October 24th, 2011
11:02 AM ET
Imagine if the characters from all of your favorite fairy tales lived in the real world.
That’s the basic setup for “Once Upon a Time,” one of this season’s two new shows that use classic fables for their inspiration. (The other, “Grimm,” premieres later this week.)
“Once” splits its time between the real world (let’s call it RW for short) and fairy-tale land (FT). Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) got married, but they certainly didn’t live happily ever after.
The Evil Witch (Lana Parrilla) wrought a curse on the kingdom, removing everyone’s memories and trapping them in the most horrible, awful world that anyone can imagine: ours. Specifically, a town in Maine.
(Please note: I have nothing against Maine. I’ve never been there. I’m sure it’s lovely. But whoever wrote this show REALLY seems to have some issues with the state.)
Back in RW, Jennifer Morrison plays Emma Swan, a bail bondswoman with a special talent for tracking people down and sniffing out lies. On her 28th birthday, she gets a visit from Henry (Jared Gilmore), the child she gave up for adoption 10 years earlier, who urges her to come back to his town of Storybrooke, Maine.
Henry plays our exposition fairy, laying out the plot for the audience and Emma: All of the fairy tale characters live in Storybrooke, but have no idea who they are and can never leave. Emma is the one who needs to rescue them and help them all find their happy ending.
Morrison plays the role of Emma with a healthy mix of skepticism and intrigue. She’s also quite believable in her interactions with Henry, keeping him at arms’ length at first (she refuses to call him anything but “kid”), but gradually warming up to him as she realizes how evil his adopted mother might be. (Guess which fairy tale character is dear old mom?)
As we bounce back and forth between RW and FT, it’s revealed that Emma is Snow White and Prince Charming’s daughter, saved from the Witch’s spell and stashed away in RW until her 28th birthday, when she’s destined to save them all.
The show uses those two worlds for some pretty heavy-handed parallels, the most obvious of which is Emma and Henry both as orphans. It also provides some fun winks to the audience. The best: Grumpy the Dwarf’s RW persona whistles a few bars of “Whistle While You Work” while locked up in the Storybrooke jail.
Some of the acting performances are a little lacking. Goodwin left me oddly cold, while Parrilla is playing way over the top in both worlds. But overall, I thought “Once Upon a Time” made a good first impression.
The concept is interesting - it’s what pulled me in originally - but the execution needs to be tightened up. I’m also concerned with how this show can play out in the long run. Can Emma really spend seasons unlocking the mystery of Storybrooke?
The previews for future episodes seem to indicate that we’ll keep bouncing between RW and FT. Given that FT is under a curse, the only way to spend time there is to go back BEFORE the curse, and I’m worried that’ll rob the show of forward momentum.
So, mirror mirror on the wall (or in the comments below), tell me: Do you think “Once Upon a Time” will live happily ever after? Or is this show just as cursed as the characters in it?
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