Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review - Once Upon a Time

"There once was an enchanted forest filled with all the classic characters we know.  Or think we know.  One day they found themselves trapped in a place where all their happy endings were stolen.  Our world."

This is how ABC's new fantasy-drama series Once Upon A Time begins, along with breathtaking scenery (if CGI, very seamlessly created) and one of the most famous kisses of all time.

Fairy tales go head to head this season, with NBC debuting Grimm next week.  But Once Upon A Time is off to a promising start, offering a well-paced, beautifully shot pilot that masks the necessary setting-up-the-premise exposition with, and I must quote Disney's Beauty and the Beast here, "Far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince - or rather, an entire cast of characters - in disguise.

**Episode Details Follow**

Once Upon A Time focuses primarily on Snow White (Big Love's Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas, Hawaii Five-O), who, in keeping with the traditional story, have pissed off the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla, Miami Medical, Swingtown) with their perfect beauty and happiness.  She takes revenge by placing a curse on the entire kingdom, vowing that the only happy ending anyone will ever have ever again will be hers.  Before the curse, delivered via an all-encompassing black cloud, Snow gives birth to a daughter, Emma (Jennifer Morrison, How I Met Your Mother, House), who will eventually be the key to ending the curse and setting everyone free.  Placed in a magical wardrobe, Emma is transported to real-world Boston, where she grows up part of the foster system and in adulthood becomes a bail bondsman, or "bondsperson," as she calls it.

On Emma's 28th birthday, ten-year-old Henry Mills (Mad Men's Jared Gillmore) knocks on her door and informs her that he is the son she gave up for adoption a decade before.  He then tells her that she must come back with him to his home, Storybrook, Maine.  Turns out Henry, who is in possession of a book full of all the fairy tales, knows Emma's true destiny and bluntly tells her so.  Emma's response?  "Kid, you've got problems."  Henry confidently rebuts "Yep, and you're gonna fix them."

In Storybrook, time is frozen, no one remembers their true selves and bad things happen to anyone who tries to leave.  Snow is now a school teacher, Charming is a comatose John Doe and the Evil Queen is mayor.  Other citizens include Mr. Gold (Robert Carlyle, SGU Stargate Universe), who owns Storybrook and in his other identity is the scheming, manipulative Rumplestilskin (his intro is quite reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs); Archie Hopper (Raphael Sbarge, Prison Break, 24), a.k.a. Pinocchio's Jiminy Cricket and Henry's therapist; Granny (Beverly Elliott, Harper's Island), who runs the local boarding house; and Ruby (Meghan Ory, True Justice, South Beach), a.k.a. Red Riding Hood and a fellow boarder.

The series frequently transitions back and forth from the fairy tale kingdom to the real world, but it's not distracting since they are distinctly their own entities.  Goodwin, with her ivory skin and sweet but strong demeanor, makes for a convincing Snow and Parrilla offers plausible bite and chill to her Queen.  Morrison's tough snark plays for the resistant Emma and you can tell she's going to be a force for the Queen to reckon with.  It's strange to hear characters from stories known for decades have real conversations wrought with conflict and emotions and deal with real problems just like regular folk.  The series has included characters from many different stories and united them together in one realm, as the Shrek film series did, but it works. 

And with messages like "Believing even in the possibility of a happy ending is a very powerful thing," you can't help but root for good to triumph and embrace the grand adventures to come.

Bottom Line:  Dare to believe in this enchanting series.

Catch Once Upon A Time Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.


  1. LOVED IT!!! I hope they can keep all the following episodes as interesting as this one was. I was skeptical but pleasantly surprised.

  2. I've seen the first Once Upon a Time and the first Grimm, and although I like them both, Grimm is winning out for me. Once is good enough that I probably will keep up with both. Apparently, Mom o' young kids, can't keep away from fairy tales.

  3. Finally got a chance to watch all three episodes via ABC Player and can say that I am hooked! I can't wait for Sunday to come so that I can watch the next one! My only worry is how long they can string this story along. If Emma is there to break the curse does that put a limitation on how long this can air?