I didn’t watch Galavant when it first aired.
I saw the original trailer, thought “Wow an expensive-looking fantasy musical from ABC, that’ll never last more than two episodes!”
And then I sort of forgot about it.
I now feel horrible.
Galavant is now available on Netflix. It’s a medieval fantasy musical, that somehow lasted for 18 episodes across 2 seasons. It was created by Dan Fogelman, the guy who wrote Tangled. It’s a hilarious, energetic thing that doesn’t stop from the word go. It lampoons fantasy tropes. It develops its characters and plot in unexpected, fulfilling ways.
It’s got some issues, but it’s basically a perfect piece of TV.
Some spoofs get stuck in the classic trap of just doing a trope and pointing it out. “Look, we’re doing that thing that every other this genre does, only we’re doing it with humor!” That’s not enough to be proper spoof or satire, but so much content thinks that’s okay. It’s not. It’s lazy.
Galavant has no such problems.
It introduces archetypal characters only to promptly subvert and twist them, often in unexpected ways. Galavant is a hero who fights and is heroic…except he’s kind of a morose goofball. King Richard is a very evil king…except he’s really just an idealistic kid inside an adult’s body, and he’s not even the main villain. Madelena is the attractive love interest trophy girl…except she’s really an upward-climbing peasant with aspirations of success and pleasure in a cruel world. Isabella is a stereotypical princess…except she gets involved in multiple double-crosses and eventually leads an army.
The Jester is….kind of just a jester. But he’s really good at singing the theme song.
Everything in that theme song falls apart in surprising ways, about five minutes into the first episode. It’s great!
I love that Galavant presents its musical numbers like full Broadway productions. Characters dance and sing within the world of the show, and sometimes express their displeasure that another song is about to commence. Fourth wall breaks are frequent in fact, often to comment on the show as it relates to our modern world.
Also, the music here is written by Alan-Freaking-Menken, writer of basically every famous catchy movie/musical/Dinsey song from the last thirty years. Except that music from Frozen. But he wrote everything else. Basically.
The production of the show is immaculate. Most of it is shot on-location, in real-life castles, forests, and fields. This, along with authentic costuming and great use of natural lighting, gives the show a stupidly expensive look; that’s why I thought it wouldn’t last two episodes. Occasionally a fight breaks out, and the choreography is surprisingly complex for a goofy TV show.
Galavant’s true masterstroke is the emergence of Richard as the protagonist. He’s one of the better male characters ever written for TV. He’s weird, insecure, relatable, goofy, sincere, and avoids all the stupid pitfalls that male characters so often personify. Timothy Omundson gives the performance of a lifetime, and he’ll most likely be your favorite thing about the show.
My only other exposure to modern musical TV is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a show I generally liked up until the last episode of the first season. Crazy Ex has a very different approach to the musical format, structuring its songs more like music videos. Further, they’re often non-diegetic, occurring in a fantasy world outside the scope of the show, or inside a character’s head. Galavant is much more brave, in going the classic musical route. And I love it for that.
Galavant is a breathless, smart, well-plotted miracle of the modern TV system. Nothing else like it exists. Think of Princess Bride, but it’s a musical? That still doesn’t quite grab it. If you’ve got Netflix, you owe it to yourself to go on some fun, short adventures with Galavant.
Give it a few hours, and it will brighten your heart.
EDIT: So Glenn Slater, the lyricist for the songs in Galavant, has liked my tweet about this article. I’m now adding this in part to say thanks, and in part because I didn’t mention him above and I now feel shameful. His lyrics are wonderful and a big part of what makes the show work. So thanks Glenn!