As the man who created the global phenomenon that is The Simpsons, underground cartoonist-turned-TV titan Matt Groening pretty much laid the groundwork for the reference-heavy popular culture we now exist in.
But he‘s not done yet.
For the first time since 1999 (when his second show, Futurama, debuted), and as The Simpsons heads into its 30th season, Groening has created a brand new animated series in his trademark style for Netflix.
Titled Disenchantment, it takes place in a medieval fantasy setting and chronicles the adventures of a booze-loving reluctant princess named Bean, and her two companions: Luci, her personal demon, and Elfo, an….elf.
“In the same way as the Halloween specials on The Simpsons, anything goes on Disenchantment,” Groening says. “I mean, it‘s magic and all sorts of crazy stuff will happen. But it‘s different in that it‘s a serialised story and we hope people get invested.”
Groening has always had a fascination with elves and magical creatures. facebook twitter email linkedin google-plus whatsapp pinterest reddit
Telling an ongoing storyline, complete with (literal) cliff-hangers and longterm character arcs, isn‘t the only way Disenchantment differs from Groening‘s most famous creation. While The Simpsons has always appealed to children and adults in equal measure, the new series is aimed a little bit more directly at grown-ups, evoking Life In Hell, Groening‘s acclaimed cartoon strip about rabbits that predated The Simpsons.
“There‘s a certain kind of personal humour that comes from my specific point of view, and this show is particularly personal,” says Groening. “I think there is definitely a connection between [Life In Hell] and Disenchantment, in part visually. There‘s a more hand-drawn, cruder style visually to my character designs from Life in Hell that have graduated into Disenchantment.”
Nevertheless, the show looks stunning, and though undeniably slightly more inclined toward sex and violence gags than Simpsons fans might anticipate, remains a tame prospect in the age of Game of Thrones.
As it‘s a Netflix show, Disenchantment is also freed from the commercial television parameters that defined The Simpsons.
“One of the reasons why The Simpsons is what it is, is because of the time constraints,” explains Groening. “So it is very high-velocity comedy that got faster and faster and that became the Simpsons style. In this show we are able to let it breathe a little bit more and that‘s more gratifying to vary the pace.
“There‘s a kind of set-up, punch line, set-up, punch line in a lot of comedy these days. And it‘s fun to withhold the joke for a little bit; then it seems to be more surprising when it does come. We plotted the show as a drama and then we added jokes.”
Leading Disenchantment‘s cast is Abbi Jacobson, co-creator and co-star of the acclaimed comedy series Broad City, who voices Princess Bean. It‘s Groening‘s first female lead protagonist.
“There‘s a real feminist component to Broad City,” says Groening. “It‘s so strong and vivid in that show, and we tried to do that in Disenchantment. And as pro-women as [Disenchantment showrunner] Josh [Weinstein] and I are, Abbi definitely kicked up the lines we wrote for her an extra notch and made them even better.”
Comedy provocateur Eric Andre voices Luci, a monochromatic demon who is constantly trying to convince Bean to do the wrong thing. Oscar-winning screenwriter and actor Nat Faxon voices the restless Elfo, who may look familiar to longtime Simpsons viewers who remember baby Maggie‘s favourite TV show.
“I did have in mind that within The Simpsons there was going to be this Happy Little Elves cartoon show that they would continue to come back to, and I think we put it in the first episode and maybe glancingly referred to it a few times over the past 30 years. That‘s definitely a component I‘ve always been interested in: elves and dwarves and ogres, and other odd little creatures.”
Indeed, it was Groening‘s passion for all things fantasy that led to Disenchantment‘s creation.
“I‘ve loved fantasy storytelling since I was a kid. That comes from fairytales. There‘s just amazing stuff out there. Another big influence [on Disenchantment], Monty Python and the Holy Grail, was really important to me. It just seemed really fun to create your own universe and populate it with characters who then do things that you never thought of and walk around and say things because you‘re working with an amazing collaborative team.”
As with all of Groening‘s output, there‘s a healthy degree of subversion in Disenchantment.
“That‘s always been the secret slogan: Entertain and subvert”
Who: The Simpsons creator Matt Groening
What: Disenchantment on Netflix
When: Streaming from tomorrow