Sunday, October 30, 2011

TV PILOT REVIEW: ABC's "Once Upon a Time" vs. NBC's "Grimm"

ABC's "Once Upon a Time" and NBC's "Grimm" are both fairytale-driven shows. So far the former juxtaposes the past and the present, telling the tale of how an Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla from "24") magically banished fairytale characters to Storybrooke, Maine, robbing them of their memories and their happy endings. Their fate lies within the hands of Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison from "How I Met Your Mother" and "House"), the daughter of Prince Charming (Josh Dallas from Thor) and Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin from "Big Love"), who was sent to our world the day she was born. The hitch though is that her life as an orphan hasn't exactly afforded her the luxury of believing in fairytales. The only hope in convincing her that she's the key to their salvation is the son she gave up for adoption, Henry (Jared Gilmore from "Mad Men"). He was adopted by the witch, who's masquerading as the mayor, but he's hellbent on convincing her of her destiny.
"Grimm," however, starts off the series integrating fairytale beings into everyday life, claiming that those tales were actually guides to each evil being, and that a long line of hunters, known as Grimms, have sworn to protect the world. The pilot introduces the would-be hero, Nick (David Giuntoli from "Privileged"), a cop. His aunt Marie (Kate Burton from "Grey's Anatomy"), who is a Grimm, was supposed to inform him of his calling and train him, but given her terminal illness and recent supernatural-related injuries, it doesn't seem like she'll be able to give him the thorough run-through that he requires. He's like a Slayer without a Watcher, or even a group of friends to help him research and investigate. He's so desperate for guidance on his first Grimm case that he asks a werewolf (Silas Weir Mitchell from "My Name is Earl") for help.
The life of a Grimm is a lonely one. His aunt actually advised him to brake up with his girlfriend Juliette (Bitsie Tulloch from "Quarterlife") before she's brutally murdered, and to keep his partner Hank (Russell Hornsby from "Lincoln Heights") in the dark. So it appears that the first season will follow the same structure as "Smallville," where only the hero will know the true identity and capabilities of the criminals, and his friends and love interest will constantly wonder how he manages to solve each case and save the day. There's even a Luther-esque villain, Captain Renard (Sasha Roiz from "Caprica"), a powerful man who pretends to be the hero's ally, is aware of his destiny, and is secretly plotting against him.

Both shows aim to ground these stories in reality by making the leads just as skeptical as we are, but they don't skimp on the fantasy. "Once Upon a Time" does a better job of giving you an even amount of both worlds, and the design of the fairytale world is magnificently executed. "Grimm" is a little more clunky. The cinematography is still rich in colors and appropriate lighting, but it zeros in on singular figures, faces twitching in and out of transformation, like advanced stop motion.

The genres are also quite different. While it's clear that "Grimm" will be a supernatural police procedural, it's difficult to say whether Emma will put her bounty hunting skills to good use as some form of law enforcement in Storybrooke, or if she'll just spend most of her time wandering around town introducing us to contemporary versions of fairytale characters amd reluctantly bonding with her son in a family drama setup.
They both also have different estimated lasting power. "Once Upon a Time" is family friendly enough for a wide audience, whereas "Grimm" will be too scary for the young ones. Emma is a more intriguing character. The supporting cast of "Once Upon a Time" is larger and they have guaranteed interesting subplots to offer, and, most importantly, it has an extensive catalog of characters to pull from that every American is familiar with. The Brothers Grimm tales, which were turned into an unsuccessful film in 2005, isn't as well known, and mainly focuses on evil characters. How many villains could the text possibly provide and how long before they become repetitive? Even the main villain seems a little lackluster.

I'll watch a few more episodes of each, but my money's on "Once Upon a Time."

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