At times, Galavant — both the series and the titular protagonist — can be so charming that it’s irresistible. Then again, Galavant has to be charming: It’s a medieval musical-comedy, a typical fairy tale about a warrior’s adventure to rescue the love of his life from an evil king; if it wasn’t occasionally charming, it would be obnoxious and grating. To be honest, though, it’s occasionally grating, too. Dan Fogelman’s Galavant, which premiered on ABC last night, is a mixed bag of tricks, some new and some old, that come together in a shaky sitcom that both delights and annoys, depending on the scene.
Fogelman’s last ABC project was The Neighbors, a now-canceled sitcom that sounded like a joke on paper — a family moves to a New Jersey suburb that consists entirely of aliens named after famous athletes — but slowly became a strong and funny comedy that was, at its peak, as hilariously meta as Arrested Development. Some of the best parts of The Neighbors are also incorporated into Galavant: the strange setting, the meta-commentary, the zany premise, the strong characters.
The pilot starts off strong with catchy songs (all of the original music in the series is from Alan Menken and Glenn Slater) and a quick fairy tale setup. But the show quickly does away with the expected fairy tale: When Galavant (Joshua Sasse) bravely interrupts the wedding of his true love Madalena (Mallory Jenson) to King Richard (Timothy Omundson) in order to save her, she calmly informs Galavant that she’s chosen fame and fortune with the king over love. Our hero is sent into a downward alcoholic spiral until he’s visited by Princess Isabella of Valencia (Karen David), who, for her own selfish reasons, convinces him to go save Madalena.
But really, the overarching plot isn’t that important (and you’ll relearn the whole thing every episode, thanks to the endless songs by the narrator/court jester) because it’s the least interesting thing about the series. The most interesting aspect is, of course, the musical format. Not only are the songs catchy, but they’re also clever and generally self-aware (one song acknowledges that the characters are well aware of the musical interludes; another song harps on the racial diversity of the main trio: Galavant, Sid (Luke Youngblood), and Isabella). Galavant is smart to stick to a half-hour format, which means the writers don’t have to strain too much to fill time with pointless songs.
Galavant‘s biggest challenge is how difficult it will be to maintain the creative highs of the confident pilot. The episodes that follow it falter just a bit, with jokes that don’t land and some too-predictable plot points. There are guest appearances galore — ranging from John Stamos to Ricky Gervais to even “Weird Al” Yankovic — but somehow none of them are very memorable. It’s a nice surprise to recognize these stars, but their bit parts are disappointing. By the sixth episode, where many different storylines converge, I was already getting bored with the whole thing.
Galavant is a tough sell in that it doesn’t totally work as binge-viewing but is far too slow to work with a week’s break in between episodes — which is perhaps why ABC is burning off the episodes quickly, two at a time, for a first season that will span just four weeks. Galavant isn’t the must-watch of 2015 (so far), but it’s just short and fun enough to be an enjoyable distraction.