Once Upon a Time / Grimm

I don’t usually return to things I have already reviewed, but with TV shows, there’s always the possibility of growth, of improvement. And, really, how often did you watch the pilot of a show and know, for sure, it would be awesome? (For me, that’s Lost and The West Wing. Maybe Friends.)

But, way back in 2011, there were two shows that had, on the surface, very similar premises. I pre-reviewed them as follows:

Once Upon a Time (ABC) – Okay, fairy tale characters are real, but they’re in our world, and have forgotten who they are?  Sounds like an extremely mediocre idea for a movie, and a terrible idea for a TV show.

Grimm (NBC) – Fairy tale creatures hunted down in a dark procedural.  This one could be fantastic.  Or fantastically bad.

Just for grins, let’s look back at my picks for the most promising shows:

Terra Nova (FOX) – If this isn’t your Must Watch Show of the new season, either you haven’t heard about it, or you don’t like fun.

Alcatraz (FOX) – J.J. Abrams, Jorge Garcia, Sam Neill, and mysterious goings on at an abandoned prison.  Cancel anything you like (other than Terra Nova) and get me this show immediately.

Wow. I am terrible at this. Neither of those shows even completed their first season. Yikes. Okay, back to the topic at hand.

Then, after Grimm and Once Upon a Time actually premiered, and I had more to say. Basically, the pilots of both gave me hope.

Now these shows are both deep into their third seasons, and I’m kind of stunned by how much I like them both.

First, Once. This was masterminded by a couple of guys from Lost, and the pedigree is rather obvious. Most episodes include a fractured timeline narrative, with one of the principle characters featured in both the present and the past stories. The show doesn’t have the acting (Josh Dallas? Really?) nor the writing, nor the sense of destiny and doom of Lost. But it certainly has the complexity and the weirdness.

On one hand, it’s really a cash grab by Disney, trying to profit off of all of these properties they own the rights to. Let’s recap what previous works are represented by characters on this show:

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • Cinderella
  • Peter Pan
  • Mulan
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • The Little Mermaid
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Frankenstein
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Rumplestiltskin
  • Pinocchio
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Robin Hood
  • Jack and the Beanstalk
  • King Midas
  • Knights of the Round Table
  • Hansel and Gretel

There’s probably more. That’s what I could come up with. What’s fun about the show is that they have no problem adjusting these stories to fit the show’s needs. The “Beast” that Belle falls for is Rumplestiltskin. He’s the one who taught Regina (the Evil Queen) the magic she used to disrupt Snow White’s happy ending. Also, Regina’s sister is the Wicked Witch of the West. Incidentally, this Wicked Witch’s first flying monkey was a transfigured Wizard of Oz. The big bad for the first half of the third season? Peter Pan… who is Rumplestiltskin’s dad.

It’s just nuts. But they also have the smarts to write some of these stories out as “done”. Ariel and Eric have had their happy ending. The Darling family is finally out from under the thumb of Peter Pan. Etc. Some characters have hung around somewhat past their usefulness. (Prince Charming? Really?) But the through line of Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) as “The Savior” is pretty well done. And any scene with Rumple (Robert Carlyle) is a winner.

The other thing I enjoy about the show is how important the female characters are. So much of the drama is about motherhood. (Sound like the flip side of any other show?)

Where Once Upon a Time mines countless other works for characters and plot lines, Grimm has only gotten better the more focused it is on the mythology it has built.

Grimm was created by some folks with Buffy the Vampire Slayer experience. This show has the same kind of layered mythology as that one, but, thankfully, a more carefully moderated tone and a wider selection of character voices. Recently, the smartest thing Grimm has done is pull more and more characters into the world of the Wesen. Yes, the show has veered off to have subplots in Europe, as a weird, international secret war is brewing between “The Royals” and “The Resistance”, but all roads continue to lead to Portland. Even as Nick, our resident Grimm, is busy protecting the public from murderous werecreatures of a bewildering variety, he also has to navigate this larger world of agendas and dangers, and, most importantly, traditions.

This is where the show reaches a higher level of awesome for me. The traditions of this hidden world are often horrifying. Grimms are “supposed” to kill Wesen on sight. Wesen are “supposed” to maintain their ways, regardless of the march of progress (or how many people have to die as a result). The Royals are “supposed” to be in charge. Every one of these traditions is up for grabs in just about every episode. That’s why the relationship between Nick, the merciful Grimm, and Monroe, the vegetarian Blutbad (werewolf) is so evocative, and, at times, hilarious.

I can’t say I have any idea where Once Upon a Time is heading for the rest of the season, but I am already really looking forward to Monroe and Rosalee’s wedding!

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