Did anyone expect Once Upon A Time to become such a big hit for ABC last year? I sure didn’t. Although it had a fine pedigree in creators Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, who had previously worked on Lost, and a novel concept of mixing fantasy elements with small town melodrama that falls somewhere between The Vampire Diaries and Desperate Housewives, never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate it to become the cornerstone of ABC’s Sunday night lineup. While re-watching the first season on Blu-ray, I began to better appreciate what Horowitz, Kitsis and their reliable staff of writers were able to do. They created a grown up fantasy series that truly has the same appeal as all of those CW shows and teenage vampire movies so many adults secretly watch, and combined it with the clever and often fun storytelling technique that drove Lost and made it such a pleasure to watch.
For the uninitiated, the premise of Once Upon A Time is that all of the storybook characters we all grew up reading (Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.) were actually real and because of a spell placed on them by the Evil Queen, they were transported to Storybrooke, a small town in our century. The curse by the Queen wiped all memory of their past live. There were no happy endings. The Queen made sure that she retained the truth about the fairy tale lives she destroyed, and as the mayor of the small town where all of these people now live, she’ll stop at nothing to ensure that no one ever regains their memories of what happened once upon a time.
The catalyst for the change come takes the form of the Queen’s adopted son, Henry. The young boy uncovers the secret about the citizens of Storybrooke and seeks out the one person he believes can restore order: A 28-year-old bails bondman named Emma, who just so happens to be Henry’s birth mother. Henry tries to convince Emma that she is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. Emma fears that the boy has lost his mind and returns him to his adopted mom. However, once she’s in the town of Storybrooke, she decides to stick around to make sure that the child she gave up for adoption to ensure he’d have a better life was indeed living a better life. Emma’s decision begins the alignment of the cosmos, everything the queen fears.
Okay, sounds kind of corny, I know. But there’s a charm to the show, especially when trying to figure out just which storybook legends the present day characters are supposed to be. That meek school teacher is actually the fierce Snow White, the guy lying in a bed with amnesia is her long lost betrothed, the sinister owner of an antique store is Rumpelstiltskin, and the waitress at the local diner is really Red Riding Hood. More enjoyable are the back stories and flashbacks to the characters past lives. It’s here that the writers seem to have the most fun, reinventing the storybook heroes and heroines, re-imagining their origins and how they met. Sure, this may not be epic television like Breaking Bad or The Wire, but the show knows its audience and it is, for the most part, crafted well.
Once Upon A Time has a nicely assembled cast, including Ginnifer Goodwin (Big Love) as Snow White, Josh Dallas (Thor) as Prince Charming, Lana Parrilla (Medium) as the Evil Queen and Jennifer Morrison (House) as Emma. As I said, the writing is lively, sometimes melodramatic and fun. Overall production values sometimes falter because the green screen fantasy worlds are a little too digital. ABC is wisely releasing the Blu-ray now, giving fans time to reacquaint themselves with the show and interesting newcomers to get to know the continuing storylines that will carry into season 2.
The Blu-ray has a nice selection of bonus features. “Fairy Tales in the Modern World” allows you to explore the process that went into creating the show and “Welcome to Stoneybrooke” is an exploration of Stonybrooke, Maine, both the town on the show and its real inspiration. The discs also include deleted scenes, bloopers and audio commentaries. All of these features are also included on the DVD version of the Once Upon A Time: Complete Season One release. Exclusive to Blu-ray is a feature entitled, “Once Upon A Time: Origins.” This interactive archive allows you to uncover the rich and diverse historical origins of the fairy tale characters that appear on the series.