The Sunday, 8PM time slot can now be officially dubbed fairy tale hour on ABC. With Galavant filling in for Once Upon a Time, lovers of deconstructed medieval folklore are sure to be satiated. Fairy tales and medieval shows have a popularity that remains, ever after. There is a fluidity to the genre that allows it to morph and adapt with every passing decade. After watching tonight’s Galavant pilot and the charming second episode, “Joust Friends,” it’s clear that the innocent naughtiness of the show has captured a whimsical timelessness. It will be to future generations what The Princess Bride has been, and Black Adder before it.
For months, I have been enthralled with the Galavant preview. At the same time, I was disappointed because it seemed to give away so much. But ‘seemed’ is the key word here, for there is indeed a surprising twist. From the opening number (featured in the teaser) we learned that famed knight in shining armor, Galavant (Joshua Sasse), finds his one true love, Madalena. He gallantly gallivants with the fair maiden who has “long legs and perfect skin/a body built for sin.” Cartoonishly evil (but really, more wimpy) King Richard (Timothy Omundson) steals Madalena for his bride. But unlike Princess Buttercup, Madalena sees the perks of being queen.
Madalena is the type who does not want to be saved from fame and fortune, for a life of love and squalor. When Galavant comes to save her, she wishes him well, but is not willing to go with him. The king gives a soft kick to Galavant, but accepts his lack of strength, and turns to his muscle man, Gareth (Vinnie Jones), saying, “Dammit, Gareth. Would you just do that for me, please?” Gareth knocks Galavant out with one swift blow. Broken hearted, Galavant turns to drink and food, forsaking being a chivalrous, famous, high-note hitting knight.
In a different storyline, Princess Isabella of Valencia’s parents are being held captive, and she seeks out Galavant to help her save them. He’s not interested, as his heart is still shattered over Madalena. But when Princess Isabella mentions that it is none other than King Richard that holds her family captive, he is ready to help. At first this seems very coincidental and contrived, and when Isabella sings about how her parents were kidnapped by King Richard, it feels very tedious. But that’s how it’s meant to seem, for Isabella then reveals in her flashback that King Richard has planted Isabella to coax Galavant into coming back to save his first one true love.
In order to retrieve her parents, King Richard wants to trade their lives for Galavant’s. King Richard’s new queen has quickly tired of him, and keeps her chastity belt locked tight (note: only to him). He believes that if he captures and kills Galavant, Madalena will see him for the man he is.
Most of these big moments come out in beautifully sung and expertly choreographed musical numbers. The writing team’s strong fairy tale and musical background shines through every moment of this brilliant show. The songs have a familiar ring, but with a much more adult tone. The score is written by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater. Eight-time Academy Award winner Menken is responsible for the likes of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Enchanted, and much more. Lyricist Glenn Slater previously worked with Menken on The Little Mermaid, and also with screenwriter Dan Fogelman on Tangled. Fogelman’s credits in Tangled, Cars, and The Guilt Trip are evidence of a writer who not only has the talent to be fun and light hearted, but extremely poignant and heartfelt.
The pilot ends with a closing song to the same tune as the opening, ending with, “Come back for next week’s show.” Fortunately, Galavant fans get to have their cake and eat it too, getting not one, but two episodes a night. For the binge-watch trend going on in this country, this is the closest you can get to Netflix dumping new shows on you all at once.
It was also a smart decision for the storyline, because with all the musical numbers, the plot development happens at a Mad Men-esque pace. And episode two, “Joust Friends,” does not disappoint. John Stamos guest stars, playing Galavant’s rival, humorously named “Jean Hamm.”
Galavant the Knight, Isabella the Princess, and Sidney the Squire (Luke Youngblood) are on their way to save Isabella’s parents and win back Madalena for Galavant. The episode opens with Galavant dreaming that he is able to slay a pack of thieves jumping him in the forest, with Madalena running back to him. The dream soon turns sour, when he has the all-too familiar tormenting nightmare where you’re outside, in your underclothes. Galavant wakes up, relieved it was all a dream, but facing another bleak reality: they are out of funds, and to continue on their quest, Galavant needs to enter a local joust to raise money for their journey. The prize is 1000 schillings. Unfortunately, Galavant is very much out of shape (as meat and mead are not part of a healthy balanced diet).
Luckily, Princess Isabella is a coach of sorts. She’s a modern princess—not a Cinderella that sits about cleaning, nor an Aurora that lies about sleeping. She is more of an Ariel—not the damsel in distress that needs to be saved, but the damsel that saves her knight from drowning. And she knows how to joust, fence, fight, and grapple. In a Rocky-style montage, she trains Galavant, kicking his ass at every turn. A medieval-ish version of “Eye of the Tiger” plays. And as she trains him, her appreciation for his hot body grows.
Isabella also utilizes her own sex appeal to trick Knight Jean Hamm into getting drunk on absinthe before the joust. What ensues is physical comedy gold: the antithesis of a heroic joust. The trumpet sounds, but rather than plow towards each other, Galavant and Hamm move towards each other in painful slow motion. Jean Hamm is so sick, he is projectile vomiting out of his helmet. Galavant, across from him, trained too hard the day before, and is too sore to move any muscles. They battle it out, in the least chivalric joust in history. When their lances finally graze the other, they both flop off their horses. Even their horses walk off in disappointment. The judge announces that the first man to his feet wins the joust. They both slowly try. It takes a while. A long while. Of course, our hero wins.
Isabella is not the only lady to outshine the men around her. Back at the castle, Madalena is a Cersei Lannister of sorts. She is so detestably delicious to watch in all her evil ways. Australian actress Mallory Jansen has even mastered that glorious, resting bitch-face that Lena Headey does so well. In the middle ages, women were considered to have more of a sexual appetite than men. The show is historically accurate in this respect, with Madalena aggressively pursuing the court jester to satisfy the needs her husband cannot. King Richard doesn’t need any more reminders about his lack of manliness, for he is constantly emasculating himself, making his evil deeds softer. His scrawny Chef (Daniel Evans) feeds him like a little boy, calling each spoonful a cannonball.
Disappointed that he can’t entice his queen in any way, the king enlists his buddies, Gareth and Chef, to teach him about manliness. The next time he shares a meal with his queen, he is so tough, he drinks ale. From the bottle. And burps in her face. It kind of seems to work. They enter into a lover’s duet, with King Dick opening with, “You’re frigid and demanding/I shudder at your call.” She answers, “Whenever you come near me, my flesh begins to crawl.” He takes her hand, and together they sing, “Then sometimes there are moments, I’m not repelled at all/Maybe you’re not the worst thing ever.” Their duet is spliced with Galavant and Isabella singing their own version of the song. It could win the award for most anti-romantic romantic song of all time.
Gareth, on Isabella’s weight: “I know, but I love skinny, really unhealthy skinny.”
Galavant: “I fell hard… she fell softer.”
Galavant, to Jean Hamm, on insulting his mother: “It’s 1256. The ‘yo momma’ jokes are getting really old.”
How many GoT references did you catch?
What was the best song (if you can pick one)?
How long will it take Galavant to fall madly in love with Princess Isabella?
Madina Papadopoulos is a New York-based freelance writer, author and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.