Owing a strong debt to Monty Python and a lesser one to spoofs like “When Things Were Rotten,” “Galavant” largely overcomes the challenges that have traditionally bedeviled TV musicals with rambunctious energy, cheeky lyrics and music, and — significantly — a half-hour format, thus condensing the need to create songs into a manageable task. Granted, this ABC series is so unlike anything else on the network’s lineup that the only lead-in the network could think of, ultimately, was itself, airing back-to-back episodes. Whether this inspired silliness has legs beyond musical-theater geeks and TV critics is anybody’s guess, but “Galavant” hits the ground running.
From the opening number (and good luck getting the Alan Menken-written title tune out of your head), “Galavant” serves notice that the derring-do will involve more word play than swordplay, as the narrator sings, “Now at last begins a true adventure. Epic, wild, a real butt-clencher.” Then again, this is a show where in a later episode characters will argue about finding an apt rhyme for “sarcasm.”
Our intrepid hero, the swashbuckling knight Galavant (Joshua Sasse), has his beloved Madalena (Mallory Jansen) kidnapped in the opening moments by the lustful King Richard (Timothy Omundson). Yet when Gal seeks to engineer a daring rescue, he’s crestfallen to discover his lady fair has actually chosen money and power over the whole true-love thing.
Flash ahead, and Galavant has crawled into a bottle to drown his sorrows, before being given a new purpose in the form of a quest involving the lovely Princess Isabella (Karen David), whose family has been taken prisoner by none other than Richard. Madalena, meanwhile, torments her husband, who at one point seeks advice from his trusty guard (Vinnie Jones) on how to be manlier.
What ensues, in the six episodes previewed, cruises along in somewhat serialized fashion while pausing for plenty of nonsense, from landlocked pirates (headed by “Downton Abbey’s” Hugh Bonneville) to Galavant’s joust with another knight (John Stamos) who specializes in “Yo momma” jokes, which, he’s told, are so 12th century. (Another “Downton” denizen, Sophie McShera, also turns up as a guest.)
Written by Dan Fogelman, directed by Chris Koch and featuring songs by Menken and Glenn Slater, the show — which draws its beautiful locations from shooting in Wales — remains consistently bawdy and frequently clever, such as a musical group of clergy in a later installment who sing “Hey, hey, we’re the Monks.”
The cast (which also includes Luke Youngblood as Galavant’s squire) is uniformly good, although the portrayal of Richard as a cruel yet foppish and sex-starved figure inevitably yields a lot of broad camp that risks becoming irritating. By contrast, some of the anachronistic jokes work surprisingly well, including a debate over the merits of zippers.
It’s too bad that the concept is so incompatible with anything else in ABC’s lineup, which explains the decision to air the series in “Once Upon a Time’s” slot while that show takes a breather. The scheduling actually produces some awkwardness, such as a lyric that says, “Tune in for next week’s show,” which actually begins immediately thereafter.
While we’ve come a long way since “Cop Rock,” trying to sell a mass audience on such a proposition remains dicey, as does sending up a genre of movies that probably peaked during Errol Flynn’s heyday. Heck, to millennials, even Mel Brooks’ various parodies are so last generation.
Nevertheless, give ABC credit for taking a stab at something different (along with a nod to entertainment chief Paul Lee’s British roots), and at least creatively pulling off the first stages of “Galavant’s” journey. None of that, of course, suggests the series will be a smash, but based on first impressions, it won’t be a “Smash” either.