may be that he still hasn’t told them the truth.
I have to wonder if the writers, optimistic about getting a second season, are setting up a running gag. I can’t see us returning to Sid’s village this season, but there could be a whole episode devoted to planning the wedding another time. Will Isabella and Sid have to stage a break up amid more Judaism jokes? Certainly Luke Youngblood’s Sid is under-served by having the episode in his hometown be a setpiece for an ongoing argument between Galavant and Isabella. Small wonder he enters the next episode singing (briefly!) about being ignored.
The villains’ plot feels just as empty this episode, with the ball being more a series of jokes than an actual storyline. In the end, it all feels like a placeholder until the King finally realizes that Madalena is having an affair with the Jester. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good jokes there, like the Executioners’ drum beat, but mostly I am left wondering: if Princess Isabella is of Asian descent, why is the Court of Valencia 95% Caucasian? At the very least, find some extras that look like they live in a Mediterranean climate. And then promote Darren Evans’ Chef to main cast, because he is glorious.
Thank goodness then for Comedy Gold—an episode title that seemed doomed to fail but was everything I’ve wanted out of Galavant. Maybe it’s because pirates make everything better, but the songs, jokes and characters just clicked in a way they hadn’t done in previous episodes. Guest Star Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville showed a weary charm as the drydocked pirate captain, and Ben Presley proves to be an energetic performer when he’s not restricted to narration and jokes. The main cast always put in strong performances (is there anybody Timothy Omundson doesn’t have chemistry with?), but it’s nice to see them given room to breathe—in particular, we see that Joshua Sasse can exude charm without needing a song about it.
Comedy Gold was written by husband and wife team John Hoberg and Katt Likkel, which perhaps explains the more grounded take on the main romance. Galavant and Isabella’s relationship has never rung truer than when Galavant finds himself defending her over the very habit that annoys him. (And speaking as somebody who is also nasally challenged in the respiratory department, may I just say a big thank you for a mouth-breathing Disney Princess.)
Perhaps the real problem, compared to other sitcoms, is world building. Even depending on familiar tropes and skimming over geography and politics (What country is King Richard king of? Is there anything more to Valencia’s ‘kingdom’ than a town and some crops?), Galavant needs more scene-setting than your average sitcom characters getting coffee. Let’s not forget the continuity, notable this week as King Richard discovers Madalena’s infidelity in one episode and follows up on it in the next. Now that the Jester is in the dungeon, that might be closing that particular plot arc for now, but I rather suspect they will be picking it back up before season’s end.
Galavant’s biggest challenge might just be balancing exposition with the plot, but presumably as the series goes on, less scene-setting will be needed. We’ve been teased so much about just how evil Madalena really is (for somebody with such an immaculate face, Mallory Jansen does a great range of bad guy grimaces) that next week’s episode, Completely Mad… Alena, should be pure pay-off. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, next week is also the big one-two of guest stars with both Ricky Gervais’ and Weird Al’s episodes finally making it to air.
As with the episodes, the songs seemed to work better in the second half hour. Oy! What a Knight! is actually a perfectly good song, a kind of Yiddish version of Gaston, but it probably should have come earlier in the episode. We’d already been through the ‘Sid is his Town’s Hero’ plot exposition and gags once—but then, you don’t get a Tony award winning actress (Faith Prince as Sid’s mother) without letting her sing. Jackass in a Can works much better as Galavant’s epiphany moment although now my favorite thing about it is Glenn Slater’s revelation that they went through eight song titles to find one that would pass the censors.
(In that vein, the line of the week goes to: Do you kiss my ring with that mouth?” in response to Gareth’s bleep-ridden joke.)
As much as I loved the Executioners, Dance Until You Die was the one number that fell flat. (Of course, my musical tastes are completely lacking in edge.) On the other hand it stood out for choreography on an evening when all the songs had glorious routines and I found myself checking if there is an Emmy for choreography. (There is.)
Togetherness, the love/friendship song about falling apart comes very close to being my personal favorite, functioning perfectly as the episode’s opening scene setter. On the villain’s side, Comedy Gold delights on all the meta levels, but at the end of the day, you can’t beat a pirate shanty, and so I leave you with Lords of the Sea.