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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Galavant: “Two Balls”/“Comedy Gold”

Illustration for article titled iGalavant/i: “Two Balls”/“Comedy Gold”
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We’re only four episodes in, but it seems that the weakest moments of every Galavant episode occur within the storylines of its guest stars. Last time, we got a seen-it-before training montage when our hero had to joust against John Stamos (inexplicably named Sir Jean Hamm), and this week, we get a whole village of tired Jewish stereotypes, followed by a band of pirates who—while funny overall—have a penchant for ‘90s lesbian jokes (more on both of these arcs in a bit). If The X-Files centered around a Monster of the Week, Galavant centers around a Stupid Guest Character of the Week.

That being said, the show has gained its footing when dealing with its main cast. As King Richard, Timothy Omundson continues to plumb new depths of lame entitlement in “Two Balls,” expressing genuine remorse to Valencia’s subjects that he’s destroyed their kingdom, then gleefully kicking his court eunuch’s non-existent testicles just a few moments later. Even as he tries to become a better king to his prisoners and a more suitable husband to Queen Madalena, he’s still a cruel man-child incapable of achieving true self-awareness.

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Elsewhere, Galavant is having a similar journey of reform, but with far more successful results. When he, Princess Isabella, and Sid stop off to see the latter’s family, he and Sid have to temporarily switch roles, as Sid’s told his entire village he’s a knight, not a squire. While playing the part of underling, Gal hears from the other pages how mistreated they are by their masters. He vows to be kinder toward Sid, once again proving that the show’s funniest and most resonant moments are the ones that subvert what we’ve come to expect from fairytales—the tyrannical king trying (and failing) to be more merciful, the dashing hero attempting to be less arrogant, etc.

But Sid’s village is also the site of those oh-so-pesky Jew jokes. For some reason, his parents talk like characters straight out of a Billy Crystal standup special, and while the rest of the community seems like run-of-the-mill Medieval peasants when we first meet them, they all start whipping out the Yiddish during a song that praises Sid’s (false) accomplishments of knighthood. It’s not the song—which you could argue pays tribute to Fiddler On The Roof—that make the storyline so unfunny. It’s the inconsistency of the humor. As I said, the townsfolk who aren’t Sid’s parents are Middle-Age commoners one moment, then Jewish stereotypes the next. Even his parents—who “shiksa” and “bubby” all over the place from the moment they’re onscreen—aren’t some kind of 12th-century riff on Hebrew comedy. They’re just Jews dressed in peasant garb. And where’s the humor in that?

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The show’s fourth chapter, “Comedy Gold,” fares a little better in its treatment of Gal and co.’s next stop on the road to King Richard’s castle. Granted, the pirates’ eyepatches and tricorn hats are more reminiscent of buccaneers from the 17th century than the Medieval era, but the gag of them being stuck on land works well, and they actually drive the action forward in a significant way by the end of the episode. My only problem with the pirate stuff stems from a single joke, the moment where the pirate king, Peter the Pillager (Hugh Bonneville), realizes he and Galavant know each other. “You know, we met before at Lilith Fair,” he says. Galavant looks at him, confused. “The Island of Les Bos?” Peter reminds him.

Like the random Jewish stereotypes (not to mention the name Sir Jean Hamm from episode two) it’s a setup with no payoff whatsoever. As hard as it is to make a reference so steeped in ‘90s pop culture work, it might have had a fighting chance had it been reconfigured into some kind of Medieval alternate reality. I’m not saying listing off Middle-Age alter egos of specific Lilith Fair performers would have been funny (“Natalie the Merchant,” perhaps? Eh, probably not.), but something in that vein would show that the writers are at least trying to be creative and not just throwing in any old reference that comes to their minds. As petty as it may seem to call out a solitary joke in a sequence that otherwise works quite well, the failed bit is ultimately representative of how easy Galavant’s humor becomes off-color.

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On the more positive end of things, the songs of Alan Menken, Glenn Slater, and newcomer Christopher Lennertz achieve considerable identity and confidence by the time “Comedy Gold” rolls around. Unlike “Two Balls” and “Joust Friends” before it, each of the four(!) numbers is a home run, with the title track—where Richard gets comedic advice from the court jester after discovering he’s sleeping with his queen—recalling “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singin’ In The Rain without ripping it off. Even funnier, King Richard’s musicians struggle with playing party music for the people of Valencia since they only have experience with somber execution songs. Meanwhile, the pirates lament about how they’re confined to the land in their very own sea shanty, a style of music that—in the complete opposite of the Fiddler-esque tune—works because, well, they’re pirates.

In addition to the more distinct songwriting, Galavant’s story continues to move in surprising directions with every episode, even the weaker ones. I have a feeling Gal won’t (or won’t want to) end up with the icier version of Queen Madalena if he ever does reach the castle, nor am I sure if he and Prince Isabella are headed toward a true-blue romance or not. Plus, we’re poised to see guest stars like Ricky Gervais and “Weird Al” Yankovic a bit later, brilliant comic minds that may be able to elevate some of the more directionless humor. Hell, maybe the the show-runners even listened to some of Yankovic’s records before his appearance, hopefully learning that, if you’re going to parody something, it needs to be an actual departure from its source material.

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Stray Observations

  • Was the eunuch supposed to look like Varys from Game Of Thrones, or are all Medieval eunuchs bald and robed? I need to brush up on my eunuch research.
  • I really did hate that Fiddler song, but the lyric “Sidney is the knight who put the ‘Sir’ in ‘circumcise’” made me laugh for reasons unknown.
  • I was going to speculate on how Gal would react when he finally discovers Prince Isabella’s true motivations of delivering him to the king so she can save her family. Then I realized she did tell him, only he completely zoned out. Another successful gag that didn’t rely at all on pop culture.
  • As much as I wince whenever the show goes for obviously anachronistic humor (which, even with the Lilith Fair joke, is still toned down compared to the last two episodes), the jester reading 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Jesters with his legs propped up was so absurd it worked. Still, that’s one more ‘90s joke. Seriously, what is it with the writers and their ‘90s references?
  • I haven’t mentioned him by name yet, but Darren Evan absolutely slays me as the hapless court chef whose entire bloodline has been wiped out by King Richard.
  • “I wish you were my cousin so I could marry you.”
  • “We’re the lords of the sea! Just not the actual sea.”
  • “Perhaps I shall now finally be able to satisfy my wife the same way you have.”
  • What did everyone else think? Am I alone in being so irked by the random, more referential humor moments?
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