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ABC goes medieval -- and musical -- in funny, spirited Galavant


Joshua Sasse stars as the halfway noble title character in Galavant. ABC photo

Premiering: Sunday, Jan. 4th at 7 p.m. (central) with back-to-back half-hour episodes on ABC
Starring: Joshua Sasse, Mallory Jansen, Timothy Omundson, Karen David, Vinnie Jones, Luke Youngblood, Ben Presley and Darren Evans with guest appearances by John Stamos, Ricky Gervais, Rutger Hauer
Produced by: Dan Fogelman, Alan Menken, Glenn Slater, Chris Koch

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And now for something completely different -- even if it’s also more or less derivative.

ABC is going medieval again with Galavant after a summertime fling with The Quest, a “reality competition” series that turned out to be high on production values but deficient entertainment-wise. End result: it never catapulted in the ratings.

Galavant, an eight-episode musical comedy with back-to-back half-hours on Sundays through January, likewise may have problems gaining ratings traction. But that won’t be for lack of trying -- or entertainment value. This is a bright and bold step for a broadcast network, with sharp, pungent lyrics, economically crisp song and/or dance sequences and whimsy through and through.

It’s not in the league of The Princess Bride or Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But Galavant makes a damn fine effort based on six of the eight episodes made available for review. It moves along nicely, sags a little at times but is always game to give it another go and hit more often than miss. So applause to ABC for putting Galavant out there and making it lots more fun -- and of much shorter duration -- than NBC’s unraveling Smash turned out to be. This medieval farce also is far cheekier than NBC’s pair of by-the-book live musicals -- The Sound of Music and Peter Pan. Sample song title from Episode 2: “Maybe You’re Not the Worst Thing Ever.”

The title character, played by Britisher Joshua Sasse, has been a dashing figure until his lady, Madalena (Mallory Jansen), is kidnapped and taken to King Richard’s castle. Galavant shows up just in time to interrupt their wedding vows, but is crushed to hear that Madalena has decided to “go with fame and fortune.” Galavant returns home to become a lazy drunk with a lousy diet. But then comes the comely Princess Isabella (a luminous Karen David), who implores Galavant to save her kingdom of Valencia while in the process defeating King Richard and reclaiming Madalena. But Isabella’s real agenda is not quite so noble.

King Richard is despotic, neurotic, thoroughly unmanly and played brilliantly by Timothy Omundson. Everyone comports themselves well in Galavant, but Omundson’s cavorting is the show-stealer. He’s an evil-doer whose long-time chief guard, Gareth (Vinnie Jones), contentedly does most of the dirty work while at the same time striving to make a red-blooded man of his King. Madalena has come to love the palace’s creature comforts while growing to loathe the rich Richard. Her boy toy is the court jester (Ben Presley), whom the King otherwise finds hilarious.

The principal guest appearances are by Jon Stamos (in Episode 2) as the vain jouster Sir Jean Hamm (har); Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville as the well-disguised Pirate King (Episode 4); and Ricky Gervais as an off-brand Merlin named Xanax (Episode 6). Also look for some singing Franciscans (“Hey, hey, we’re the monks”) in Episode 5 and Richard’s attempts to woo back Madalena (in Episode 4) by learning the fine points of standup comedy from the Jester. He’s a howl as the “King of Comedy,” riffing Jeff Foxworthy-style (“If you have more children than teeth, you might be a peasant”) to an unimpressed small audience of captive Valencians.

The cast also includes Galavant’s squire, Sid (Luke Youngblood), and a nervous palace chef played by Darren Evans. One and all have their moments (and King Richard has many of them) in a very agreeable romp that will be filling in for Once Upon A Time to start the New Year.

Viewers are strongly encouraged to mount Galavant and ride it out. It’s imaginative, energetic, and occasionally somewhat wobbly (particularly in Episodes 3 and 4). But Galavant is mostly a savory treat from the musical team of Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, who previously have collaborated on The Little Mermaid and Tangled. These guys know what they’re doing. And this time they’re doing it with a welcome edge in rousing, ribald times.


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