Before we begin, let me just lay it out there that I actually enjoyed much of Galavant. Like the Mel Brooks When Things Were Rotten comedy aesthetic it frequently tries to ape, any cringing a bad joke might induce is minimized by a brisk pace and an admirable reluctance to dwell for too long. And even in spite of all the probably quite horrible things I am doubtless going to say about it, I will be sticking with it for at least the first few weeks, so that is something I suppose.
Now, two episodes in and we can tell a few things about Galavant, the latest attempt to bring the musical to television. The first and most encouraging thing we can tell is that this is not Cop Rock, the beige standard by which all subsequent attempts at TV musicals must be judged. That may not sound like much, but the knowledge that the weirdly and hilariously awful lightning of Cop Rock has not struck again is oddly heartening.
At the same time, Galavant does seem to lack the demented level of conviction that Cop Rock had and which was simultaneously the best and absolute worst part of that show. It overall seems faintly embarrassed to be a musical, which is a shame because there are plenty of perfectly reasonable things for it to be embarrassed about.
The jokes generally fall into one of two categories, either this is funny because everybody is singing or this is funny because anachronistic vernacular is being used in a medieval setting. Contrary to what I expected and feared, there is actually not too much of the former with a few slightly unbearable exceptions. While this is a welcome relief, it means that much of the humor in the show has to lean on the latter type of joke, which while not actively painful is not typically very funny either.
A little bit of mileage is derived from subversions of genre tropes that manifest themselves in the frequent plot twists, but those subversions are never really adequately explored, and an opportunity is lost to examine why those tropes do not work in the world of today. But it is not really fair to criticize a show for not being what I would want it to be, I realize on reflection, so just file that under “opportunities missed” and then promptly forget about it.
The performances are all solid and frequently quite funny, with Timothy Omundson in particular doing far better than his part demanded as a tyrannical monarch who just wants to be loved but never carries the thought far enough to change his mode of behavior.
The music by Alan Menken is fine, although far from his best work, while the lyrics by Glen Slater have their moments but are nowhere near as off-the-wall as they would have to be to render the subversion jokes interesting and not, as the most cringey of the lyrics puts it, “a fairy-tale cliche.”
None of this is to say that Galavant is bad. It‘s perfectly serviceable. What it isn‘t is good enough to be the kick in the pants that the musical needs to become mainstream again. It manages to sidestep the hurdles that would have left it looking like, to take an entirely random example, Cop Rock…
…which I find gratifying, because as much as I love Cop Rock in all its mutant glory, producing another one would serve no purpose but to hand a bucketful of slingshot ammunition to the knee-jerk musical-hating brigade and obligingly present its backside to them for a rollicking round of punishment. As it is, Galavant neither hurts nor substantially improves the cultural position of the musical. It will convert no one, but neither will it become a tedious running joke. We will see.
I will be covering Galavant as it airs, so be sure to follow this blog for more down the line.