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Popdose’s Fall 2011 TV Preview: “Once Upon A Time” and “Grimm”


What, you thought the TV premieres were over? I mean,it’s not like the mid season is only a couple months away! Today,  Chris Holmes and Scott Malchus take a look at the two fantasy series that premiered just before Halloween. Once Upon A Time is already two episodes in, while Grimm is gearing up for episode two this week. Grab a seat, read what the guys have to say, and be sure to leave an opinion below. Without further ado, take it away, gentleman.

Grimm (Fridays, 9 PM, NBC)

If NBC’s newest foray into the world of one-hour dramas, Grimm, has one thing going for it, it’s pedigree. Co-creators David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf have writing and production credits for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Ghost Whisperer between them, and their newest series clearly shares some of the same DNA.

The line on Grimm is that it’s a “procedural with a twist,” which is TV executive speak for “Cops ‘n’ Monsters.” OK, maybe that’s a bit reductive. But not entirely untrue.

As things get underway, Portland homicide detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) investigates the gruesome murder of a comely co-ed jogger who gets mauled in the woods like it’s the end of a particularly brutal, unaired Jack Link’s Beef Jerky commercial. During his investigation Nick discovers that walking among us are very real fairy tale monsters that do nasty things to regular folks like us. He is startled a few times when he catches glimpses of the monsters’ real faces as they temporarily lose control over their human disguises. Think Rowdy Roddy Piper’s character in They Live, minus the magic sunglasses.

Oh, but the weirdness doesn’t end there. Burkhardt’s sickly Aunt Marie arrives in Portland with her Trailer O’ Mystery in tow, and bluntly reveals to Nick that his true calling is as a Grimm. No slow reveal, no meticulous buildup, it’s just, “Oh hey, you’re the latest in a line of monster hunters who have to watch their back at all times and so you have to ditch your fiancée. Also, your parents were actually murdered by monsters.”

By the way, that’s Grimm as in Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, who laid the groundwork for enduring European folk tales such as “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Snow White” to become lucrative Disney properties. Little bits of those and other fairy tales are dropped as references throughout Grimm in ways that are alternately clever and tedious.

Anyway, instead of serving as mere chroniclers of the strange world and deeds of dangerous beasts and assorted nasties, modern-day Grimms like Aunt Marie and Nick are locked in an ages-old conflict with the monsters. This point is reinforced right away when Aunt Marie and a random supernatural assailant do battle right on the sidewalk near Nick’s house, leaving one dead brute and one grievously wounded Aunt.

Left with no choice but to accept fully what had only been hinted at hours earlier, Nick begins a crash course in Accepting Your Destiny 101 by way of reading Marie’s detailed and lovingly illustrated journals and eventually befriending a reformed Big Bad Wolf (Eddie Monroe, played with good humor by Silas Weir Mitchell). Eddie is set up to not only become Nick’s surrogate partner – in contrast to actual cop partner Russell Hornsby (Hank Griffin) – but his native guide to the stories and secrets of Fairy Tale Portland.

All of this and more is covered just in the pilot alone. I was hoping for a little more atmosphere and mood from Grimm, especially if it seeks to stake a claim to Friday nights. When the show took two seconds to catch its breath it was very visually appealing, no doubt – there was a very cinematic feel to the episode that I hope continues throughout the series’ run. Or at least until NBC starts shrinking the budget.

I really hate this trend of shows cramming the same amount of story and detail into one episode that could be more effectively parceled out over a full season (I’m looking at you, V). I fear now that so much of the heavy story lifting has already been done, Grimm may actually become Cops ‘n’ Monsters.

 

Once Upon A Time (Sundays, 8 PM, ABC)

My DVR had a meltdown, preventing me from watching the pilot episode of Once Upon A Time when it originally aired. Luckily, the ABC showed it again, preceding the second episode. Watching the first two hours back to back, one of the nagging questions I had was answered immediately into hour two. Would this series follow the same storytelling device as Lost, the show that Once Upon A Time creators, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz gained fame working on? The answer was yes, leading to an intriguing, mainstream series for Sunday nights.

Once Upon A Time takes place in two worlds. The first is a fairy tale magical land where Snow White (Gennifer Goodwin, Big Love) and Prince Charming (Joshua Dallas) are in love and co-exist in a world with Rumpelstiltskin (a menacing Robert Carlyle), Jiminy Cricket, Gepetto and whatever other characters from Disney films the writers choose to use (the series is an ABC production, and the network is owned by Disney). When the fantasy storyline opens, Charming has awakened Snow White from the curse placed upon her by the evil Queen (Lana Parrilla). We cut to their nuptials and just as a wedding celebration is set to begin, the evil Queen appears to place a new curse on all of fantasy land. She will send everyone to a terrible place where there are no happy endings… except for her. Snow, Charming and all of the good friends race to find a way to escape the curse. They can’t figure a way out, until they discover a magic tree that can transport one person to the new realm, someone who’ll be able to release them from the curse and restore their memories of their past, magical lives. That person turns out to be Snow and Charming’s infant daughter, Emma. Just as the Queen’s CG cloud of nastiness overtakes the land, Emma escapes to the new, terrible place where no one is happy. And that place would be…

2011 New England.

The second world where Once Upon A Time takes place is modern day America. In it, Emma is a grown up bails bondsman played by tough, but beautiful Jennifer Morrison. On her 28th birthday, a young boy- the biological son Emma gave up for adoption- appears at her doorstep with a crazy story. The boy, Henry (Jared S. Gilmore), tells her that fairy tales are true and that all of the characters from the stories we know as kids are trapped in a small Maine town called Storybrooke. Emma is both flabbergasted that the kid (that’s what she keeps calling Henry) she gave up has found her, and that he seems to have mental issues. Emma drives him back to his home town and his adoptive mother who just happens to be the mayor… and also the evil Queen. You can see where this is headed. Snow White is now a beloved, but lonely school teacher; Charming is a John Doe laying in a coma at the hospital; Jiminy Cricket (Raphael Sbarge) is an adult man who is Henry’s psychiatrist. And so on, Henry insists that Emma is the key to restoring happy endings because, yes, she is the daughter of Snow White.

Emma is torn. Henry appears to need help and the mayor, aka the evil Queen, is a cold hearted bitch who claims to love her son, but exhibits no affection whatsoever. Henry is so convincing, and something inside of Emma begins stirring, a twinkle of some sort, that she’s slowly starting to wonder if maybe he’s telling the truth.

Personally, I was torn, too. On the one hand, I enjoy the way Once Upon A Time is laying the groundwork for the series. Like Lost, the pilot episode cuts back and forth between the two worlds. During the pilot I wondered if this device would carry through the series and it was confirmed in the second episode when we learned the back story of the evil queen. Unfortunately, the CG effects on the series border on cheesy, so the fantasy sequences have a bit of a Xena feel to them. If the show becomes a hit, I hope the network channels a little more cash into the special effects. What kept nagging at me throughout the two episodes, though, was how interesting the show would be if we didn’t know the back story and everything was told in the modern world. What if Henry just showed up, tried to convince Emma that fairy tale characters are real, and we saw everything through her eyes? Admittedly, this would have been a much harder series to sell to the network and the public, but it may have been more adventurous. Alas, it probably would have been cancelled within a week.

For now, Once Upon A Time is smart escapism for the Sunday night crowd. It’s female centric enough to slip right in with ABC’s other two shows, Desperate Housewives and Pan Am, but it has enough fantasy and adventure to attract a male audience. I’m intrigued enough to come back for a few more servings of this show. What about you?