Up All Knight Singing…
For all my love of movies and television, I am not a fan of binge viewing. Not in the sense it is used now. Post-college my buddy Elliot and I would hop theater to theater all night – New Beverly to the Nuart to the Silent off of Fairfax to the old Sunset 5 by the Virgin Megastore, going from Tarkovsky to Godard to THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF TOM THUMB to ASHES OF TIME in the course of one night. We gorged on films. But part of that was the diversity. So many different choices. So many whirls of the kaleidoscope. I can still do that, mixing and matching, the tenuous relationships between them. No, it’s the other side of that coin I don’t get. Two seasons of ANGEL in three days. All 8 Harry Potter films. 76 straight hours of THE WALKING DEAD leading up to the next new episode. It’s too much sameness, too much togetherness. I usually tap out by the middle of the third episode of a show, if I’ve made it that far. My brain rebels, and the show goes from intriguing to pure dreck. I’m just wired that way.
Beyond the endless marathons of shows every day (4 hours of CASTLE tonight on TNT!), the new shows seem to delight in doubling up, last week and this week two episode of FRESH OF THE BOAT on the same night. Until I started watching GALAVANT this week, I hadn’t realized that ABC had been doubling it up as well, twinning two half hour episodes together into an one hour one each week. The series ended a few weeks ago now, but this weekend I finally caught up with them and caught this. I was thinking, three days, four episodes, I can hang. But not to be. The mid-episode credits and recaps were a tad more annoying in the eight episode context. I found myself agreeing with the cast at one point as they berated the jester for the recap and told him to just shut up already. Not the best sign. All of which is to say, my view of GALAVANT was not as exciting as I had hoped it would be.
I really wanted to like GALAVANT. The promos that ABC put together were oddly endearing and hokey, a blend of pulp action and overly dramatic singing. I can handle that. I love old style musicals, which often pull that overly dramatic card. Marlon Brando as Sky crying in GUYS & DOLLS. And the song writing by Alan Mencken and Glenn Slater was on the whole fairly witty and spry, knowing when to keep to the straight and for the most part when to veer into the more modern and snarky. The writing itself too was a nice blend of screwball and sarcastic, if occasionally veering too far to the latter. I was very pleasantly surprised that so many of the running gags worked as well as they did. Perhaps not the “myth, myth” of THE MUPPET MOVIE, but the pirates obsession with “girl products”, the chef and the maid’s jaundiced view of their medieval world, the perpetual oddness of Gareth. A lot of little things work really well. Certain scenes sparkle.
And the main cast works hard. Very hard. Unfortunately, our trio of heroes: Galavant (Joshua Sasse), the Princess Isabella (Karen David), and Sid the Squire (Luke Youngblood) are universally very pretty, and very bland. Very bland. The jokes about Galavant’s perpetually perfect beard fall flat as you realize that is the extent of characterization you will get. He is a beard. And the beard jokes don’t work. Isabella looks like she will break out in the first few episodes, but falls back into looking pretty and asiding to the audience. On the other end of the spectrum, King Richard (Tim Omundson) and his henchman Gareth (Vinnie Jones), overact splendidly and ripely, in complete opposition. Perhaps the villains are supposed to have more fun, but the pair go above and beyond the call of duty. Their scenes are consistently and wickedly funny. Omundson has previously shown his comedic chops on PSYCH over the past eight years, but allowing him the center stage instead of the side role is masterful. And Jones is a real revelation here, showing some real neat comedic timing with Omundson. More than a few times, I found myself marking time with Galavant and his band, waiting for King Richard to return to center stage. The balance is off. With that, though, the long, long, setup for Jones to sing pays off masterfully.
Also problematic was the “guest stars” populating the episodes. On first blush they sound interesting. Rutger Hauer. Ricky Gervais. John Stamos. Hugh Bonneville (for the DOWNTON ABBEY crowd). Weird Al Yankovic. Hauer especially is a real let down, continuing the flight of his career into oddness and irrelevance. He doesn’t mug. He barely whispers. He is barely there. And then whispers away into nothing. Gervais is simply strange as a 1960s “psychedelic” wizard in a role and sequence which do not fit into the piece as a whole. Bonneville is hidden entirely under a beard and huge pirate hat and basically unrecognizable. Anyone could be the grimy-faced pirate. And land-locked pirates were much funnier 20 years ago on THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR. Yes, GALAVANT is a musical, but when Weird Al is your best guest, perhaps you need to re-think the casting.
I think the hardest for me was the ending. The promos for GALAVANT had promoted it as “four week comedy extravaganza”, which to my ears means a self-contained piece, beginning, middle, and and end. Much like GRACEPOINT earlier this season had been. Instead, cliffhanger. There is a rush of action, a mumble of song, and everything is left up in the air. No happy ending. No sad ending. Longing stares and promises for next season. Next season? Had I known this was a single season with a cliffhanger ending, it might not have bothered me as much. Or, I may not have watched at all. As it was, the last scenes left a nasty taste in my mouth. In a world of mid-season cliffhangers and season ending cliffhangers, it’s something that loses my interest real quick. A really protracted and stilted cliffhanger, and I will not be back next season. I suppose that’s the appeal of binge watching. No worries about the cliffhangers. It’s a vicious circle indeed.
In the end, GALAVANT was well-written, awkwardly acted, feeling like local troop with a few stars slumming, and too many flaws to make it truly effective. Or fun.