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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Galavant: “Completely Mad...Alena”/”Dungeons And Dragon Lady”

Illustration for article titled Galavant: “Completely Mad...Alena”/”Dungeons And Dragon Lady”
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As enjoyable as the show can be, Galavant’s weaknesses have been fairly consistent over its first four episodes: off-color puns, randomness for randomness’ sake, and, most crippling of all, wasted guest characters. These one-off parts rarely contribute to the meat of the story—which is fine for an unapologetically silly show such as this—but as a result, they should be treated with the same amount of care as the series’ two main arcs. The reason all the business at King Richard’s castle has felt so comically superior to the travels of our hero is simple—Galavant’s the one who’s had to contend with all the undercooked guest roles.

To be fair, the land-bound pirates of last week were pretty amusing until they got bogged down by a cringe-worthy Lilith Fair joke. But they still felt out of place in Galavant’s Medieval setting. The monks of “Completely Mad…Alena,” on the other hand, feel much more appropriate to the era because, well, they’re monks. They’re also led by “Weird Al” Yankovic, the perfect guest star to sell their delightfully annoying devotion to watered-down doo-wop music. You’d think they’d offer some kind of sagely wisdom to Isabella—who’s distraught that she’s about to sell out Galavant and Sid to King Richard—but all Yankovic can do when she asks him for advice is stare longingly at his buddies rehearsing in the courtyard. It’s as if the writers are acknowledging the futility of guest stars on their show, or perhaps TV shows in general. Instead of pretending that the monks are valuable to the story, they mine them for all the—pardon the callback, but hey, this is Galavant—comic gold they’re worth.

While our heroes are enjoying (or hating) their moment of rest at the monastery, Madalena is absolutely relishing her role as evil queen over at the castle. I’ll admit, I had reservations when we first saw her shift from good-natured love interest to self-serving ice queen so early in the first episode, but it’s a pitch-perfect combination—and thus subversion—of two fairytale archetypes. Also, it’s just plain fun to watch Mallory Jansen transform into a villain who’s far more fearsome than her ineffective husband is supposed to be, screaming at her court, trying to get Gareth to betray the king, and accusing the kitchen staff of incest. She even gets to start the episode with a cabaret number sung by several different versions of herself in the mirror, a visual manifestation of her narcissism that works because it stems from what we know about her as a character, not some goofy pop-culture anachronism.

In fact, I can’t recall a single out-of-place pop-culture reference in either of tonight’s episodes, which shows a welcome emphasis on unexpected character growth over zingers. As the story threads all come together at the castle in “Dungeons And Dragon Lady,” Gal finds himself disenchanted with Madalena and in love with Isabella despite her betrayal, Gareth has a crisis of allegiance, and Madalena continues the tyrannical arc that’s alluded King Richard. He actually seems to be shifting farther away from that role than ever after a mellow visit to Xanax the wizard, whose New-Agey potions open up a door to perception that gets to the root of King Richard’s many flaws—and shows the beginning of his friendship with Gareth.

The only problem is that it’s unclear whether Xanax is meant to be a Middle-Age take on a holistic guru, psychiatrist, stoner—his song is sonically and visually a nod to ‘60s pyschedelia—or all three. Gervais’ performance doesn’t help either, as he brings little more to Xanax than his trademark lethargy and snark. While these traits have come to define some of his most memorable roles, Galavant isn’t a show that benefits from such disconnectedness. Its most successful gags deal in surprising takes on one broad archetype at a time, and, in addition to being tonally confusing, Gervais’ intentional laziness comes off like he’s snubbing his nose at the material, not riffing on it. He’s the exact opposite of “Weird Al”’s head monk, furthering the story by helping Richard explore his past, but rarely ever serving the comedy of the show.

When watched together, tonight’s episodes don’t completely alleviate Galavant’s guest-star problem, but, like last week’s “Comedy Gold,” they’re a step in the right direction. Maybe next week’s finale will finally earn ABC that Spamalot! comparison they’ve been so keen on making.


Stray Observations

  • We didn’t get to talk about it, but how great was the Herman’s Hermits-esque duet between Chef and Queen Madalena’s handmaiden, Gwynne (Sophie McShera)? Among all their darkly comic daydreams of peasant love, my favorite was “We’ll have a dozen kids, and maybe one won’t die.”
  • Speaking of Sophie McShera, that marks the second Downton Abbey actor to appear on Galavant (the first being Hugh Bonneville as the Pirate King), although I guess that’s not surprising given the heavily British cast. That still didn’t keep me from wondering if her character here is a nod to Daisy Mason, also a doe-eyed servant.
  • Even the “cute” monk had a perfectly round bald spot (called a “tonsure,” as one savvy commenter pointed out below).
  • I love that King Richard’s older brother in the flashback is named Kingsley, but hate how his parents called attention to the joke.
  • King Richard’s “Well, well, well” is the Galavant equivalent Jerry’s “Hellooo!” on Seinfeld.
  • Overall, the music remains strong, the only dud being the hookless ballad between Galavant and Prince Isabella at the end of “Dungeons And Dragon Lady.” But it was still important to the story for obvious reasons.
  • “You know your way around a horse, you’re not so bad with a sword, and your beard magically stays the same length all the time.”
  • “I know you’re not a hugger, but if you were, I’d wrap myself around you like a leather jacket made of love.”
  • Critics didn’t receive a screener for the finale, so next week’s review might be a tad later than usual, but not by too much. What did everyone else think?