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Musical TV isn’t what it used to be, with the ratings-challenged Glee spinning wildly and NBC’s live performances outshadowed by their Twitter effect. (Nashville is the steady exception here.) Talent-driven reality TV is also years past peak audiences. So it’s the absolute perfect time for ABC’s Galavant to saunter onto our televisions, telling a sharp-witted fairy tale that puts a modern spin on the tropes and accompanies them with excellent songs that both broaden the story and provide a good chunk of the silly-as-shit sense of humor. I don’t love musicals, but I love Galavant.
It’s best to go into Galavant knowing the level of brainpower at its foundation, as it’s the trio behind Tangled putting it together. The show was created and written by Dan Fogelman, also of Crazy, Stupid, Love fame, with songs from the iconic Disney composer Alan Menken, who put together the scores for The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast (among others), and Tony-nominated lyricist Glenn Slater, who worked on the stage shows for The Little Mermaid and Sister Act. Now you can see this wasn’t some hastily thrown together pitch.
Galavant stars Joshua Sasse as the dashing-but-not-courageously-so titular knight, who wanders the land with his squire Sid (Luke “Pop Pop” Youngblood) and Princess Isabella of Valencia (Karen David). The latter two are assisting brave sir knight on his quest to win back his former lover Madalena (Mallory Jansen), who was unexpectedly wooed away from him by the cunningly dopey and extremely wealthy King Richard, played with sniggering magnificence by Timothy Omundson.
But things aren’t really going so well between the now-bored Madalena and the King, as she fancies the Jester (Ben Presley), who also narrates the show through song. Richard, helped along by Vinnie Jones’ brutish guard Gareth, aims to prove himself by taking down Galavant once and for all, but only in the most roundabout way, as this isn’t Game of Thrones or anything. (Though that show, like many others, get a winking nod.) There are more takedowns via song than there are physical altercations, although one episode does feature Galavant being antagonized into a joust battle with a pompous John Stamos.
No one is saying that the storyline behind Galavant is exceptionally novel or anything, but the humor playing field is rather unlike anything else on TV right now. The musical arrangements are joyful and pointed, far from the pop music-scapes that fictionalized musicals tend to adhere to. And they’re so damned funny, recalling The Simpsons’ glory days through a Monty Python prism. There doesn’t seem to be any deep subtext behind Galavant’s storytelling – though it’s nice to have songs like “Maybe You’re Not the Worst Thing Ever” making subtext feel irrelevant.
Add to that a line of high quality guest stars like “Weird Al” Yankovic, Ricky Gervais and Hugh Bonneville, and this is a series that feels far too comedically sound for ABC to have anything to do with it. Let us all give thanks that the network was able to draw from its Disney owner’s rich filmography for the talent to put this together.
Because the adult content is mostly delivered through sly wordplay and bleeped-out language, Galavant can be enjoyed by viewers of all ages, and its inherent rewatchability means younger viewers could stumble upon it years later and find a dozen jokes that flew right over their heads. It may not be perfect, but it’s far closer to it than I ever would have imagined. No jesting about it.
Galavant gallops onto ABC’s midseason schedule on Sunday, January 4, where it begins a four-week run of double-episode airings.