By Josh Axelrod
There’s something awkward about watching a TV show try really, really hard but come up just short. You respect that everyone involved gave it their all, but that doesn’t make the show’s weak elements any stronger. ABC’s eight-episode miniseries “Galavant” had its moments, but it’s the kind of show I could never recommend to anyone because, frankly, it’s just not good enough.
This was a bold move from ABC, a network known mostly for “Modern Family” and Shonda Land. It seems like this was an attempt to turn fairytale/medieval adventure conventions on their head by injecting a standard adventure with “Monty Python”-esque gags and songs written by the legendary Alan Menken (who wrote music for “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid” and other Disney classics).
It’s surprising that Disney, who owns ABC, would want to take a chance on a weird miniseries with the potential to fall flat on its face. To be fair, there are definitely some elements to this show that worked and made for an entertaining viewing experience. But like its titular hero, “Galavant” just never rose to the occasion in order to make this show anything other than a mildly amusing diversion.
The show followed Galavant (Joshua Sasse),a legendary knight with an ego bigger than Dr. Cox’s from “Scrubs” who everyone liked to subtly emasculate by calling “Gal.” When the tyrannical King Richard (Timothy Omundson) kidnapped his girlfriend Madelena (Mallory Jensen), Galavant raced to his castle to stop their wedding and rescue his damsel in distress. His efforts were for naught, as Madalena chose a life full of power and riches over a humble one with good ole Gal.
Flash forward, and Galavant was a washed-up alcoholic who is only alive because his squire Sid (Luke Youngblood) keeps him from choking on his vomit in his sleep. Enter Princess Isabella of Valencia (Karen David). Richard conquered her kingdom and imprisoned her parents. She enlisted Galavant’s help to take down Richard, and Galavant agreed, mostly so he could win back Madalena’s heart.
Here’s where things were supposed to get interesting. Not only did we get Gal and Isabella’s perspective on their journey to Richard’s castle, but we also got to see how awful of a couple Madalena and Richard were. It turned out that Richard was the least manly person on earth, and Madelena was a diva with a wicked streak. As Gal dreamed of winning her back, all she wanted to do was sleep with the king’s Jester (Ben Presley) and recover the priceless jewel of Valencia, which was in Isabella’s possession.
Richard, on the other hand, was eager to prove that he was worthy of Madalena’s love. He enlisted the help of his bodyguard and best friend Gareth (Vinnie Jones, the show’s secret MVP) and his Chef (Darren Evans) to win Madelena’s heart. Richard was probably the character that the show tried to get you to sympathize with the most, which was tough considering it began with him kidnapping a woman and forcing her to marry him. By the end of the show, you just want Richard to get away from the awful Madalena, which is a testament to Omundson’s performance and how human the show managed to make its villain.
So that’s the basic setup. There was the hero and villain’s journeys running parallel to each other, and the villain’s turned out to be much more compelling. There was the obvious annoyance-turns-to-love development between Gal and Isabella, but Gal never really grew as a character. He was still the same egocentric dope that he was before he met Isabella, only slightly more self-aware. His relationship with Sid had more high points than with his love interest.
The show was littered with big-name guest stars in order to establish some credibility, which kind of worked. John Stamos, Rutger Hauer, Weird Al Yankovic, Ricky Gervais, and Hugh Bonneville all showed up and were clearly having a lot of fun playing silly characters on a silly show. But it was kind of jarring seeing them as well, as their celebrity took you out of the experience a bit. Weird Al especially had a random appearance that barely served the story.
“Galavant” was littered with random gags, including a few random “Game of Thrones” references and some decidedly modern slang. The humor was all hit-or-miss, but the worst misses were also distracting because, again, you were reminded you were watching a show try really, really hard to be quirky and fun. Good intentions can only get you so far.
Menken’s music was a noble attempt to capture the epic nature of Galavant’s quest and the ridiculousness of Richard’s life in the same way “Monty Python’s Spamalot” successfully turned King Arthur’s attempts to find the Holy Grail into one of the funniest musicals I’ve ever seen. His songs were all lyrically interesting if nothing else, though there weren’t any I felt compelled to download. Early “Glee” episodes (when that was still a thing) got me excited to buy its music. “Galavant,” well, not so much.
Weirdly enough, the Chef and his chambermaid love interest (“Downton Abbey” vet Sophie McShera) were given the most fun songs. One was about how short their lives were destined to be, and the other about the two plotting to poison royalty at a feast. Their love story also resonated more than Gal and Isabella’s. I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered a show where EVERY sidestory was more fun than the main character’s.
I guess my point is that individual elements of the show worked, like Richard’s journey, his friendship with Gareth and a few assorted songs. But more didn’t, most notably Galavant’s connection with Isabella, the distracting guest stars and that troubling feeling that you’re watching a show that is, for the third time, trying really, really hard to be hip.
Now with all that said, I think “Galavant” deserves a second chance to prove that its ambitious premise and world are worth building on further. The first season ended with multiple cliffhangers and all have the potential to make things much more interesting going forward. Who knows if ABC wants to order a Season 2, but if it does, “Galavant” better take a hard look in the mirror and figure out what worked, what didn’t and how to not look like it’s trying so damn hard.