I hadn’t intended to pick up any new TV shows this fall other than Ringer and The Secret Circle: Ringer because it’s Sarah Michelle Gellar and she’s Buffy so she has my allegiance, and The Secret Circle because I love The Vampire Diaries so much. Ringer is absurd but oddly entertaining. I’m a fan. The Secret Circle has unfortunately not lived up to the expectations created by The Vampire Diaries. I gave it six episodes to get going, but dropped it this week.
That was my intention. But I guess the lure of two fairy tale based shows turned out to be too much for me to resist, and I decided to tune in for the premieres of both Once Upon a Time (ABC) and Grimm (NBC) this week. Both shows have typical fantasy/hero story beginnings. Once Upon a Time is about Emma, a citizen of a reality much like ours, who discovers by way of Henry, the son she gave up for adoption at 18, that fairy tale creatures live in a town in Maine called Storybrooke, and that she is actually the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. The Evil Queen has robbed the inhabitants of fairy tale world of their happy endings by cursing them to live in our world, and the only way they can get back to the fairy tale world is if Emma comes back and saves them. Grimm is about Nick, a citizen of a reality much like ours, who discovers by way of Marie, the dying aunt who adopted him after his parents died, that fairy tale creatures live among us, and that he is actually the latest in a line of creature hunters known as “Grimms.” Nick, who is a cop, now has to take up the family calling and use his newfound knowledge to solve crimes.
Once Upon a Time is very literal, for lack of a better word, with its fairy tale elements: we see flashbacks set in a Shrek-like magical kingdom where all the fairy tale creatures live together. Snow White lives in a castle and wears a princessy white dress; Prince Charming is an acual prince who carries a sword. In the curse reality, the Evil Queen, called Regina, is the Mayor of Storybrooke, and Snow White is a schoolteacher named Mary Margaret Blanchard — see what they did there with the names? Prince Charming, meanwhile, is known only as John Doe. That’s because he got stabbed right before the curse took hold, and now he’s lying comatose in a glass-walled hospital room, presumably in suspended animation until his true love remembers who he is and comes to wake him with a kiss. Grimm has no alternative fairy tale reality. Its setting is present day Portland, Oregon, and its fairy tale creatures here have evolved over time to fit in with modern society. This seems to be the key difference between the two shows: while Once Upon a Time‘s conceit is that the fairy tale creatures are here in the real world unnaturally, Grimm suggests that they were always there and, just like the rest of us, have merely changed as the world changes.
I didn’t care for Once Upon a Time. The dialogue was a bit grating, both the stilted, cheesy style of speech used in the flashbacks to fairyland (see: io9 on “kitsch,” which can usefully be applied to this show), and in the present, with Emma annoyingly calling Henry “kid” every second sentence. I guess this is supposed to contribute to her “tough” persona (she’s also a bail “bondsperson”). Visually, the show did not appeal to me at all. There is a lot of bad green screen involved, and the costumes and hairstyles in the flashbacks were totally ridiculous. I also take issue with the inclusion of characters from Pinocchio in the fairy tale universe. Pinocchio is not a fairy tale! Do I sense a bit of marketing for ABC’s parent corporation Disney here? Next week maybe they’ll introduce Quasimodo or The Incredible Hulk. One thing I did like about it was the parallel images of Snow White in her glass coffin and Prince Charming in his “glass coffin” that began and ended the episodes. That was clever, and it was probably enough to get me to watch at least one more episode.
Overall, I prefer Grimm‘s premise. The idea that fairy tale creatures would naturally change with the times makes a lot of sense to me; fairy tales are archetypes, and the things they reflect are always out there somewhere. Grimm also seems like a mix of various things I like. There’s a bit of the comic book series Fables here (there’s also a bit of Fables in Once Upon a Time), plus aspects of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the best show ever): the Grimms are very much like Slayers, and Aunt Marie, a librarian with a trailer full of Grimm information, is Watcher-like. I also couldn’t help thinking of Harry Potter when Marie told Nick that his parents didn’t die in a car crash. Unlike Once Upon a Time, Grimm is pretty to look at. At least, I found the dark and colourful visual style of the show very attractive, and I always like a Pacific Northwest setting for a sci-fi or fantasy show. The giant trees and overcast weather just lend themselves to that slightly weird, scary tone. The pilot episode took the story of Little Red Riding Hood and turned the Big Bad Wolf into a serial killer of girls in red sweatshirts, which sounds a bit silly, but a scene showing the Wolf’s collection of red hoodies was genuinely creepy.
I will watch Grimm again next week (though I will not watch it live because I’m sorry but I have to watch Fringe at that time) in the hope that it lives up to its potential, and that if it does, NBC might give it time to develop. The fact that they’ve put it in the Friday night death slot, against two shows that probably share a similar target audience (Supernatural and the aforementioned and awesome Fringe), following low-rated and already-cancelled Chuck, makes me think they’re not planning on having it stick around for long.