Why you should be watching: Galavant

Contributed by
Jan 26, 2017

Sir Galavant has it all: a heroic reputation, accolades aplenty and the love of the beautiful maiden Madalena. One terrible day, the evil King Richard kidnaps Madalena and forces her to become his bride. Galavant rides to her rescue, fighting wave after wave of guards to reach his ladylove. But once he finds her, he discovers that Madalena doesn't want to be rescued. She's gotten used to royal life and digs it more than whatever she had with Galavant. Dejected, Galavant falls into despair and drink. One year later, Princess Isabella of Valencia seeks Galavant's help to win her kingdom back from ... wait for it ... King Richard. Galavant, seeing a chance for vengeance, accepts. 

Galavant, ABC's hilarious send-up of fairy tale musicals, aired for two truncated seasons in 2015 and 2016. Nestled in Once Upon a Time's timeslot during that show's winter hiatus, Galavant spent its run skewering as many fairy tale, fantasy and romance tropes as it could. Often the skewering was successful. Sometimes, it was not. It never did garner an audience as large as the show it replaced for two consecutive Januarys, but Galavant still exuded charm with catchy songs and bawdy humor.

If you're able to get the titular theme song out of your head, you're better at squashing earworms than me. I did a rewatch to prepare myself to write this, and now I can't get the damn tune out of my head.

So:

Way back in days of old
There is a legend told
About a hero 
known as Galavant
The network ABC
Thanks to their Prez Paul Lee
Green-lit this comedy called Galavant
Wow, their songs were always pretty catchy
And the romance was quite 
matchy
Lo, it was a perfect show
Well, not really but know
It delighted me and so
Attend the tale of Gaaaaa-
laaaaa-vant!

Yes, it's unapologetically a musical. 

Galavant isn't just any ramshackle musical haphazardly put together with sound-alike composers. Its pedigree sprouts from the undisputed master of the fairy tale musical, Disney. Creator and executive producer Dan Fogelman wrote the script for Tangled, so he's already an expert in spunky princesses who defy expectations. Every Galavant song is written by Tangled lyricist Glenn Slater with music by Disney legend Alan Menken. Each episode contains at least three original songs, or four if you count the inevitable reprise.

There's one major frustration: sometimes the television cinematography can't quite keep up with the lavishness of music. Blame it on the budget, but the show makes up for its shortcomings with some clever and fun choreography. 

The songs would mean nothing without fantastic actors to perform them. Luckily, every featured actor in the show has the vocal chops to match their considerable comedic skills. The person who surprises most, however, is British actor and former professional footballer Vinnie Jones. Known for his tough-guy roles in Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and Gone in 60 Seconds, Vinnie gets to show off that he has a surprisingly decent singing voice. Here's hoping he gets more musical roles in the future, as it'd be a shame to let that untapped talent go to waste. Less punching, more belting, Vinnie!

 
It's an homage to The Princess Bride and so much more.

The easiest comparison to make is that Galavant plays out like The Princess Bride. It's a story of true love with a princess who must be rescued from an evil ruler who wishes to have the princess for his own in a world populated by hilariously self-aware characters. But comparing Galavant directly to The Princess Bride does the former a disservice. Galavant is more like The Princess Bride meets Monty Python and the Holy Grail with a side of Mel Brooks. It wears all of its comedy influences on its wide, sequined sleeve, and Galavant still feels so much more than the sum of its parts. The comedic inspirations are classic, but the execution is decidedly modern. Madalena starts out like Buttercup, a damsel in distress, but she breaks out of that tired mold quickly, taking control of her captivity and turning the tables on her captor.

The show's ridiculousness and self-awareness aren't lost on its characters. One particular scene calls out The Princess Bride, where a character is flat-out told that this "mostly-dead means slightly-alive" thing is basically bunk. And as much as Galavant himself loves to sing -- mostly about himself -- even he gets exhausted after his big solo finale and is left gasping for breath and cursing (bleeped out, of course) about how damn long his song was.

The female characters are pretty much perfect.

There are two major female characters in Galavant. One's a princess, the other's a queen, but they're both so much more than their titles suggest. Madalena is ostensibly the evil queen, but unlike the Disney trope, she's a character who stands on her own. She doesn't exist to just be the antagonist. She's not one-note. She hooked up with Galavant purely because of the sex. After he falls in love with her, she held no real feelings for him other than "my best boy toy." Her ambitious nature outshines that of her spouse/kidnapper, King Richard, to the point where she begins to call the shots in the kingdom without any input from her hubby. Madalena is the HBIC, but she's still depicted as being capable of love. She's actually a complex character with complex motivations, and while she's obviously terrible, she earns sympathy. 

Princess Isabella Maria Lucia Elisabetta -- Isabella for short -- is a young woman of color and heir to the kingdom of Valencia. She describes herself as "small and cute and ethnically hard to pin down," which is how I want to be introduced to other people from now on. Her life is dictated by her loyalty to her family and her kingdom as she strives to save her parents from the clutches of King Richard. She's also "all about the deconstruction of the princess trope," which isn't just lip service to feminism. She's shown as a capable fighter. She holds her own in battle. She singlehandedly tries to rouse a volunteer army (armed with pots and pitchforks) to fight in the Season 2 finale. She gives a speech on horseback on equal footing to Theoden's from The Lord of the RingsReturn of the King.  She doesn't plan on falling for Galavant, but she isn't berated for following her feelings and for realizing that she likes being around this big lug of a knight.

It's not just the knights and princesses who get the spotlight. 

