In a world where network TV shows are scrupulously tested, mercilessly recalculated, and often shorn of any originality to get the broadest audience possible, Once Upon a Time is NUTS. The drama centers on a small town called Storybrooke with a secret: It’s inhabited by fairytale characters who don't know their true selves but are about to be thrown into an ultimate battle of good and evil by a twenty-something lady bounty hunter. Who, exactly, is the target audience for this show? Besides me, I mean, because this is exactly the show I want to see. Twin Peaks plus fairytale romance—like, is someone at ABC reading my journal entries? Okay, I don't keep a journal, but if I did, Once Upon a Time would be roughly outlined on the last page (right above a list of my favorite girls and boys names).
The pilot cut between two connected storylines. The first took place in a fairytale world, where Snow White and Prince Charming's wedding was interrupted by the evil Queen, who vowed to destroy them. They discovered from soothsayer Rumpelstiltskin (who was just locked up in the Royal Dungeons, NBD) that they were about to be cursed and trapped "someplace horrible," and that they would need to craft a "vessel" out of an enchanted tree to save one person from the Queen's malicious scheme. Rumpelstiltskin also foretold that, if saved, the baby Snow White was carrying—Emma—would come back on her 28th birthday and break the spell, so the baby was the one person placed in the magic tree armoire.
Meanwhile, current-day Emma Swan (grizzled/hot bounty hunter) was being dragged to Storybrooke on her 28th birthday by the son she'd given up for adoption when she was 18. Henry showed up on Emma's doorstep because he's convinced that his teacher is Snow White and that his adoptive mom (Storybrooke's mayor) is the evil Queen. Obviously he's right or what are we watching, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest?
Good gracious, do you realize that last night, while another gritty, sad-faced detective on another network was cracking wise over another blue-tinged corpse, there was a Model United Nations of fairytale characters meeting in a castle and discussing whether they could carve an armoire out of a magic tree? Or that, while another married couple cheated out to the audience as their teenager told them off, you could change the channel and see Prince Charming having an intense sword fight while holding a gooey newborn baby in one arm?
I admit I cackled out loud when an actress who'd been CGI'd to the size of a hamster blew in on some gauze wings. Sure, secretly I'm kind of racist against people who have serious conversations while wearing poet blouses and wiglets. But even more secretly, I want to curl up with every episode of this show that will be made and watch them one after the other, breaking only for oven pizza and root beer floats.
The success of vampires in multiple franchises has made TV execs more friendly toward fantasy, particularly the Snow White mythos, which is at the heart of Once Upon a Time (and also two films currently in development), but still this is one risky, crazy, ambitious show with a big story behind it. The CGI looks goofy, and Ginnifer Goodwin's wig might have recently been used to scour some pans, but that’s nothing money can't fix. ABC is a Disney company, so Disney-originated characters seem to have priority (Snow White's midwife is the dwarf Doc, Jiminy Cricket has been anthromorphized into a child psychiatrist in the "real world" of Storybrooke) and no doubt that will infuriate folklore professors who own TVs (both of them).
That's not to say I don't have some reservations about Once Upon a Time. Henry, the emotional heart of the real-world story, is shrill and super annoying. One day we will perfect the small robots who will replace child actors; until then, then Henry will have to do. And the Evil Witch's curse, which says that every fairytale character who lives in the Enchanted Forest will be trapped in modern times, seems both A) weirdly inconvenient to her—she is trapped with them, and is also the evil mayoress of Storybrooke, which must be an administrative chore, and B) ultimately not that bad (jet plane travel and internet vs. thatched cottages and porridge).
Still, minor concerns, and the level of actor on this show is so freaking awesome. The evil Regina, Lana Parrilla, has a sense of intelligence and humor about her that’s captivating. Jennifer Morrison, who plays the heroine Emma—Henry's baby mama and the second-blondest bounty hunter on TV (Dog would be first)—is both hard and heartfelt, a difficult balance to pull off. Ginnifer Goodwin is totally adorbs both as Snow White and as her "real world" counterpart, Margaret Blanchard (who was waaay too chillax about Henry stealing her credit card).
If good acting and great storytelling are not enough reasons to root for this show, then consider the biggest reason to watch this series: the effing craziness of it existing in the first place. How easy would it be for them (faceless execs) to have laughed this script closed on page one (EXT. Enchanted forest, dwarves mournfully line glass coffin…)? And yet here it is—a drama rooted in fairytales, probably the simplest and purest form of storytelling, in the middle of the crassest, most cutthroat, most unforgiving arena for entertainment since the time of the gladiators. Thank you ABC, and thank you to everyone who got behind something this squirrel-nuts insane. I can't wait for Episode 2.
… Has anyone seen the '90s-era miniseries The 10th Kingdom? Do you think it influenced Once Upon a Time?
… Adopted folks: Would you/your parents get offended by all the adopted-kid angst or no biggie?
... Which fairytale character do you hope pops up next?
… What did you think of the premiere? Liked it or loved it?