We all know the way all fairytales begin: Once upon a time. What if “Once Upon a time” wasn’t just the beginning of a set of stories, but the starts of a world filled with the characters we know and love, just a little bit more complex? And what would happen if they came to live in our world, without the happily ever after? ABC’s new show, Once Upon a Time, does just that, taking a simple premise and working it into a complex, entertaining, enthralling drama.
So why do adults want to see the lives of fairytale heroes, heroines, and villains unfold? Where does the magic of this show really lie? Let’s crack the cover and take a look.
I am going to put myself out there and say I wasn’t as excited for this show as many would think. Sure, I saw the advertising and thought it was a good concept, but that it could be a very big flop. The only reason I was going to see it at all was cause Robert Carlyle and Ginnifer Goodwin, two of my favorite actors in the whole world, were going to be in it. I was much more into Pan Am, which had been billed as this giant success which crashed and burned with low ratings and airing some of the episodes out of order (Firefly syndrome anyone?) But let it be known – by mid-season, I was totally enthralled and obsessed with this show beyond normal, acceptable limits. And I wasn’t the only one.
But the big question is why this show was such a super hit. I mean, fairytales for adults is a very common theme but it doesn’t always work out to be popular. However, it is in my very opinionated view that this show is not popular for one reason, but for several specific achievements the show was able to pull off during the course of the season.
Let’s start with the first one. A show’s pilot season always has the smallest budget possible, because no one is going to throw a ton of cash on a show that may or may not make it pass the midway season chopping block, let alone the year. But if that’s the case, then the show’s designers did one hell of a job on a shoestring budget! This show uses a bunch of CGI which can range from great to absolute crap, but it looks like they always try hard. And as far as set design, particle effects and costuming, this show has some of the most classic, clean, and wonderus designs for the fairytale world I have ever seen, really feeling like they pulled everything out of a story book.
The next aspect is the story. Dramas these days, especially on the network that boasts Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy, can be more convoluted and bizarre than any basic cable daytime soap opera. But thankfully this plot manages to keep everything tied to together with coherent plot threads. The Evil Queen was wronged by Snow White in the past and is now bent on destroying her life by marrying her father and banishing her from the woods. Snow White becomes an outlaw and falls in love with a prince and together they must fight to regain control of the kingdom. Once they do, they give birth to baby Emma, just as the Queen is about to unleash the ultimate curse on their lad – taking them to a strange, sad world and removing all of their happy endings and memories. And that world happens to be our – the character remain confined in space and time in a little New England town called Story Brook. But they send Emma to this world first so that she can escape the curse and save the whole town from their invisible prison upon her arrival.
Along the way we meet Pinocchio and Jiminy, Cinderella, Belle, the Blue Fairy, the Huntsman, the dwarves, the Mad Hatter, Hansel and Gretel, Malificent and lots more. Each character gets at least an episode and really fleshes out the drama for each and shows it on both side of the world – the fairytale one and our world.
The only problem with this is that the story is told out of order (on purpose this time) and so sometimes you can’t tell from episode to episode which part of the story we’re on and where on the timeline it takes place. Does it really hurt the show? Not persay, but making things a little clearer wouldn’t hurt, like chapter titles or something.
A lot of people really love the Evil Queen Regina, play by Lana Parilla, but I could take her or leave her. Her real-world persona is sly and convincing, and can really make you doubt whether she means what she says or is trying to double-cross someone. She’s a very good modern day villain. But her fairy-world persona is a little too overtop for my tastes. I know story villains are supposed to be over the top and a little wacky but the comparison between the two makes her evil queen persona seem just a little too weird.
The great thing about the other characters in fairytale world is that they are badass as Hell. Snow White destroys enemies and manages to steal from the rich, the Dwarves have indestructible axes, and Grannie, from Little Red Riding Hood, is a werewolf hunter.
But not all the characters are awesome, and my least favorite are Mary Margaret and David. Anyone familiar with the show will protest “But Snow White and Prince rock!” and I can’t deny that. But they also not the characters I’m talking about. I’m talking solely about their real world counterparts, who are the most boring, bland, overly dramatic cut outs ever. Without the biting wit or strength, both characters fall flatter than a pancake. I think that’s part of the point, if only to show the audience how out of sorts these poor people are so out of their element and miserable. But the thing is that this makes them resemble very boring soap opera characters than tragic soul, and after a while, I stopped caring about their story line way before the end. Mary Margaret is weepy and sheepish, only occasionally sporting the badass attitude, strength, and wisdom which makes Snow White so powerful and intriguing. It might also be because Ginnifer Goodwin herself is such a fabulous actress, she needed to put some life into this character.
David is a lying, stupid, obnoxious man who shows no real honor or chivalry like the prince does in the other world, which makes him a really despicable character. It’s a great contrast to be sure, but it’s a little too wide sometimes to really be believable. It also wishes someone would punch him in the teeth. If that’s what they were going for, good job!
But the best character, by far, is Rumplestilskin/Mr. Gold, played by none other than awesome-incarnate Robert Carlyle. The character is a wild card – he’s got his own set of motives, plays by his own very twist set of rules, and will help either side for the right price, and as long as he doesn’t stand to lose from their gain. He’s an evil creature corrupted by dark magic and will wield it for his own purposes whenever, wherever. But as unlikable and hideous as he is, he was once a coward trying to save his son from being drafted into the army. He falls in love with Belle, but out of fear of being powerless, drives her away. He’s subtle and fierce, cunning and lovable (don’t deny it, he totally is).
But it is all three aspect combined that make the show the amazing knock out it is. It’s all carefully crafted and inter-woven one into the other so that the story doesn’t just feel like a story – it feel like its own unique world, filled with lots of people whose tales are infinitely more complex and involved than even the show lets on a first. The actors more than just play their roles, they breathe new life into characters we have known since childhood. While the premise may have seemed weird from the get-go, its not every show that can take someone like me, who started off as only mildly interested, and get me to be a full-fledged fan.
As of yet, there’s no real word on what Season 2 is going to be like or a premiere date, but I’m definitely going to be tuning in to check it out. And since I was nice enough not to spoil most of the plot for you (a real shocker, I know), you should all go check it out immediately! THIS VERY SECOND!
As for next month, with my hectic job schedule, and inability to get Netflix on the train, it’s a toss up between Pan Am or Lost, if I can finish it by the end of July.