January 5, 2015

Galavant: "Pilot" and "Joust Friends"

Recent attempts at televised musicals have ended in, well, disaster. In 2013, NBC produced the miserable Underwood-fronted Sound of Music Live! and then this past December, in what can only be assumed was a misguided attempt to increase the floundering channel's viewership, they reprised the lunacy with a live Peter Pan. 

So when I saw ads for ABC's attempt at the televised musical, I was intrigued. Galavant, we were promised would not be sentimental or classy, but comic, quirky, and (juvenile-ly) irreverent. I tuned in* to see if these promises would be kept.

*Ok, this is the part where I have to admit something I'd hoped I'd never have to. As much as I love network television, and pride myself on my rabbit ear antenna, last night my antenna failed me. The sky was cloudy, and it was raining, and ABC mysteriously disappeared from my TV. A little blue box blinked "NO PROGRAM," and I resigned myself to hoping I would be able to catch Galavant on Hulu Plus the next morning. Which is what I did. Ugh. I feel like I am betraying all my fellow TV "cord-cutters," but I had to be honest. Ok - back to the review:

Source: facebook.com/GalavantOnABC
Galavant doesn't disown the musical genre it springs from. Rather, it pays homage to its inspirations. Be it through the closing line of the opening song, "attend the tale of Galavant,"  a turn of phrase now forever associated with Sweeney Todd, or the occasional nod to Shakespeare, the writing confirmed that this production is fully aware of theatre as a genre, musicals as comedy, and television as a medium. It understood that it would be seen on a small screen, so it made the big moments count. The acting can be over the top, but without being inconsistent or annoying.

This was what I appreciated most about the opening episodes to Galavant - They are utterly self aware. They know exactly what they claim to be. There were a few moments when I thought the plot was about to slip into classic fairy tale tropes, but just when I began to worry, the storyline turned, and got us back, well, off track. Sure, in the end it will probably deliver a love story in the classic sense, but it won't take the usual route to get us there.

The characters - all of them - are likable. Even the villains are likable. Moreover, the villains aren't even obvious. Sure, there's King Richard who stole the hero's lady away in the opening number, and Madalena is a bit of a gold-digging flake, but they're funny. And the heroes are far from perfect. Galavant himself is a bit washed up (not to mention hung over) by the second half-hour episode, and Princess Isabella has got her own schemes that she's keeping to herself at the moment.

Too risky to be a full season show, and yet too promising to be a single night event, Galavant is slated to air Sundays this month. I was a bit surprised that it was ABC that took a chance on this little miniseries. More than a chance, it's been talking up this "extravaganza" for weeks. The home of Once Upon a Time and all things Disney offering up a comedic take on a fairy tale? But then, Disney music patriarch Alan Menken seemed to be the show's biggest name - and rightfully so. His music is clever, catchy, and will probably be in my head all week. Speaking of big names, Galavant doesn't boast many. I kind of love that. I love that it can support exciting guest stars because the main characters are relative unknowns. I love that ABC was able to risk smaller headliners because they're only stuck with this show for a month if it flops. It shouldn't flop, though, because it's better than most of what's on TV right now. Plus, it's got enough social media traction to trend on Twitter.

Galavant wasn't spectacular in a way that knocked my socks off, but it was good. It made me laugh. It never missed, in part because it never tried to do something outrageous. It was well-acted, well-produced, and well-written. I was entertained. It delivered on what it promised. I can't wait to see what happens next.

*Here's hoping the weather and my antenna hold up. 

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