Anyone who’s actually opened a book of Grimms’ fairy tales know that most of the stories are much darker than their Disney movie counterparts. So it’s refreshing to see a television series that attempts to take those fairy tales and put a new spin on such old familiar tales with that same element of darkness.
“Once Upon A Time” begins with a woman, Emma Swan, on her 28-th birthday. A bounty hunter by trade, we see Emma kick some butt and take some names before blowing out the candle on her single cupcake alone. But is she really alone? Of course not! Because a knock resounds on her door shortly after the candle expires and she’s suddenly faced with a young boy, Henry, claiming to be the son she gave up for adoption years ago.
Meanwhile, we start seeing the story of the world of fairy tales. Snow White and Prince Charming have become married and are expecting their first child. But the evil queen still has not given up in her pursuit of evil. She succeeds in sending all of the fairy tale world to a place more horrible than anything they’ve ever seen: our world, the real world.
But before this happens, Snow White is given hope by Rumpelstiltskin and only has to give him her baby’s name in return. As we know from the fairy tales, this is probably a bad deal, but Snow White was never all that bright, was she? On her daughter’s 28th birthday, she will begin to save them from this fate worse than death, from being trapped in the real world with no memory of who they are.
So Emma takes Henry back to Storeybrooke, Maine, to his home. The boy obviously tries to explain that all of the fairy tales in the book he carries around are, in fact, real. But of course, no one believes him.
And so a pilot episode is born.
I have to admit that the premise does not seem something that can be easily sustained over multiple episodes or seasons for television. This almost seems a better movie plot, or perhaps a mini-series, but I’ll give the writers credit (including one of my favorite television writers, Jane Espensen) in that they know exactly where this is going. The story is very straightforward, but I’m assuming much will be thrown in to give the characters challenges and obstacles to face. I do believe that it seems that Rumpelstiltskin could possibly be the only character in Storeybrooke who remembers who he really is. I also think he may be more evil than the queen herself in their new surroundings. Or perhaps that’s the menace oozing from Robert Carlyle’s portrayal of him.
Ginnifer Goodwin is delightful as Snow White. She is pristine, but not annoying, and perfect, but not to the point that you want to slap her. She makes the fairy tale character of Snow White feel real and shines in scenes that are much more emotional than you would have expected. In the real world, she is also compelling to watch as both a school teacher and hospital volunteer. Josh Dallas is charming as the prince, as he should be, but also has a depth that the fairy tale character has never had on page or on-screen.
Jennifer Morrison as Emma seems to have problems with finding the correct balance of her character, but I’m willing to give her a few episodes to find the role. She was especially good in her scenes with Jared Gilmore as the young Henry, however, and I believe this is a relationship that will continue to grow for both characters and the actors playing them.
I found Lana Parnilla as the evil queen a little over the top, but that may be more the character than Parnilla. A character in a series like this has to end up being more than just a sneering and glaring visage.
I do have one complaint about this series. In the fairy tale world, I was very surprised to see Snow White actually giving birth: of the screaming and painful variety. I was fairly certain that in the world of fairy tales, a stork took care of that dirty business.
But the lack of stork aside, I believe “Once Upon A Time” may have a lot of potential.