A TV show has to earn its darkness, even if it’s already dark from the beginning. The Sopranos never shied away from characters who are violent—sociopathic, even—but there’s no way it could have gotten away with broadcasting Ralph Cifaretto’s most monstrous crime in the first season. Hell, David Chase had to wait four episodes before he even showed Tony killing someone.
Now, Galavant isn’t The Sopranos by any stretch of the imagination, nor is ABC anywhere near HBO in terms of how much profanity, violence, and nudity it can show onscreen. It has, however, played by the same slow-burn rules when it comes to risk-taking. Dan Fogelman had to sculpt King Richard’s cardboard villainy before making the unexpected move of converting him into a hero. He had to build up Sid’s unwavering enthusiasm and loyalty before having those same traits lead to the squire accidentally (and, as we find out tonight, fatally) throwing a broadsword right into Galavant’s chest.
While that last story beat isn’t as severe as a mafioso bashing a stripper’s head into a guard rail, it’s still more morbid than anything we’ve seen in Galavant before, cementing a ballsiness that just wasn’t there in the pilot, back when ABC marketed the sitcom as a spiritual successor to Monty Python And The Holy Grail. But Galavant’s passing in “Love And Death” proves that the series has moved beyond such shameless namedropping into a show that very much has its own identity. Are we ever meant to think that Reece Shearmith’s excitable healer—saddled with the so-bad-it’s-good-name of Neo Sporin—won’t be able to resurrect our hero? Of course not. But I also wouldn’t have guessed that a large chunk of the episode would revolve around Gal trying to escape a purgatorial soft-shoe number sang by Death (Eddie Marsan). As performed by all of Galavant’s major characters, some purposely random villagers, and a cadre of stiffly dancing female specters, it’s more surreal—and yes, darker—territory than the series has ventured into in the past.
With Gal on the slab, “Love And Death” also gets to devote some much needed screen-time to the burgeoning romance between Richard and Roberta. The latter character has felt a little short-changed since she was first introduced in “Aw, Hell, The King,” and while it would be nice to see her developed outside of her relationship with a man, hers and Richard’s time together continues to inform the audience about who she is as a person. When Richard gets outed as the middle-aged virgin he is by that pesky unicorn, for instance, Roberta doesn’t laugh at him or get turned off by his lack of sexual experience; she just accepts it. And, as luck may have it, it’s actually Richard’s purity that ends up saving Galavant: the final ingredient needed for Neo’s resurrection elixir is “the gray hair of a bearded, middle-aged man who is pure of body, untouched by a woman.”
Richard’s celibacy quickly comes to an end in the beginning of the evening’s second episode, “Do The D’Dew,” when, accompanied by Neo’s undead army to storm Valencia, he finally has a chance to sneak off with Roberta. They later recount the tryst to their troops in a bizarro sendup of Grease’s “Summer Nights,” only instead of echoing the lyrics with snappy “Uh-huh”s, the reanimated corpses respond with zombie-like “Uh-huuuh”s. The whole concept of the sequence is rather strange when you stop and think about it, but also a testament to Galavant’s adventurous spirit. The weirder the show gets, the better—and funnier—it is.
The undead army’s response to romance, however sluggish, ends up being a bigger plot point later on when, after days of unsuccessfully trying to control the rotting soldiers, Galavant realizes the answer lies in love. It’s love that the troops react to, love that will inspire them to march into battle without stumbling into any trees. With Roberta, it’s the opposite. After Richard—who’s a terrible fighter—refuses to stay safely stay behind and let the army do the dirty work, she decides to part ways with him, as she can’t bear to see him killed. “I love you too much to watch you die,” she tells him. “And you will die. Horribly.”
Her statement would be an accurate prediction normally, and even more so with Madalena’s further descent down the rabbit hole of supervillainy in hopes of winning the approaching battle. Decked out in a spindly, frilled collar that wouldn’t look out of place on a Skeksis, she’s arranged with Wormwood to be schooled in the “D’dew,” an “evil way” that has an extra “d” because of how dark it is, so much that her eyes are glowing red by the end of the episode. Even Wormwood balks at her quick change of heart to murder a baby if she has to, so who knows what she’ll try to do to Galavant and Richard when they cross paths once again. I’m not holding my breath for any R-rated torture, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Fogelman has fun taking Madalena’s viciousness to some more shocking places. As Alan Menken writes in the final song of the night, “It’s a dark season.” Make that “d’dark.”
- Seeing as there are now multiple songs in each episode, I’ve added a new section below called “See, now that was a number” to discuss any tunes I didn’t have room to write about in the main body of the review. I’ll also use it for stray observations about songs I’ve already mentioned.
- Sid also abandons his wartime post because of the guilt he feels over killing Galavant. Between having him woefully gaze at his mentor’s corpse in “Love And Death” and Gal’s passive aggressive remarks to him in “Do The D’Dew,” the show builds this up nicely.
- Or, maybe Sid was just afraid of overhearing Richard and Roberta get it on again. On their first time: “So we’ll just stand here and listen to this happen, I guess.”
- “There’s a few hundred of them. That makes them an army. A half-dead army. Or half-alive army. Depends on if you’re a glass-half-dead kind of guy.”
- With their armory stocked with nothing but Prince Harry’s useless toys, the Hortencians are scrambling for weapons. “I’ve got a potato,” one man feebly suggests. “It’s very pointy.”
- I’ve accepted that Galavant is going to have at least one blatant showtune homage/winking ripoff per episode. We already talked about “Summer Nights” getting turned on its head in “Do The D’Dew.” In “Love And Death,” Neo channels Gilbert and Sullivan’s fanciful wordplay with his own version of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.”
- Gareth proves himself to be utterly hopeless when describing warm, fuzzy feelings in “Love Makes The World Brand-New.” Apparently, his idea of sweet nothings consists of phrases like “Now this chunk of my chest keeps flump-flumpin’ away.”
- Did that bird bouncing over the lyrics remind anyone else of Disney Sing-Along Songs?
- The only song that didn’t land for me was the rap battle between Isabella and Madalena. For me, showtunes flounder whenever they focus on characters bragging about how badass they are. It’s why I don’t care for “The Rum Tum Tugger” (and a lot of the songs from Cats) and wasn’t drawn to Sheridan Smith’s defanged rock number last week. Also, as much as I love Menken, Christopher Lennertz, and Glenn Slater, hip hop isn’t their strong suit.
- The Galavant Wiki is proving to be an invaluable resource for the show’s songs. Not only does it list the order of all the tunes—it contains the lyrics for every last one of them.