American broadcast networks are deep in fantasy series, blending fairy-tale characters into real-world settings this past pilot season. ABC was the first to unveil it’s latest fable, with the première of Once Upon A Time. Watched by 13 million viewers, it was the season’s #1 rated drama debut among adults and ABC’s biggest debut in five years. The story is this: The fairy tale characters we all grew up reading as children are very real and have been trapped in Storybrook, Maine where time stands still; they are totally unaware of who they really are and go about living seemingly ordinary lives. All that is about to change.
Once Upon A Time has many things going for it. The concept of Storybrooke being frozen in time and the fairy tale characters not aging is a fantastic premise. The show cuts between real time in present day Storybrook and flashbacks to the fairly tale land of the past, illustrating how the characters came to be trapped in our reality. The visual transitions from the lush forests, stone castles, and dark lands of the fairy tale world to the stark asphalt and white suburban houses of the modern setting are well executed. Among the cast are Snow White, Prince Charming, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Pinocchio, the Seven Dwarves, and a swarm of others, all about to get a serious make over in what is promising to be a stellar series.
The non-linear narrative and jumps between the two parallel worlds leave a lot of unanswered questions and several clues to unravel. Once Upon A Time might be fit for a family environment, but it comes courtesy of Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, a writing duo who worked on Lost for all six seasons. In fact, the show contains allusions to Lost, and these are expected to be a continuing presence throughout the series. Once… features some serious mommy issues and, much like Lost, focuses on a group of people stuck in a nightmare and in serious need of finding their way back home.
Fairy tales have universal appeal and the best of them are timeless. Once Upon a Time brings a fresh spin by showing us the human side of the fairy tale characters we’ve come to know and love through the years, each of them enduring the same emotional insecurities we face on a daily basis. You might want to dismiss the series as too “girlish” and you may try to resist it’s spell, but much like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Once Upon A Time has the potential to form a huge cult following and go on to do some great things.
The show is far from perfect. There are a number of problems, not least of which is the weird, anachronistic acting and the clunky bits of dialogue, but the pilot does a tremendous job of finding time to introduce a multitude of characters and several story-lines in a short time. The show looks great, the special effects are passable, the cast is solid, and the set design, costumes, and small details in the modern setting all cleverly remind the audience of the characters’ alter egos. There is also some nice music, particularly the opening scene use of “Howling”. The pilot leaves two lingering questions. First: Apart from Henry Mills, is there any other character who is aware of who they really are? The innkeepers seems to react when Emma Swan reveals her name and there are allusions that Mr. Gold (Rumpelstiltskin) is also quite familiar with who she is. Second: At the end of the episode, Storybooke’s clock, frozen at 8:15, moves to 8:16. What does this signify? How far does the hand on the clock have to turn before order can be restored and the characters can return home? If each episode advances the clock by 60 seconds and the series is set to end when the clock strikes midnight, then Once Upon A Time is hoping for a solid ten year run. One more question: Will it have a happy ending?
– Ricky D