Once Upon a Time
Season One (Status: Renewed)
When Once Upon a Time first premiered, I wasn’t that interested. Maybe I would have been if NBC also hadn’t premiered Grimm, leading me to roll my eyes at both networks doing fairy tale shows. I actually recorded the premiere of Once on my DVR, but never got around to watching it before the second episode, which I didn’t record, so I said forget it and let it slide.
But I kept hearing entertaining tidbits about the show. I liked its promotion. And then I started reading Bill Willingham’s Fables and I really wanted to see just how similar these two shows really were. By time that happened, though, summer had started. I pulled up the premiere on Hulu, watched it, enjoyed it way too much, and promptly decided to watch the rest of the series.
The original plan was to tear through Once and then give Grimm a try so I could compare the two shows to each other and to Fables. I didn’t expect that it would take me the entire summer to get through Once, but it’s not surprising in hindsight, given how much I read and review.
At any rate, the fall television season is almost upon us, and I knew I needed to decide whether or not Once‘s second season would go into my DVR queue. After all, season two will introduce Mulan as a character, as well as Captain Hook! How exciting!
I finally finished season one on Friday afternoon, and now I’m impatient for the second season to begin (Sunday, September 30th). Since the second season isn’t at my fingertips, I’m contenting myself with the Once Upon a Time EP from iTunes, which features the major musical themes from the show.
Yeah, I’m hooked.
I will say, though, this isn’t the BEST SHOW EVER. It doesn’t yet hold a candle to Fringe, and compared to something like Game of Thrones, it probably seems sentimentally sweet. It is a family show, so that makes sense. But it’s not the kind of family show that Terra Nova was, which tried to please all ages of the audience by featuring characters of all ages. No, Once is both a fun fantasy that’s legitimately filled with danger (usually from the Evil Queen, but also from Rumplestiltskin), and also a show that stresses the importance of love and family. Sometimes, it is saccharinely sweet, but when it gets there, it earns those moments, because these characters also suffer from a great deal of pain, a result of being away from their loved ones.
The biggest critique I have of the show isn’t the family-friendliness (trust me, I’d be the first to complain about that too), but rather the special effects, which — especially toward the start of the show — are so obviously computer generated that it’s hard to really lose yourself in the show. Of course, I wasn’t watching under ideal conditions: every episode was watched on my computer, and there’s a window behind me; despite having the blinds closed, I’d get a glare that didn’t lend well to an ideal viewing experience. But still, the special effects were often obvious. The fashion, too, was a little off at times for fairy-tale land, but after watching Game of Thrones, I suppose I’m a little spoiled.
So what sold me on the show? The characters, and the way they interacted with each other. Namely, Jennifer Morrison’s Emma: in the pilot, she has this moment where she breaks down in front of Henry (the little boy) and talks about what it was like knowing her parents abandoned her on the side of the road. I loved that moment: you could believe the pain in her face, in her voice as she was trying to make Henry understand why she’s not mommy material. And then there’s Ginnifer Goodwin’s Snow White/Mary Margaret: I’ve never seen her before, despite her work in Big Love, but she is quite the compelling actress, and I quickly warmed up to her dual roles of Snow White and Mary Margaret.
It doesn’t hurt, too, that this show offers a Lost-esque format. We see the modern, real world, and the storyline will involve flashbacks between the character’s fairy tale self and the modern day self. Remember, the modern day selves have NO CLUE who they used to be: the Curse prevents that — it takes away their happiness, and if any of them attempt to leave Storybrooke, a horrible fate befalls them.
It’s not a Fables rip off, despite seeming so on the surface. So that’s cool. Even Bill Willingham has said so (you can read about it here). It’s also heavily influenced by Disney, which makes sense, since Disney owns the studio. It’s fun in some ways: the Seven Dwarfs get to whistle “Heigh-ho!” and Belle from Beauty & the Beast gets to wear her cartoon counterpart’s actual real-life dresses! There’s also plenty of fun twists to the fairy tales we know and love, but I won’t spoil those for you.
All and all, it’s a fun show. Sometimes the conflict between Emma and Regina/Evil Queen can get a bit much — there were plot points that had me rolling my eyes — but all and all, the show knows how to combine happiness with bittersweet and longing, which made the finale even more fascinating.
I’m glad I watched. I’ve also got some theories for season two (I’m convinced, for example, I know who Henry’s father is). But really, this is just a show to sit down with some popcorn and enjoy. It was always a delight to get to a new episode and wonder which fairy tale character we were going to meet next, to learn what their fairy-tale story was really about. Some of my favorite characters were Ruby/Red (I loved that story), and the Beauty & the Beast story was also quite compelling. The Huntsman’s story broke my heart.
I should also note that with the exception of Awake (which was wrongly canceled, damn those ratings!), Once Upon a Time grabbed me more immediately than my original personal picks for last year’s fall season, Terra Nova and Alcatraz. This is largely due to the fact that despite the previously name shows having far better effects, Once Upon a Time knew how to hook the viewer emotionally, something Terra Nova and Alcatraz couldn’t figure out how to do. So it figures that of all the genre shows that debuted last fall, it’s the one I didn’t roll with that ended up getting renewed and catching my eye.
I’m definitely looking forward to season two.