Matt Groening's animated venture into the fantasy genre, Disenchantment, is back with Part 2 on Netflix. Disenchantment's first season was a mixed affair, getting off to a rocky start but improving with each episode. The series' full potential was on display in the first season finale. The episode brought plot threads weaved throughout previous episodes together in an exciting and comedic fashion. Disenchantment's second season is strong out of the gate, building on the momentum from the latter episodes of the first season. It slows a bit in the back half, but Disenchantment Part 2 shows that the series is ready to join Groening's pantheon of animated classics.
Disenchantment's first season ended with Bean (Abbi Jacobson) allowing Elfo (Nat Faxon) to die so that she could free her mother, Dagmar, from stone. Dagmar proved treacherous and turned most of Dreamland to stone, framed Oona for the deed, and whisked Bean away via the sea. This is where Part 2 picks up, with Bean and Dagmar approaching the kingdom of Maru. Once there, Bean meets her extended family and learns the truth about her mother, thus beginning her quest to resurrect Elfo, return to Dreamland, and set things right.
Even in the first season, it was clear that Groening and his team were trying something different with Disenchantment. They wanted to take full advantage of Netflix's binge-watchable release format, abandoning the episodic continuity resets of broadcast cartoon comedies. Instead, Disenchantment tells a serialized fantasy tale, kind of like Game of Thrones with jokes and better lighting.
The first half of Part 2 leans into the serialization in a big way. Characters go on far-reaching quests and make important decisions that shake up the status quo. Eventually, the show returns to an equilibrium, and the second half of the season spins its wheels for a while as a result. Bean and her father, King Zog, have emotional arcs where they work out their complicated feelings about each other and Dagmar, but on the whole, the back half feels more episodic than how the season began. That's not to say the later episodes are bad -- even the least of this season's episodes are written better than the majority of the first season's episodes -- but the change of pace is jarring.
The pacing is most notable at the end of the season. After a handful of self-contained tales, the penultimate episode expands the show's world and suggests major changes ahead. But the finale ends in a way that brings Bean and company back to almost the same place they were when the season began, which felt disappointing after how much ground they'd covered since then.
The pacing problems are forgivable because the show has a stronger handle on who these characters are, which makes spending time with them much more fun. The show's core trio of Bean, Elfo, and Luci (Eric Andre) were all one-note through the first season, but all three gain more nuance in the show's second season.
Luci is the most improved. In the first season, he would offer terrible, dangerous advice without remorse. Understandable for a demon, but it got to the point that Bean and Elfo continuing to take that advice was hard to swallow, even for a comedy show. He's still a bad influence in the second season, but he's no longer serving unseen masters. This allows room for growth, to care about Bean and Elfo, and to have other desires of his own. He, as well as his compatriots, are each more interesting and more endearing this time around.
It's also fun to see Groening's team at work in a fantasy setting detached from the real world. The Simpsons and Futurama could always rely on a pop culture reference or a shot at a celebrity for an easy punchline, but Disenchantment can't. Its writers must rely on different kinds of humor to get laughs. They struggled with this in the first season, and many of the jokes failed to land as a result. They've adapted in the second season. Part 2 delivers plenty of laughs with dialogue and delivery alone while writing around broader themes. One episode deals with a plague in elf-inhabited area of Dreamland, while another sees circus performers pulling an elaborate heist on Dreamland's treasure trove, both of which deliver the comedic goods.
After the show's first season, it seemed Disenchantment could go one of two ways. One way would be to regress and remain the middling fantasy misfire of Groening's career. The other was that it could grow into its own as The Simpsons and Futurama did after working through the growing pains of their first seasons. Disenchantment Part 2 goes in the latter direction, finding its fantasy footing and suggesting even bigger and better things to come. If you gave up on Disenchantment early in the first season, revisiting the show and sticking with it will be rewarding in the long run.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Disenchantment Part 2 arrives on Netflix on September 20th.