8 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday, ABC
(first two of eight episodes)
Fairy tales, fractured or intact, never seem to go out of style, and the evidence is right in front of us with the new film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” and ABC’s effectively ridiculous music spoof, “Galavant,” an eight-episode series kicking off with two episodes Sunday.
Galavant (Joshua Sasse) is a gallant, predictably self-centered knight who falls in love with the beautiful Madelena (Mallory Jansen), only to lose her to the evil but mostly absurd King Richard (Timothy Omundson), who fancies himself a deft stand-up comic. Since he’s the king, everyone laughs at his childish attempts at humor.
Galavant drowns his grief in a lot of booze until a beautiful princess named Isabella (Karen David) convinces him to rescue Madelena. What Gal doesn’t know is that Madelena loves living in castles, and even if she won’t sleep with her whiny husband, she keeps herself amused, four, five times a day, with the court jester (Ben Presley).
There are other things Gal doesn’t know, especially about Isabella, but off he goes to rescue his damsel in presumed distress, accompanied by his squire, Sid (Luke Youngblood) and Isabella.
Adventures along the way
In the case of “Galavant,” as in life, it’s about the journey, not the destination, and this journey finds the trio stopping at a monastery populated by monks who have taken a vow of singing: They don’t speak, they only sing, and they’re hilarious. Galavant & Co. also pay a visit to Sid’s home town, where a few exaggerations on his part have convinced the entire town that he’s a heroic knight and not a lowly squire. In his honor, they’ve renamed the town Sidneyland, like Disneyland without the “Dis.” Sid is welcomed with open arms by everyone in the village, including his borscht belt parents, played by Faith Prince and Michael Brandon, as Galavant reluctantly agrees to pretend to be Sid’s squire and, in the process, learns to “get off his high horse” – literally.
Meanwhile, back at the castle, King Richard is feeling a bit peevish and is advised to see an “herb” salesman (wink wink) named Xanax (Ricky Gervais). The later episode scene is one of the comic high points of “Galavant.”
Much of this is accompanied by music numbers that are as appropriately silly as the plot and characters. At times, songs are introduced with a not so subtle “here we go again” to the unseen audience. The lyrics, by Glenn Slater (“Tangled”), are arranged in rhyming couplets that only underscore the nonsensical content of each number. The music is by Alan Menken, the genius behind “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” The music is effective without being especially memorable. You may not leave your living room humming any of it, but you’ll still be chuckling over some of the jokes in the lyrics, many centered on puns, childish humor and groan-inducing obviousness.
The whole thing is the brainchild of Dan Fogelman, whose previous projects – “Cars,” “Tangled,” “The Neighbors”– attest to his willingness to be completely silly if it fits the story. And it fits the story quite well here.
A memorable cast
One minimally nagging aspect of “Galavant” is having to get used to half-hour episodes. “Galavant” never quite escapes the feeling that its eight separate parts want to be a movie, albeit somewhat of a long one. No doubt the pacing will be even damaged by commercials once it begins airing.
Many of the performances are top notch, and Omundson is even better than that, creating a perfectly credible and delectable mix of childishness and unrepentant evil in Richard’s character. Sasse is great as the self-admiring Galavant, and equally fine performances are delivered by Youngblood, Vinnie Jones as Richard’s dumb-like-a-fox henchman Gareth and Darren Evans as Richard’s Chef, constantly worried that one bad figgy pudding will mean the end of his sorry life.
Jensen is often quite good once we get a load of Madelena’s evil side, and David is fine, though the role of Isabella is rather thankless: Pure-hearted heroines don’t always fare well in fairy tales, especially in spoofs of fairy tales.
Gervais is the most memorable of the show’s many guest stars, who also include John Stamos and, in one of the later episodes not made available to critics, Hugh Bonneville as Pirate King. Yes, Hugh Bonneville as in the Earl of Grantham.
Maybe for his next project, Fogelman might consider a musical spoof of “Downton Abbey.” He wouldn’t even need to change the dialogue, just get Mencken and Slater to write some silly songs to match it.