Were you hoping that ABC’s Galavant was going to be the fresh, funny, and irreverent musical show you’ve been waiting for? I was. And it wasn’t.
In the months running up to the premiere of Galavant, a lot of folks online cited their love for the web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog as the reason they really wanted Galavant to succeed. If you haven’t seen that series, it’s worth a look.
And so Galavant promised a lot to those who love musicals. Would that it had delivered.
First, the good news: the budget does the show justice, it has the look and feel you’d hope for from a medieval musical show. The performers are also capable, from the lead character as Galavant Joshua Sasse and his love Mallory Jansen, to the evil King Timothy Omundson, through the supporting characters played by Karen David, Luke Youngblood, and Vinnie Jones (who you may remember from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels). They do what they have been directed to do, and what the script allows. What is also refreshing is that there are main characters who aren’t the typical casting (read white folks), and the audience isn’t hit over the head with the difference. It helps that these characters aren’t from a familiar story. Which means they could have gone further, one supposes, but the effort is still appreciated.
Spoilers ahead, if you care.
There is some promise in the main plot, which turns the damsel in distress story a bit on its head. Because, you see, although the damsel was abducted by the King, it turns out she quite likes the idea of being queen. Ok, fair start.
However, as the characters unfold, the limitations of the writing and direction become clearer and clearer. First, the music. The whole first episode is dominated by Galavant’s theme song, and it gets repetitive. The King has a song, and perhaps Isabella (Karen David) has a song that isn’t on that musical theme. But then the character of the King is spoiled by almost immediately becoming subservient to Madalena (Mallory Jansen, the damsel and now queen). This is unfortunate; on the one hand, it explains why she might be interested in taking the King’s hand. On the other, though, it would have been far more interesting to see the King be all evil and dominating, and then see that she in fact enjoys that. When she one ups the King, then, it would have a lot more impact. As it is, this King is like Prince Humperdink in The Princess Bride or Lord Farquaad in Shrek – revealed to be weak and mushy at the end – but instead, it happens at the beginning, and so there’s no tension.
Presumably, the writers want to supplant that tension with the potential love interest between Galavant and Isabella. It’s certainly possible that will be satisfying, but because it turns out in the second episode that Isabella is actually trying to trick Galavant into going back to the King so he can capture and kill Galavant, that idea is undermined. The storyline is now pretty telegraphed with the whole “You tricked me into doing something, so now I will ignore my feelings for you because you’re a liar”. But also, immediately following that plot drop, the King finds out Madalena isn’t that into him because he’s not manly enough. A manning up sequence with Vinnie Jones ensues. Ha ha. Oh yeah, the evil King who isn’t manly enough. How refresh… I mean, how cliche this has become. And it totally undermines the evilness of the King.
Of course, this is a comedy musical, so depth isn’t the order of the day. And yet Dr. Horrible managed to create depth, and those episodes were far shorter.
Another thing: there are a lot of sex jokes in this show. Not that there’s anything wrong with sex jokes. But these are just… unnecessary. They aren’t really funny. They’re just there for… irreverence? “Oh no! He’s lost his pants! And look; the queen has a sex thing with the court jester!” Pretty sure these jokes were fresh in the 1970s.
In the whole two episodes so far, there is really only one truly funny sequence. Galavant needs money, and (conveniently) there is a 1000 coin jousting tournament. Through various machinations (including a moment that made me think “If you have a very valuable gem and need to buy lunch, how, exactly, does that help you?”), Galavant’s opponent, played with zest by John Stamos (Who I don’t think has a song? Wait, what?), ends up ill from food poisoning or some such. It looks like Galavant will win for sure, except that through too much practice the day before, he pretty much can’t move in his armor. The resulting joust, between two men who can’t move (the way it’s arrived at notwithstanding), is some pretty good slapstick. In fact, if Galavant can get more of those kinds of moments in there, there’s hope for it.
Except for the music.
It’s not that the music is bad. It really isn’t. It’s just… not inspiring. The title tune is pretty good, except that it is overused in the first episode, negating its charm. The remaining songs have moments, but simply aren’t memorable. And it seems like perhaps the producers aren’t confident in the show being a musical. There are plenty of moments that could be songs that aren’t, and the moments that are songs… well, they’re good moments for songs, but they just miss.
Finally, the show really wants to poke fun at musicals and fairy tale stories and TV shows. But whenever it does so, it’s clumsy. The timing is off. Characters say things that don’t make sense, and one wonders if the characters know they’re singing or not. It’s really inconsistent, and it’s distracting. And John Stamos’ character’s name is Jean Hamm. Unless Jon Hamm is in a later episode as Jean Stamos, it’s kind of a wasted joke.
Is there hope for Galavant? Perhaps. After all, it takes a lot of effort to make a show like this, and if they’re lucky, a combination of enthusiasm from viewers thirsting for a musical TV show combined with a glimmer of hope in the comedy portion of the writing might bring it through. In honesty, though: this looks like Cop Rock all over again.
ABC, Sundays 8/7 central
4 out of 10 swords
Eliot has been orbiting show business for over 20 years as an improv comedian, video director, and general guy you might barely recognize. Currently best known for his work on the comedy podcast Never Not Funny: The Jimmy Pardo Podcast. He wrote previously for MacEdition.com, and is working on a collection of short sci-fi and weird tales that will probably be published someday. He is also one of three principals in Modest Games.