Friday, November 11, 2011
Worlds Apart: Reviews of Once Upon a Time ("Pilot," "The Thing You Love Most," "Snow Falls")
Title: Once Upon a Time
Airs: Sundays at 8 on ABC
Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jennifer Morrison, Lana Parilla
The other day I reviewed the new NBC show Grimm. I had mentioned that the reason I watched it in the first place was because I had heard that Robert Carlyle was going to be in a show about fairy tales and that I had thought it was that one. When I finally got around to looking it up on IMDb, I realized that it was the wrong show, but by that time, I was already addicted to it. I've just now gotten around to watching the show he's actually on, ABC's Once Upon a Time, and, despite an initial reaction of "Eh...it's not that great," I've come to like this show as well.
Here's my thoughts on the first three episodes of Once Upon a Time.
Warning: Possible spoilers ahead.
"Pilot" (first aired October 23, 2011)
Plot: Emma Swan gets a surprise visitor on her 28th birthday--the son she gave up for adoption ten years ago. He convinces her to drive him from Boston to his home in Storybrooke, Maine, which he swears is under a curse that has left the town frozen in time. The culprit? His adoptive mother, the mayor. The curse has supposedly wiped clean the memories of everyone in town, who once lived in a magical land as characters we know from fairy tales. Now they are stuck in our world as punishment for what the evil queen feels was done to her by Snow White. Emma is, understandably, confused, but feels somehow drawn to the town and so decides to stay. But only for a week.
Review: The episode begins with a flashback to the fairy land that the characters used to live in and the first thing I thought was "My god, the acting is horrible." When things went into the "real world," however, I couldn't help but notice that the actors were actually pretty good. I got sucked into the plot fairly early on and began to enjoy myself. Still, the writing seemed somewhat..."iffy," I guess is the word I'm looking for.
The idea behind the show is interesting and Jennifer Morrison really brings everything together. She's a strong character, a good actress, and, unlike Nick Burkhardt in Grimm, she's someone that you're instantly drawn to. Maybe it's because she proves herself to be a pretty kick-ass woman within the first few minutes of being on-screen. Or maybe she's just a better-written character. Either way, she's one of the main reasons why I decided to continue watching the other episodes.
There are other reasons, though. Her son, Henry (played by Jared Gilmore), is a precocious kid who's fun to watch and both Goodwin and Parilla are much better actresses when they're in the "real world" than when they're in fairy land. The costumes are gorgeous and the special effects are decidedly better than those on Grimm, although they're still not on the cutting edge or anything (which I actually don't mind). I also found that these characters are really fleshed out and I was glad to see that even in the first episode we get a taste of who many of them are.
My reason for watching the show in the first place, Carlyle's Rumpelstiltskin, only shows up briefly in this episode, but it's a side of him that I've never seen before (and I've watched a lot of his work). He's creepy, cackle-ly, and vile--and absolutely amazing. It took me a few moments to get used to seeing him in all that make-up but I soon almost forgot that it was him. He becomes Rumpelstiltskin so well that you stop seeing the actor and just start seeing the character, which is what an actor is supposed to do, really.
All-in-all, I really liked this show, even if the first episode was a little...eh. The second one, however, was what really got me into Once Upon a Time.
"The Thing You Love Most" (first aired October 30, 2011)
Plot: Emma has decided to stay in Storybrooke, which angers Henry's mother, Regina, enough to threaten her. Soon the threats turn to action and both women find themselves locked in a battle of wits that may hurt Henry more than it could hurt either of them. In fairy land, the evil Queen must make a difficult choice: lose the thing she loves most or lose her chance at getting back at Snow White and, perhaps, at being happy? Plus, Regina discovers that someone else in town may know about the curse...and that this information could cost her.
Review: "The Thing You Love Most" was scores better than the pilot episode, especially when it came to the acting in fairy land. The actors seem to have settled in to their characters more and there's less melodramatic (crappy) acting all around.
The plot was fast-paced and it helped to move both the story and the characters forward. I love serialized shows, especially when they allow their characters to grow right from the start. Some shows start out kind of slow and then pick up later, but I found that, while that was true of the first episode, the second basically exploded out into a paradoxically vibrant and shadowy future.
I'm looking forward to seeing where all of this leads, especially where it takes Emma and Regina. They are both really great characters and aren't your typical female heroine/villain duo. It's so nice to see a fantasy show where none of the women are constantly bursting out of their costumes and where they spend more time doing things than sitting around whining. You know what I'm talking about, so don't deny it. Where Grimm seems to have stronger secondary characters than it has a strong main character, Once Upon a Time has strong characters to go around.
At this point, I can't say that I like either show over the other. There's a lot to like about both, although I think that Grimm has a stronger writing staff. Some of the writing in Once Upon a Time is still a little weak, but the plots seem to be pretty good and the switching between both worlds creates a unique dynamic that allows for more character development.
"Snow Falls" (first aired November 6, 2011)
Plot: Henry is convinced that the John Doe lying in the hospital that Mary Margaret volunteers at is Prince Charming and that she is his Snow White. He also thinks that hearing their story will wake the John Doe up. Emma, hoping to dissuade Henry from believing something so outlandish, convinces Mary Margaret to read the story of Snow White and Prince Charming to him, thereby proving to Henry that the curse isn't real. Except...it works. John Doe wakes up and goes missing, leaving Emma, Mary Margaret, and Sheriff Graham to go look for him. In fairy land, we discover how Snow White first met her prince...and it isn't what you'd think.
Review: With each passing episode this show gets better. I've now seen all three of them and I am very impressed with Once Upon a Time. The writing and the acting has gotten progressively better since the first episode and I've already come to really care about these characters. As unreal as the world they live in is, they themselves are very deep and realistic characters with hopes, dreams, and fears.
One thing that I have to wonder about, however, is what happened to Mary Margaret? In fairy land as Snow White she was a very strong woman who could take care of herself. She was feisty and fun and it seems that she's become a shadow of the person she used to be. Obviously, that's part of the curse that was put on Storybrooke, but I can't help thinking that perhaps it has to do with the fact that she doesn't have her prince in her life. I'd hate to think that her personality changed simply because of a man, even if it was the one she loved. I tend to be fairly critical of female characters, mostly because they're usually written as bland and obsessed with finding a man. None of the women in this show have given me that vibe yet, but Mary Margaret is inching towards it, which would be regrettable.
A big highlight of this episode was guest star David Anders as Dr. Whale (what the hell is up with that name, by the way?). I enjoyed his work in Alias and Heroes and I hope that his character isn't a one time thing. It's always weird, however, for me to hear him with his normal American accent because he plays British characters so well.
I like the fact that this show is playing around with time. While the Storybrooke narrative takes place in the current day and age, everything that happened in fairy land occurred in the past and the writers are using that to their advantage. They build the characters on multiple levels, which gives them greater depth and makes them far more interesting.
I've decided that I really like this show and will continue to watch it. Which brings me to a grand total of two shows that I'll sit myself in front of a TV for.
Expect a weekly review of both Once Upon a Time and Grimm, probably in the same post. I'll have some sort of rating system put together in the next few weeks, so I'll eventually be able to give the episodes grades. Regardless, both shows come highly recommended from me.