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Fall 2011 Review: Once Upon A Time

13 Nov

Once Upon A Time is the story of a group of fairy tale characters who have gotten trapped in our world in the town of Storybrooke, Maine by an evil witch and who have no idea that they’re fairytale characters.  They also can’t leave the town for some reason that was unclear in the first episode.  The first episode is told as two separate plots which are cross cut.  First, in the past, fairy tale characters led by Snow White and Prince Charming must deal with the curse of the evil witch and eventually learn that the only way to save themselves is to preserve their daughter who will save them from the cursed in 28 years. Second, Jennifer Morrison is a modern day independent, but friendless woman who is approached by a little boy who it turns out is her biological son who she gave up for adoption ten years ago.  The boy tells her that he’s her son, and convinces her to return him to his hometown of Storybrooke.  She has some either super power or sharp instinct to determine whether people are lying, and sees that he is telling the truth.  He tries to convince her that the town is made of fairytale characters, of which she is one, putting her in the classic this-is-ridiculous-but-she-has-to-eventually-believe-it-for-the-show-to-work scenario that we’ve already had in The Secret Circle and A Gifted Man.  She’s not all the way there by the end of the episode, but she agrees to stay in town a week and hang out with him, against his mother’s wishes, because she’s convinced the mother doesn’t love him.  Or something.

The word of the day for Once Upon A Time is a word I stray away from generally, because I’ve known people who have overused it in the past, but here I think it’s called for:  cheesy.  It’s not a sophisticated word, but it’s accurate for about everything about this show, and though I’m probably being slightly derisive about the show overall in this review, I mean cheesy in a simply descriptive way.  The plotlines are cheesy.  The show would have been better off leaving out the flashbacks entirely.  Snow White and Prince Charming in the past go downstairs to hear a prophecy from the prisoner Rumplestiltskin and the whole scene just seems like it should be from a children’s cartoon rather than a primetime drama.  The writing is cheesy – the dialogue is canned and corny.  The production values, which I’m usually willing to cut some slack to and aren’t my biggest concern, are cheesy as well.  The limited cgi.  The costumes for the dwarves.  Everything feels a little kiddy.  I’m not saying something has to be dark as night to interest me, but it could at least by a little bit complex.

It was hard for me to watch this and not mentally compare it to a comic series called Fables.  Fables, written by Bill Willingham, posits that a great evil (The Adversary) chased the fairy tale characters out of their homelands and they escaped to a part of New York called Fabletown.  His depictions of the characters and their interactions are clever, nuanced and funny.  Prince Charming, for example, is the same prince from Snow White, Cinderella and other stories, so instead of being a doe eyed eternally loving husband, he’s a handsome sleazy womanizer.  Anyway, this has pretty much just been a paragraph long advertisement for a comic series that I’ve only read half of the existing issues, but it was similar enough that it was hard to get out of my mind while watching the show, and I continued to compare Once Upon A Time to it, negatively.

Also, Howling for You by The Black Keys makes another pilot appearance.  It’s all over Prime Suspect, and now in Once Upon A Time also.

Will I watch it again? No, I don’t think so.  It’s certainly innocuous enough and if people told me it got really interesting from here on in I’d give it a chance, but it’s hard to get a feeling that it will from the first episode.  The whole thing isn’t very sophisticated, and maybe that’s too much to ask, especially from a show that bills itself as family friendly, but it could try a little harder.