When I was fifteen, I worked on my first musical theatre production. It was “Into The Woods,” and I was the assistant sound designer, which really meant I pressed play on a CD when the stage manager told me to do so. I got hooked on the genre almost instantly: I couldn’t sing, dance, or act (thus the whole “pressing play on a CD” thing), but I loved everything about the world just the same. It takes a lot for a musical theatre-based entertainment to fall flat for me, which makes my hatred of “Glee” all that remarkable. But “Galavant”? “Galavant” is my kind of happy place.
I remember distinctly anxiously awaiting to hatewatch it before its initial premiere. It just looked so awesomely terrible that I couldn’t wait to lacerate it via livetweeting. Instead, I was dumbstruck by how utterly charming and well-constructed it was. It was self-referentially stupid, yet melodically rich. It was at times broader than “The Benny Hill Show,” but also emotionally sharp. It traversed the tightest of ropes yet had had a winning, earnest confidence that understood it was designed to be something loved, not merely liked. That spells almost certain ratings-doom no matter what type of television show it was. That it looked from the ads like a community-theatre version of “Game Of Thrones” written by someone who had never read the books made it seem like total suicide from ABC’s point of view.
So when news came down about its renewal last Spring, I anxiously awaited the show’s return, eager to see how the first season’s surprising cliffhanger ending would play out. Now, in terms of plot, “Galavant” (returning this Sunday, January 3, on ABC) still really doesn’t matter: It’s a show that intentionally sends up every trope it can think of while still deploying songs you’ll be humming (if not outright singing) for days. I could tell you specifics about what goes down, but that’s beside the point. The point is the show is still every bit as good as its first season, with one key shift really demonstrating the show knows what really took things into the stratosphere: Timothy Omundson’s King Richard.
Omundson was the show’s breakout star in its inaugural season. That’s to take nothing away from the work done by Joshua Sasse, Karen David, Mallory Jansen, or the rest of the cast. But Omundson’s Richard was one for the ages, at once ridiculously pitched and yet incredibly sympathetic. He was caricature and character simultaneously, which, like “Galavant” itself, seems like an impossible trick to pull off. In season two, the show wisely gives him a quest parallel to, and often surpassing, that of the titular hero itself. The beats themselves are once again familiar (drawn straight out of fairy tales and Joseph Campbell dissertations), but Omundson seems to be having the absolute time of his life, which in turn is infectious to those witnessing it.
In terms of songs, Alan Menken and Glenn Slater once again deliver a bevy of original tunes, most of which are instantly winning. They take particular delight in coupling familiar melodies with lyrics that undercut expectations. None of it feels arch or ironic, but rather, and I can’t believe I’m saying this in regards to this show, realistic. The characters of “Galavant” aspire to those in legendary tales, but are more often than not bogged down in their more prosaic settings. Yes, there are dwarves, giants, and dragons in this world, but not the ones you would expect. This isn’t a “low” world per se, but rather one in which aspirational roles are known but rarely fulfilled.
That’s giving the show too much credit by half, to be sure. But the use of pop culture slang, anachronisms, and all-too-easy escapes aren’t meant in a distancing, mean-spirited way. This isn’t a deconstruction of the medium at the expense of those who love fantasy and/or musicals. Whereas “Glee” often overtly detested both its characters and its audience, “Galavant” celebrates both with every second of its existence. If “Glee” asked, “God, why?” then “Galavant” asks, “God, why NOT?” It doesn’t work all of the time: At two episodes longer than season one, there are definitely stretches that feel more filler than killer through the seven available for review. But when it connects with a glorious song, killer one-liner, or surprisingly romantic moment, it does so with its heart completely open to those who relate to its curious, idiosyncratic, almost impossible wavelength.
In short? If you loved “Galavant,” you’ll still love it. If you don’t, well, it’s only on for five weeks, and Peak TV means there’s plenty of other things for you to do on Sunday nights. For the rest of us, there’s five weeks of tremendous fun ahead.