So, last night the ABC network tried to fill the gap left by Once Upon a Time’s winter hiatus with Galavant, a musical comedy more or less attempting to channel the best of Robin Hood: Men in Tights, The Princess Bride, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, except on a lower budget and with generally worse singers.
How’d it go?
Let’s say, mixed.
For reasons that I am not at all clear on, Galavant was filmed as a half hour show, but picked up by ABC to fill the hour long gap left by Once Upon a Time while that show is on hiatus, which means we are getting two episodes per night for one month. I must say, I’m rather grateful for this: even at its best, I think one month of Galavant is going to be my limit.
And let’s face it: Galavant is not always at its best.
But before we get to this, a quick overview. Galavant opens by introducing the main character, knight in kinda shining armor Galavant (Joshua Sasse) with a big musical number with quite a bit of sexual innuendos and surprisingly few extras and background singers. (This surprising lack of extras and background singers remained a characteristic part of the show in both episodes; this is a show on a budget, and it frequently shows.) During the song, his lady-love Madelena (an often struggling Malory Jansen) is kidnapped by evil King Richard (a game Timothy Omundson, fresh from Psych). Galavant rides bravely to her rescue, arriving just as she is about to wed the king, vowing to marry her.
It’s all very touching and romantic and heartwarming until Madelena decides that she’s going to stick with the king, the power, and the money, thanks. Galavant has a sad, which in this case, means not taking a bath, and acting all depressed, even when the lovely princess Isabella (a determined Karen David, one of the few main cast members who can sing) shows up begging him to help her. (Don’t worry about this turning into a damsel in distress act; it’s an act on her part. She’s working for King Richard, if not entirely on her own volition.) Also there’s a Chef (Darren Evans, one of the better parts of the show) who is freaking out since his entire family, also chefs, have not exactly fared well working for the royal family, and Galavant’s squire, Sid (Luke Youngblood), who hasn’t had much to do yet except play with a rooster. A nice plot twist at the end leads to the conclusion of the episode and…
….thanks to that ABC scheduling issue I mentioned, straight into the second, much better episode, “Joust Friends,” which gives us several important bits of information:
1. The show is set in 1256, which I mention here because, if not for the script specifically saying this, you would have no way of knowing this. It also leads to all kinds of puzzling questions, like, why are American style turkey legs getting served in quasi-1256 semi medievalish pubs, and where on earth did they get the absinthe, but I suspect these questions will be dismissed as quibbling.
2. 80s style training montages work much better when they include random piggyback moments.
3. I am the sort of cruel person who actually enjoys watching John Stamos throw up inside armor, much though I usually despise those sorts of scenes.
4. Jousts do not need to be well attended to work on film. (Did I mention the lack of extras?)
It’s all thoroughly silly, and even, in a couple of places, downright fun. The problem is, despite the overall silliness, and the ridiculous costumes pulled straight from a local Ren Faire, but not the good parts, it’s often not over the top enough. Oh, the lyrics of the songs are clever—especially the opening number, with the clever rhymes expected from Alan Menken, but the staging of the songs often falls short, not helped by surprisingly poor singing from most of the cast. I’m not at all sure why the show didn’t just go ahead and cast some largely unknown Broadway/West End types, instead of some largely unknown television types, since many of these songs might have worked better had they been sung better. Alas. And few of the actors, with the exceptions of Timothy Omundson and Darren Evens, are willing to really ham it up, and even Omundson’s performance often feels restrained.
But the larger problem is that for all of its often forced jokes and contemporary references, it takes a full forty minutes (well, with commercials) to get to the first, all out over the top scene—that random 80s training montage thrown in because, um, why not (actually, because Galavant’s depression has left him too out of shape to fight, so Isabella, desperate to take him to the castle, agrees to train him), and 55 minutes to get to the one, unquestioned brilliant moment of the film, the joust, which I won’t spoil if you haven’t seen it yet, but trust me, it’s worth it, right down to the Game of Thrones joke.
The show also has some, shall we say, occasional eyebrow raising gender stuff going on. On the one hand, the show has tough as nails Isabella, raised almost as a son by her father, capable of kicking ass and overtraining knights. On the other hand, the second episode also has a bit where the Evil Dudes decide that they have teach King Richard how to be a Real Man. This includes teaching him how to belch and avoid hugging. We are not supposed to be taking any of this too seriously, and they are, granted, Evil, and this happens shortly after we discover that King Richard is still getting fed by hand, and in the end, King Richard needs a hug anyway. Because even evil kings need hugs.
And for U.S. viewers, the experience was not helped by ABC’s decision to air promos for their other shows to the opening melody of Galavant. This was horrifying enough with The Bachelor and just completely wrong for Jimmy Kimmel; by the time poor Resurrection was handed this treatment (and we’d heard the melody about 12 times) I was close to swearing that I would never, ever, watch an ABC show again. By the end of the hour I was happy to see commercials for local attorneys. It was that annoying.
Having said that, if you can ignore ABC’s intrusions, overlook the costumes, and brace yourself for occasional terrible singing and just focus on the amusing lyrics, this show may have—I say may—considerable potential. Several bits—the joust and nearly everything with the Chef—are quite fun. And Madelena’s decision to marry her kidnapper, usually a plot twist I’d be shrieking at, works well here: indeed, I think most viewers will end up agreeing with King Richard’s excellent life advice to “Never start a marriage with a kidnapping,” and might even, despite his occasional hopeful plans for genocide and general failures as a human being, find themselves feeling rather sorry for him by the end of the second episode.
All terribly, terribly, silly, but with its moments.
Parents should be warned: these two episodes contained multiple sexual innuendos including more than one scene of couples (clothed) in bed. I expect the sexual innuendos will sail right over the head of most younger viewers, but you may want to be prepared to explain a few matters.
Galavant lasts for four weeks. Can we survive? If we get more scenes like that joust, I think we can.
Mari Ness lives in central Florida.