Grimm, Ep. 1.01: “Pilot” has the potential to build a following for its fresh and twisted version of the bedtime story
Episode 1 – “Pilot”
Directed by Marc Buckland
Written by David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf
Are you sitting comfortably?
The makers of Grimm sure hope you aren’t. Fairytales might be the staple of bedtime stories, but the new series from NBC has none of the kitsch whimsy of The Tenth Kingdom or ABC’s current competitor in the big bad wolf stakes, Once Upon A Time. Nope, this is the kind of story which would have small children begging to have the light left on. Two minutes into the first episode and a student jogger enters the dark, dark woods. She spots a small china figurine balanced on a treestump and stops to investigate. Before you can say Abracadabra she’s discovering what a bad idea it is to talk to strangers. Especially ones with big, sharp teeth.
Enter Detective Nick Burkhardt, who investigates the disappearance with his partner Hank. At first Nick’s believes the young woman’s death is the result of an animal attack, although he can’t understand why a grizzly would be wearing a pair of stout hiking boots. What he finds even harder to explain is why he suddenly begins to see ordinary people turn into monsters in front of him, at least until his Aunt Marie arrives uninvited and with a message to deliver. She’s close to death and as a result special abilities she possesses are beginning to be woken in Nick. He’s not quite the same as everyone else, she explains. Like her and his dead parents, Nick is a Grimm. What this means exactly becomes clearer when Nick takes a look in his aunt’s trailer and discovers she has an armory in there a medieval knight would be proud of. Whatever Aunt Marie was up to in her spare time, it wasn’t knitting doilies.
Fairytales can be played two ways: the Disney way, which takes the story at face value and up-plays the romantic element with the usual result of something child-friendly and not too demanding, or the other way, which is the direction Grimm is headed, with its foot firmly on the juice. When the Brothers Grimm collected their tales (although the title of the series plays with the idea that the Grimm boys may well have actually been composing their memoirs instead) they were criticized for making them too violent. The brothers protested that in fact they had toned them down. These stories weren’t intended for children. They were intended as a warning – about the darker side of human nature and most of them were based, originally, on actual incidents. The orphans left in the forest or sold as brides to ruthless kings were no fiction. Only what happened to them next departed from the truth.
Just like the stories, Grimm takes the truth and gives it a spin. Monsters are all around us, but too well disguised as ordinary people for us to see what they really are. It’s creepy and effective and while the scares aren’t huge, the combination of clapboard suburbia with witches and apples works in exactly the same way Buffy did – scratching the surface of reality to expose what we all suspect might really lie beneath. The scares aren’t huge – if you want true Gothic then American Horror Story is where you should go – but if Grimm manages to avoid whimsy it has the potential to build a following for its fresh and twisted version of the bedtime story.