This week saw the premier of the new US ABC television series Once Upon A Time. Put together by the makers of Lost, Once Upon A Time sees characters from well known fairy tales trapped in our contemporary world in Storybrooke, Maine. The pilot was solid enough with decent characterisation, not too bad plot development and good looking production values.
The basic premise breaks down like this: On Snow White and Prince Charming’s wedding day, the Evil Queen promises to put the entire world under a spell, trapping them all in a hideous dimension with no happy endings. That’s our world, by the way. All of the citizens of fairy tale world devise a plan that one fairy tale character can be immune to the spell and then go back to rescue the others in twenty eight years. The plan is for Snow White to be the saviour, but after an early labour, Snow decides to save her new born daughter, Emma instead. Emma vanishes into the other realm by way of a magical cupboard and grows up knowing nothing of her heritage, until out of the blue (on her twenty eight’s birthday) the ten year old Henry shows up, claiming to be the baby she gave up for adoption ten years before, and tells her that she has to go to Storybrooke and save the fairy tale characters from the Evil Queen’s spell. Of course, before she was born, Snow White gave Rumpelstiltskin her name, and thus control of her – I don’t know, soul or something in exchange for his helping them find a way out of the time prison. Did we get all that? Don’t worry, I feel this will be one of those shows that in case you missed the first episode, will drum the premise into you every episode.
Every fairy tale character has their amnesiac modern world equivalent, and I enjoyed that aspect of the show. In this sense, Once Upon A Time reminded me a little of Bill Willingham’s Fables comic series. Ginnifer Goodwin makes a half decent Snow White and Jennifer Morrison was ok as Emma. I thought the real gem was Robert Carlyle in Rumplestilkskin’s shoes.
Some critics have railed against the juxtaposition of the contemporary world and the story world, calling it trite and clumsy but I didn’t have a problem with it. The only aspect I did have a problem with was how easily Emma went along with Henry’s story. She displayed a natural hesitation and disbelief at the whole premise, but it was only slight and cancelled out by the willingness with which she dropped everything and went to Storybrooke for a week. This was putting me off for most of the show until I thought, well, it’s a fairy tale and fairy tales are full of convenient plots and narratives that lack any depth of motivation. So, being a fairytale fan, I’ll pardon it. For the pilot. Other critics have not been so forgiving and only episode two will see if I can continue to be as well.
This isn’t a show pretending to be a great work of anything. It’s light, inoffensive fantasy that doesn’t take the slightest bit of brain power to watch. Some will hold that as a negative but I enjoy that kind of ‘switched off’ viewing once in a while. I do think that this will be a show that will appeal to the younger viewers. A familiarity with the fairy tales being played with will deepen your enjoyment of the show but is in no means a prerequisite. And, for those who aren’t familiar with the fairy tales being used in the show – go and pick up a book. Don’t worry, it’ll have pictures. Word is that there are three episodes already made, but no commitment to a full series as yet. Once Upon A Time proved a reasonable opening to a series I will, without a doubt be tuning in for next week.
by Kate Krake
© 2011, Kate Krake