One of the highlights of Galavant's first season is the burgeoning romance between King Richard's chef, Vincenzo, and Madalena's handmaiden, Gwynne. In any other story, these characters would just exist in the background, only coming into the scene when needed and then just as quickly slipping out again. Only in Galavant, the servants have their own lives and their own ambitions ... even if their ambitions are as simple as being able to sleep on a clean pile of straw versus the cold, manure-stained floor. But it's kindly Gwynne who comes up with a devious plan to poison the upper class during a celebratory feast while Vincenzo decides to dial the meal down from overt death to run-of-the-mill food allergies. And while Gwynne expresses her frustration that they didn't actually murder any of the upper crust, she's still delighted that Vincenzo is too kind to kill anyone.

It has to be true love.

There's an entire episode devoted to the master/servant (or more specifically, the knight/squire) relationship where Galavant has to swap places with his squire, Sid. He discovers just how squires really feel about their lieges, and it ain't pretty. After his time in the servants' quarters, Galavant resolves to treat Sid with a little more respect. Even Sid realizes that Galavant's a decent master, and it's Sid who rouses up the masses to help fight off Madalena's army, even if most of those masses turn tail and flee after his shockingly gory lyrics of how every single person will probably die.

I mean, this entire number is ridiculously morbid, albeit a more realistic version of "Do You Hear the People Sing" from Les Mis:

 

King Richard goes from buzzkill to bae over the course of two seasons. 

Richard begins the show as a childish, selfish moron who is completely oblivious to the terribleness of his antics. He feasts while his people starve. He kidnaps Madalena to force her into marriage, but when he struggles to capture her heart, he realizes that he's not the amazing person his servants, upon threat of death, make him out to be. This sudden twinge of guilt and self-awareness convinces him that he just needs to take a step back and let the people who know what they're doing do their thing in his place. That means stepping away from his bride Madalena, his throne, and his entire kingdom. In true fairy tale fashion, once Richard learns humility, he's rewarded with every good thing: a magic sword, a better title (The One King to Unite Them All), and a relationship with a woman who loves him for himself, dorkiness and all.

It's super-sexy and flaunts it, but not in a gross way. 

In a show where bodice-ripping could have been the norm, Galavant has surprisingly little bodice-ripping. Female chests don't jiggle or heave, and the topless scenes involve Galavant and are framed for the female gaze. In one episode, Isabella must train the out-of-shape Galavant for a jousting tournament, and after a particularly grueling training session she ogles him as he dumps a bucket of water all over his half-naked body. It's enough for Isabella to murmur, "Damn."

Honestly, the show just really enjoys showing Galavant shirtless. 

And while Madalena is a terrible person and the main antagonist, the narrative doesn't go out of its way to slut-shame her because of her bedroom antics. She loves being with men, many men, and she does care for them, for as much as a person like her can love anyone. She's still fond of Galavant, but it's clear that Galavant wants much more out of a relationship than just sex. It takes Madalena time to accept that. Still, she is unapologetic for her lust, and she demands respect for that. 

It doesn't shy away from hope, happiness, and true love, even if it's fully aware of the ridiculousness of romance. 

Every single character except for the squire (sorry Sid) ends up, at the end of Season 2, in a relationship or trying to save a relationship. That's Galavant's message: there's someone out there for everyone. From kings in search of redemption like Richard, to Galavant and Isabella. Even Gareth, Richard's loyal bodyguard, harbors feelings for Madalena and legitimately worries when she appears to have sold her soul for the promise of ultimate power. Gareth enjoys being a horrible person, but he doesn't think you need to sell your soul to a dark lord to keep on doing terrible things.

It's not all wine and roses. Galavant and Isabella's first kiss is marred by its yeastiness and musty flavor, which proves that romance can't solely rest on the power of a single kiss, despite what Disney has to say. Love means commitment and loyalty, and while the beginning of Galavant and Isabella's relationship is beyond rocky and littered with secrets and lies and misunderstandings, they get their fairy tale ending. Galavant's epic journey begins with a lie which reveals a harsh truth. He hoped to rescue his true love, Madalena, from the clutches of evil King Richard. Instead, he discovers that Madalena enjoys the royal lifestyle over her romps in the (literal) hay with Galavant.

Did I mention that it's funny? 

There is something decidedly pure about a comedy fantasy that's able to tease the genre while paying homage to it, from Vincenzo promising Gwynne that they'll be able to keep one of their future babies while leaving the rest to the White Walkers, to traveling companions Galavant, Richard and Roberta having to eat a family of hobbits.

Yes, that's right.  A family of cute, little, hairy-footed hobbits. 

Speaking of White Walkers, it's no surprise that the Game of Thrones references fly freely. Madalena is kind of Cersei's counterpart: ambitious and willing to do anything to stay in power. The world of Galavant is called The Seven Realms. And, in a scene which predates Jon Snow's miraculous resurrection by about half a year, Galavant is also rescued from the brink of a death-by-sword-stabbing thanks to a sorcerer (named Neo Sporin, no less). 

And, finally, Galavant tops the White Walkers' zombie army with a zombie army of its own, along with a gay army, an army of (regularly-sized) giants and dwarves, and a pirate army. Honestly, the show just ticks every box for ragtag army members during the finale, and it's glorious. 

The show is self-aware to a fault, with the first episode of the show's second season named "A New Season aka Suck It Cancellation Bear." Galavant succeeded in being unabashedly and unapologetically what it was: a musical at a time when musicals were relegated to Disney movies and live TV versions of classic Broadway shows with stunt casting. Galavant was doing its thing and doing it awfully well before La La Land was lauded as the return of the classic song-and-dance musical. 

Galavant is far from perfect, and God knows I would've preferred Isabella riding into battle in proper armor instead of that weirdly shaped metal bodice/dress ensemble she actually wore. But like how Richard super-believed that his lizard Tad Cooper was actually a dragon, I still super-believe that Galavant is a brilliantly fun show that got a raw deal by being cancelled. But with the revival of musicals, hopefully it will find a new life on a streaming service.