Galavant – Long Live the Queen

Just as I had settled into Galavant’s episodic adventures along a Hero’s Journey, the series changed things up by having Galavant reach Valencia halfway through the series instead of at the finale. There’s evidently more plot to play out than we expected, and rather than the good guys meeting the bad guys being the climax of the show, it’s the catalyst for a number of character changes.

Most notable among these is Madalena, who has evolved from Damsel in Distress to full-fledged Evil Queen—beautifully emphasized by her tango dress which had more than a few shades of Maleficent. This week’s villain storyline was dominated by her schemes to seize power—kind of a revamped Blackadder with Chef as a cleaned up Baldrick. (If you’re looking for more medieval / historical sitcoms, Blackadder is essential viewing—but US viewers be prepared to binge-watch: it’s disappearing from Netflix on February 1st.)

From the pre-season material, I was probably least convinced by Mallory Jansen out of all the cast, but since then, she’s won me over with some truly magnificent withering looks. Finally this episode, she gets to chew on some proper scenery and she does it with aplomb, ruthlessly exploiting people to suit herself, and thwarting every other plot around.

Plots certainly aren’t in short supply. Galavant (aided and abetted by Sid) wants to storm the castle, save the kingdom and win back Madalena. King Richard wants to kill Galavant and win over Madalena. Isabella wants to sneak out of her agreement and save Galavant and her parents. And Chef just wants to live long enough to woo handmaiden Gwynne.

While Galavant’s premiere was weighed down by too much plot, this time we’re getting our pay-off: Galavant and Madalena are reunited, and Galavant is forced to accept she’s not the woman in his dreams. Galavant and Isabella finally admit their feelings for one each other. Isabella’s parents and the Jester join forces with the good guys to get their own revenge—if nothing else, Galavant has an in-house bard to narrate his castle-storming.

While team Galavant are finally getting their act together, team Villains got the character development. Aside from Madalena’s evolution and Chef’s romance, Gareth’s bromance with King Richard is put to the test, while King Richard gives us his backstory in a drug-induced flashback, that sets up the week’s cliffhanger when his prodigal big brother returns—to take what?

Was it savviness or serendipity that meant the biggest names on the guest star line up were cast for these episodes? Viewers tuning in to see Weird Al and Ricky Gervais would have made the stunning discovery that Weird Al is better at singing while Ricky Gervais does the better English accent—but they would also have seen Galavant at its finest. Maybe the name Xanax is too on the nose, and perhaps the “about nine o’clock” joke worked better as a one-off, but these episodes were laugh-out-loud funny. The cast, as always, turned in fantastic performances, and the songs were spot on. While Galavant and Isabella’s relationship remains very much by the numbers, the characters themselves are fun enough that I don’t mind. One of the best lines of the night was Karen David’s “Someone small and cute and ethnically hard to pin down.” (Also, Vinnie Jones’ cockney monologue—I’m British, but no, I couldn’t follow it either.)

It’s a fantastic high for the show to hit going into its last week, and the anticipation is ratcheting ever higher. Has Richard’s brother come for his throne, Valencia’s or something much more terminal? Has Madalena bitten off more than she can chew? Which bad guy, exactly, is Galavant leading his ragtag team against? And is this the kind of show where everybody lives or not?

As Galavant’s tone is mostly upbeat parody, I’m not too concerned about deaths—there’s been a high body count in the series, but it’s always been nameless characters (and mostly off-screen Valencians). Rutger Hauer’s Kingsley feels rather like a redshirt villain, so we can have a decisive victory for the heroes while keeping Madalena and Richard around for a potential second season. Still, the reason that Darren Evans is not in the main cast had better not be because Chef kicks the bucket in the final episodes.

The fact that I’m worried is proof that I am invested in these characters. Well played, Galavant.

Before discussing this week’s songs, let’s take due note that the soundtrack has been released. Two important points to note: firstly, not all the songs are on it. This isn’t a complete surprise, especially regarding the reprises (all absent), but the most notable omissions are Hero’s Journey and Madalena and Galavant’s tango, I Love You… I don’t know if a deluxe soundtrack will be released at some point, but it’s more than a little frustrating that some of the key songs are not there. (NB Glenn Slater tweeted that I Love You… would be up on iTunes, though at time of writing ABC have not delivered.)

The good news is the second point: many of the songs feature extra lines that were cut from the version we saw in episode. If, like me, you felt that you could do with that little bit more of each song in the show, the soundtrack will delight you.

One further note is that there is only one song on the album that has not aired in episode yet. What does this mean for the finale? Will it largely rely on reprised material from songs we’ve already heard? Or will we just have to make do without being able to purchase next week’s songs?

At least this week’s songs are well represented, because, like the rest of the episode, they were on point. Madalena’s opening number No One But You was a fantastic demonstration of what you can do with a musical number when you’re not on stage—not to mention a showcase for Susannah Buxton’s stunning costumes (yet another migrant from Downton Abbey). Similarly, the audacious A Day in Richard’s Life (a.k.a. the one where Ricky Gervais sings) pushed the boundaries of what you can do in television while paying homage to the Beatles. Apparently, this was originally a seven minute long, heavy metal sequence. As it is, at 2:47, it’s the longest song of the season so far.

You can rarely go wrong with a well-placed tango, and I will never object to an a capella number (especially not one with Weird Al that lightly spoofs boy bands), so my main quibble is with Love is Strange, which was a lovely song at the right moment, but it should have been played straighter, especially since we’d had the warped love song twice before. Perhaps part of the problem here is that Galavant and Isabella don’t have any original dynamic to their relationship to explore. Or perhaps this is just my anti-romance streak showing through.

However, I’m not anti-romance when it comes to Chef. Once he started singing, there was never any question of which song would get my preferential treatment. Darren Evans and Sophie McShera (Downton Abbey again) take a light touch with this gentle duet, and lyrically it’s the medieval peasant version of Somewhere That’s Green from Little Shop of Horrors. Of course while Audrey dreamed of ‘a fence of real chain-link,’ Chef and Gwynne hope for a dozen kids “and maybe one won’t die.” It’s the most feelgood gritty look into medieval life you’ll ever sing along to: If I Could Share My Life With You.

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