Apparently, shows vaguely about fairy tales are very in right now. Two new shows, Grimm and Once Upon a Time, both provide twists on the classic fairy tale stories. Both try to merge old stories with the real world, but they find varying success in their clarity and quality.
ABC’s Once Upon a Time is a mixed-up fairy tale story about a small town, Storybrook, Maine, that is supposedly a frozen fairy tale world. Henry (Jared Gilmore), an adopted ten-year-old, finds his birth mother, whom he is convinced is the only one who can break the curse. His birth mother, the reckless Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) arrives in Storybrook and must fight against the evil queen-turned-controlling-mother Regina (Lana Parilla) with the help of Snow White, schoolteacher Mary Margaret Blanchard (Ginnifer Goodwin).
Confused? Me too. The show oscillates between the trapped world, in which the characters are normal people in the present day, and the fairy tale land of the past. Through the flashbacks, the show explains what happened. But for at least the beginning of the show, it’s unclear what is real and what is just the imagination of the troubled child Henry. What’s more, the show spends way too long setting up this complicated world, and takes too many episodes to get to some kind of actual plot.
However, there are some clever moments, like when Snow White proclaims, “She poisoned an apple because she thought I was prettier than her.” Overall, unfortunately, most of the dialogue of the show is trite, predictable, and poorly written. Emma, the bad mother, cannot seem to talk to Henry without saying “Look, kid,” and the fairy tale characters only seem able to speak in exclamations. The characters, at least in the first few episodes, feel flat and one-dimensional. The evil queen seems nothing but evil, and Snow White is pure good.
Yet something is undeniably intriguing about the show. Maybe it’s the mere inclusion of a fairy tale land or the super cute kid protagonist, but I do have some desire to watch more. Even if most of the show is pretty unrealistic and trite.
NBC’s Grimm, not without its own flaws, finds a similar charm in an otherwise mediocre show. Grimm follows police officer Nick (David Giuntoli) who learns from his dying aunt that he is a descendent of the Grimm Brothers and must carry on their legacy of fighting fairy tale creatures. With this inherited power, Nick can now see the supernatural all around him, and he must use his new skill and the power of the law to end evil.
Ridiculous? Of course. At its heart, this is just another crime-fighting show with a small twist. The acting is not particularly good, and the characters are scarcely developed into anything more than crime fighters. Nick mostly just seems confused by what he sees, and his clueless partner Hank (Russell Hornsby) is pretty much like every cop partner character ever. The style of the show feels like an older, tamer crime show than the current ones on television, and, without the fairy tale element, it would not be interesting at all.
But there’s something clever about the plot lines for the show. In one episode, blonde Gilda and her boyfriend break into a home, and go missing after the owners, who turn out to be a species that transforms into bears, return. The series darkens and transforms classic tales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and makes them more modern and twisted.
These two shows, which both seem to be capturing pretty good ratings, are similarly ridiculous and absurd. But there’s something to love in anything that reminds us of our favorite classic stories. Maybe I’m just a sucker for anything that tries to put Snow White in a modern situation. But I can definitely see the good ratings for these shows, even with such pitiful writing, acting, and story lines. If only the great charm of a fairy tale story could rub off more on these series.