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Galavant – Series Premiere – Recap: Medieval Within

Recap and review of Galavant – Series Premiere – Pilot / Joust Friends:

I wasn’t scheduled to review Galavant, but I ended up catching tonight’s series premiere and was so utterly charmed by it that I felt I had to put pen to paper (well, figuratively, anyway). “Pilot” and “Joust Friends” is a one-two punch of a series premiere that allows the show to get off on the right foot.

I suppose what I like best about the show is its deconstruction of fairy tale tropes. Yes, it’s about a gallant rogue on a quest to save the woman he loves from an evil king. But this rather routine story is turned on its head by the maiden in question opting to willingly choose fame and fortune over love, deciding to remain with the evil king for the security he provides. Of course, that doesn’t stop Galavant (Joshua Sasse) from trotting off to rescue Madalena (Mallory Jansen) once he’s told about the regret she’s expressed about the choice she made. Little does he know, however, that Madalena has had no such regrets. Instead, it’s a ploy meant to bring Galavant right into the hands of King Richard (Timothy Omundson). Worse still, it’s a plot executed by a reluctant accomplice, a woman named Isabella (Karen David), whose parents are being held hostage by King Richard.

Galavant Series Premiere

Credit: ABC

What works so well about the story is how clear-cut it is. Within the first five minutes, the entire story is in place, thanks in large part to the opening theme, a wonderful little ditty that explains who Galavant is, details his relationship with Madalena, and reveals how King Richard came to take her. It’s a total earworm, mostly because it proceeds to get repeated in different iterations, ad nauseum, throughout the hour. Hell, even the ad breaks featured different takes on the theme song, in the form of promos for The Bachelor, Last Man Standing, The Middle and Cristela. Another reason for its earworm quality: it’s co-written, as all the songs here are, by Oscar-winning songwriter Alan Menken, whose work on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas is the stuff of pop culture legend.

Galavant - Recap and Review - Series Premiere - Pilot Joust Friends

Credit: ABC

That said, the cast is far more notable here than the music, at least in this first outing. Sasse plays Galavant with a sly, knowing wink, playing up the roguish qualities the part requires, but with a welcome vulnerability. Galavant’s confidence has been severely shaken by Madalena’s betrayal, and that has the effect of making him a more sympathetic character, since he’s not so impossibly skilled that he just waltzes through every challenge. His mojo is gone, so he actually has to struggle to get by. This results in a pretty terrific sequence in “Joust Friends,” as Isabella helps Galavant train for a joust against Sir Jean Hamm (a wonderful, scenery-chewing John Stamos). It takes on the qualities of an 80s training montage, and provides some of the episode’s funniest moments, from Galavant failing to mount his horse, to allowing Isabella to ride on his shoulders for no apparent reason. Yet Galavant probably wouldn’t be as compelling if the villain weren’t so layered. On the one hand, King Richard is portrayed as a bully, a lecher and a coward. But he’s also shown to be someone driven by sadder impulses. He appears to abduct Madalena out of lust, but by the end of the hour, he seems motivated more out of a desire to be loved. Yeah, it’s a bit of a cliche to say the bad guy is bad because his parents didn’t love him, or that his nanny was the only one who ever showed him any kindness or affection, but Timothy Omundson does a great job imbuing the character with more than just villainous silliness.

Galavant - Series Premiere - Recap and Review - Pilot Joust Friends

Credit: ABC

Among other cast members, Community star Luke Youngblood shows some nice comedic range as Sid, Galavant’s travel companion. And Vinnie Jones is a genuinely amusing presence as King Richard’s heavy, Gareth. Jansen is also great as the show’s arguable real villain, Madalena, who is motivated by the need for security (she rationalizes by explaining that her parents forced her to kill her pet goat for food when they were at their poorest, instilling in her the resolve to never be that poor again). She gets a great little duet with King Richard at the end, intercut with the same duet between Galavant and Isabella, in which each pair expresses that the other person might not be the worst in the world. But it’s capped off by a surprisingly resonant moment, as Madalena tells King Richard that the only reason his nanny loved him was because she was paid to, sending Richard off in tears. Interestingly, she exclaims how much she hates being made to be the bad guy, and yet it’s hard to tell just how much of that is true. Is she someone shaped by circumstances into being rough around the edges? Or is she simply predisposed to being cruel? Is it nature or nurture? Madalena is an interesting villain, far more so than King Richard. And the possibility of Galavant coming face-to-face with her again is one of the most enticing prospects of the series.

“Pilot” and “Joust Friends” make for a fun hour of TV, and suggest better (and funnier) things to come for Galavant over the next three weeks. I was surprised by how much I loved this, and can’t wait to see where the series goes from here, and if it will continue subverting the tropes it introduces. If nothing else, I’m anxious to hear some more songs that don’t end in the word “Galavant”.

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