‘Once Upon a Time’ is almost magical
October 24th, 2011
11:02 AM ET

‘Once Upon a Time’ is almost magical

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?

You can also weigh in on iReport, as Sukhraj Beasla, who thinks the show definitely has potential, and Kathi Cordsen, who found the premiere to be fascinating, have done.

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Richard Allen

    I thought the show was ok. Some of the acting is over the top. I think Morrison nailed her character. The years on House MD prepared her for this disconnect she shows toward her son. Ginnfer...I like her, but she does seem distant and almost foggy at times. Maybe that's just her version of Snow White. I will give her time to see how well she can fill those shoes. I give her a break cause she is essentially playing two characters. I will keep watching because of Jen and Gin. I've really enjoyed their past work (Warrior, House...Big Love, Something Borrowed).

    October 31, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Gigi

    I agree completely with this article. I was just saying last night that the concept pulled at my little girl heart strings but the execution is lacking. Maybe a little fairy dust is needed?

    October 31, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. peacsktr

    Love the show, Love jennifer and Ginnifer great show and jared is great and the evil queen. I enjoy the flashbacks. and how the ft charachters are diff but alike in rw. GREAT SHOW AWESOME ENTERTAINMENT.

    October 31, 2011 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Evil Queen

    My kids loved it. I feel like the Evil Queen since they're adopted.... not sure I love Ginnifer as Snow, though. Loved her in Big Love. We'll watch again since it was interesting enough. Hoping they involve some more of the other characters in upcoming episodes. I've always loved the original versions instead of the Disneyfied versions so we'll give this a chance!

    October 31, 2011 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    I think it is called Storybrooke Maine because it sounds so much like Storybook Lane.

    October 26, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sarah

    I watched and enjoyed! I sat there for the whole hour wishing it were a longer show! I am in my mid-twentys and grew up on the fairytales... so to see them brought to life in a show like this is every little girls ideal! I hope it lasts, but I worry we may only get a few seasons out of the plot... my husband actually commented that it may have been better for this to have been a mini-series...
    Looking forward to checking out Grimm this week and settling in on Sunday to another episode of Once!
    Great network tv!

    October 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Des

    Grew up on these FT. Know all the stories. Couldn't wait to see this. Me, my daughter and my grandaughter. Not even aware that an hour had passed. Loved it. I can see it lasting awhile if they do it right and so far they have. Will be upset as well if it gets cancelled. Great job on this one.

    October 25, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. barbrabw

    It was surprisingly interesting and kep my interest the entire time.

    October 25, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Rapunzel

    Agree with FNR. Too much like Fables...obvious rip-off. Also-there's ways to be dark and edgy (see Buffy, etc.) without simply being dour. Loved Robert Carlisle, but he rocks pretty much everything...

    October 25, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
  10. helonwheels

    Always been a fan of fairytales and I'm loving the interesting character twists. Hope it lasts.

    October 25, 2011 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
  11. Tina in Independence

    One other thing.. what is everyone's take on Prince Charming seeminly dead in FT and hospitalized in RW??? Interesting...

    October 24, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fletch

      I wasn't sure what to think about that as well. Maybe when she kissed him in the FT world, she put a small amount of life back in him...idk

      October 31, 2011 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tina in Independence

    I'm not totally on board yet but am definitely going to watch it again to see where this goes. Cant stand to get too interested in 2-3 episodes only to find out it gets cancelled (Camelot on Starz)! Great storyline so far!

    October 24, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. EDW

    It was interesting enough, but I don't see how it will last for more than a season. I have a feeling that we'll get tired of the characters. I plan to continue to record it and watch it...until it's cancelled.

    October 24, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. karen

    One of the dumbest shows I've seen, but i'll give it one more week...

    October 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. suz

    I sense the potential for a lot of current-life metaphor and comment here: already the rich and powerful are verging on that innately-sociopathic character flaw that's gotten attention lately.

    October 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Rod in Dallas TX

    Love the concept of the show. Have to say that I am confused about how Snow White can look so young if she is Emma's mother. No one from FT aged at all. If the little boy is aging, woulldn't it be strange if no one else was aging?

    October 24, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • jaymo

      The curse is that time stands still, so no one ages. Good explanation by Ann on the post above you.

      October 24, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • kathi

      The boy, Henry, was not born in Storybrooke, he was born outside of it and adopted into it. That's why he can age.

      October 25, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Ann

    @moon627 - Time stood still. So everyone who was in Fairy Tale land exits in the Real World at the age that the curse took over. Emma grew up and aged because she existed only in the real world and wasn't affected by the curse. As for her son, we can assume he didn't exist in Fairy Tale land either, since he is Emma's son....which means he, too, has aged and grown up because he only existed in the Real World.

    October 24, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Richard

    "... 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." Why the concern? It didn't hurt "Lost" to feature flashbacks filling in backstories.

    I'll keep watching. I do agree that Ginnifer Goodwin's Snow White left me lukewarm, but I'm willing to give her the chance to win me over.

    October 24, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  19. fnr

    Nothing like ripping off a comic book but failing to give credit where credit is due. Want to know where this came from? Check out Fables.

    October 24, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  20. flowerduh

    I like it when writers twist fairytales Let's face it the fairytales of ode are pretty boring. So thumbs up to Once up on a Time. Love the writing.

    October 24, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Report abuse |
  21. moon627

    i liked it but i dont get it ... shouldnt the snow white RW girl played by Goodwin be old enough to be Morrison's mother ?

    i like the concept but i dont know how long they can drag it out before the spell is broken ...

    i hope they show alot more fairy tale characters. i liked Rumple Stiltskin (aka Mr Gold in the RW)

    October 24, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pebbles Flintstone

      At one point in the show, Henry stated that time doesn't move forward in Storybrooke. So yes, technically Snow White should be older but the spell has caused all the FT characters to be stuck in time.

      October 24, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kelli

      The reason why they aren't older is because they were frozen in time in the FT. I freaking love this! I can't wait to see more of it!

      October 26, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  22. ktl


    October 24, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Red Riding Hood

    It's good for young ones but they're always in a hurry to grow up. They like watching more adults shows and p*rn.

    October 24, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  24. dante

    The show has great promise, but Ginnifer Goodwin looks awful in the real world. That pixie haircut is not flattering on her at all, she looks and acts much better in Fairy Tale Land. Red Riding Hood should be an interesting character in this show and I think there is a lot of star power in the cast. They just need a chance to show it off, and a very good writer. This show may not be around for 7 years but it definitely could be around for 2 or 3 and go out with a really great series finale. Here's hoping for a great couple of years.

    October 24, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  25. Chloe

    I watched it last night & I liked it!! It's a fun twist on the story book fairy tales. I hope it does well & I'll watch again!

    October 24, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  26. lana

    It is magically dooodoooolicious.

    October 24, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |

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