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Goofus or Galavant?

For months I’ve been looking forward to Galavant, a strange little half-hour medieval musical comedy series on ABC. On paper, it’s a good fit for the home of repurposed Disney properties and toothless family-friendly sitcoms. There’s even a version that would fit with some of the network’s soapier fare, like Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder–one that’s hinted at with some of Alan Menken and Glen Slater’s more ribald verses. (If everyone involved could agree on a pronunciation of Galavant, I’d be super grateful, btw.)

If done right, Galavant would work well as a companion to Once Upon a Time or Modern Family. But it is … not really done right, at least not in these first two episodes.

In “Pilot,” we get dropped into what seems like the emotional center of the show: the eponymous Sir Galavant (Joshua Sasse) is a talented and dashing hero, who’s desperately and hormonally in love with Madalena (Mallory Jansen), who is happy to roll around in the hay with him thrice daily. Things take a turn for the opening scenes of Braveheart and the evil King Richard (Tim Omundson) abducts Madalena and … decides to marry her? Galavant, of course, rides to Madalena’s rescue–and she tells him to never mind. Turns out she’d rather be a rich and famous queen, instead. No hard feelings?

None on my part, anyway. The pilot is mostly setup and introduction, and the musical numbers suffer for it. Most of them are perfunctory, bare exposition that could have been more efficiently disposed of in a few sentences of dialogue or even a dreaded voiceover. But the songs are quite charming, as are the actors–including Vinnie Jones as the king’s henchman, who seems wildly out of place until you see how fun he is playing off of Omundson–and the first episode moves at a good clip. But even after all this time anticipating the show, my attention had waned considerably.

And then Madalena refused her rescue. It’s not a huge leap for the character, nor is it surprising. There had to be something for Galavant to overcome, since eight episodes of fleeing the court would be untenable. Heartbreak and the potential for revenge on both the king and queen, though, will definitely work.

We jump forward a year in the second episode, “Joust Friends,” where we find Galavant wallowing in his misery: drunk, smelly, inexplicably employing a squire named Sid (Luke Youngblood, who may ring a bell as Magnitude from Community or Lee Jordan in the Harry Potter movies). Enter Princess Isabella (Karen David), with a (fictional) sob story about Richard’s conquest of her kingdom and an offer for Galavant to assist her in her distress and visit revenge on Richard in the process.

And here’s the thing I realized in this second episode: Galavant is fun. It’s not exactly good, but it’s fun. When it gets weird–and it gets weird–it’s hilarious. In its best moments, it’s Mel Brooks-lite: a dashing hero who isn’t particularly heroic, a dithering king who doesn’t understand his own lack of appeal, henchmen and sidekicks who offer hijinks and slapstick. A training montage! Bare-chested watery scenes pandering to a female gaze! Vinnie Jones delivering lines like “You’re talking to the professor of manhood … and I’m gonna give you a makeover!”

It feels like the show can’t decide whether it wants to be a musical, though. It settles down to a reality that isn’t heightened enough to allow for the bursting into song, though the songs are pretty catchy. But it doesn’t work when the characters reach into arch territory, either.

Tim Omundson is too charming and vulnerable for me to buy in to Richard as a monster, but I trust that he can get there if the show lets him do anything truly dastardly instead of just threatening it. Jansen’s Madalena is deliciously bawdy and scheming–I’m not sure whether I want her to get exactly what she wants or be totally thwarted. And the road-tripping trio of Galavant, Sid, and Isabella is barely competent enough to ever have anything go their way, so the potential for satisfyingly stupid machinations is sky-high.

Since the show will only live in Once‘s brief winter hiatus, I’ll be sticking with it for the duration and hoping for things to keep getting strange. How about you?

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