Pilot Review: Once Upon a Time

ABC’s Once Upon a Time premiered tonight at 8E/7C, and was a rousing success. The basic plot is that, at the wedding of Snow White and Prince Charming, The Evil Queen performed a curse upon the entirety of the fairytale world to send them all to the real world, where the only happy ending is hers (although she didn’t seem too happy when we found her next). As Snow White gives birth to her daughter Emma, the queen breaks in and casts the curse. Fortunately, the Prince is able to transport Emma far away, and she grows up thinking she was abandoned by her parents. On her 28th birthday, a boy she gave up for adoption 10 years prior shows up and asks her to take him home to Storybrooke. As they go, he tells her the tale of her own past – but her skepticism keeps her from really believing him. As the characters unfold in Storybrooke, though, she starts to wonder if there might be something to this, and decides to give it a week to try to figure it out.

I really, really enjoyed this show. It was fascinating, and a fresh look at fairytales is always good. Fairytales seem to be the new paranormal success, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m so glad to see these tales get a modern makeover. Fairytales seem to be a genre that can never be fully tapped out, although people have been writing and rewriting them since the beginning of the narrative. I would definitely suggest adding this to your lineup and giving it a fair chance. It may not be as gripping as the upcoming Grimm (NBC, Oct 28 9/8c), but it will certainly catch your attention.

As far as the rest of casting went, I was mostly happy. I think this show requires unknowns to be really effective. Ginnifer Goodwin seems like kind of a strange choice, in that respect. She definitely looks the part, but I’m not sure she has the right presence for television. I’m a little concerned about Jennifer Morrison’s ability to uphold the narrative, but I foresee this becoming more of an ensemble act than one starring her. That’s how the promos portray it, anyway. Morrison’s generally blank face seems to work here, and I can only hope her skepticism keeps up through the season, or we might have a problem. Otherwise, the actors did a great job. The boy who plays Henry (a former Bobby Draper of Mad Men) did well, for what his lines were. And the rest of the supporting cast looked good. Though they mostly had one or two lines, hinting at introduction to their fairytale characters, each of them managed to steal their scenes, and I’m very interested to see where the episodes go.

However, I didn’t really think the flashbacks were all necessary. It was fun to guess at who’s who in this episode, but in general they were too much. The curse was easily explained in the wedding and subsequent visit to Rumpelstiltskin, and I really don’t think we need this many flashbacks. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong, but I’m just not sure. Coming from two Lost alums, I guess I’m not that surprised, but once the initial explanation happened, I would have been happier with a faster-moving plot and less fairytale world. Part of the reason for this is the extremely under-budgeted special effects. Anytime there was something remotely magical, like the Blue Fairy, it looked incredibly cheaply done and out of place. If you’re going to go there, ABC, you need to go there. It doesn’t look like any budget was wasted on production quality or making the fairytale period seem realistic, so I’m not really sure why the magic got lost.

Sometimes it seemed like the conversations happened for the sake of exposition rather than realism. For example, when Emma and Henry are talking on the beach, she tells him about how her parents left her on the side of the road. She tells him this in rebuttal to his own story about how she gave him up for adoption, and the whole time I was thinking that this was way too much information to unload on a ten-year-old. Yes, the information is necessary, but I don’t know if this was the best way to share it.

All of these are minor complaints compared to my biggest problem with the show, though. This show seems to be taking on the task of bringing together characters from the entire canon of the fairytale genre, rather than a specific set. This may work, but it seems easier to work within a specific collection (as Grimm does). The benefits of this include, to the very least, limiting the rules of magic and possibility – while this may not seem necessary, it definitely provides guidelines and boundaries, which every show needs. I’m of the school that magic needs limits for it to be plausible, so this really bothered me. I just struggle to envision a world where Pinocchio, Alice, Snow White and Red Riding Hood knowingly co-exist. It stretches the suspension of disbelief pretty far, to the point where I started to become disinterested. This was only the first episode, though, so perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised as the season continues.

All in all, though, I really enjoyed this show. Don’t let my gripes about it get you down. I’ll definitely make a place for it in my TV lineup, but to be honest, if they don’t step it up as far as production quality and extended storytelling goes, I’m not sure it’ll make it beyond a first season. Once the mystery is solved and the characters start to remember who they are, where’s the story?

Although, I guess that’s what was said about Lost, and look where it went. Kitsis and Horowitz wrote some really quality episodes, so I’ll trust them here. I think this show has real potential. I’m glad to see the networks taking back Sunday night, instead of tossing this on another weeknight. I already have too many things to watch during the week, so this makes one less show I’ll have to make time to watch because it isn’t a priority over others airing the same night.

What do you think?

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One thought on “Pilot Review: Once Upon a Time

  1. The special effects were a definite downer. As you pointed out, the Blue Fairy was particularly bad. Another element that pulled me out of the story was the lack of good writing for the Evil Queen’s dialogue. She is angling for “her own happy ending.” I got it the first time. I didn’t need to hear it ten times, and I wished her lines had been a bit more intelligent and arch-villain-y. I kept comparing her to Maleficent in the Sleeping Beauty cartoon, and OUaT’s Evil Queen came up quite short.

    That said, I actually did enjoy the show! ; ) The plot is clever, and I’m looking forward to discovering all the ins and outs of the Storybrooke residents. The moment when Emma finally “gets it” is going to be very worth seeing, I suspect. Especially when she figures out that her parents are her own age. Oh, and when Mr. Therapist realizes he’s supposed to be a cricket. That’s going to be fun. : )

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