Thursday, November 17, 2011

REVIEW: Once Upon a Time

ABC - Sunday 7 pm

A show with more potential than any other network offering, Once Upon a Time suffers from the pilot blues, with poor acting, poor dialogue, and at times missed opportunities.

1. Does it entertain me?
At times, yes it did. I have watched the first 3 episodes, and I am slowly getting into the story as a whole. The pilot is such a mess and features one of the worst acting performances in television history by Josh Dallas' Prince Charming. The dialogue tries to sound grand and epic, but they fail miserably. I actually don't know why, but I'm guessing it's because the actors don't have the acting chops to deliver that and still be taken seriously.

However, after the pilot things do pick up at least. Lost writers Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis borrow heavily from Lost's way of doing things and work flashbacks into the main story, flipping between the real world and the fairy tale world.

See, this is the way the universe of Once Upon a Time works: There was a fairy tale world, where all our favorite characters live and breathe and interact. Then the Evil Queen puts a spell on the world, and they are all transferred to Storybrooke, Maine, where each character lives as a regular person with a regular job. They don't know they were once great fairy tale characters, though. They just think they are regular people. Jimminy Cricket is a therapist. Snow White a teacher. The Evil Queen the mayor. And so on and so forth.

The daughter of Snow White is now destined to break the spell, so she has been brought here to get the job done.

It's exciting to find out who each real world character is, and what fairy tale they were once a part of. The show toys with many variations of this one theme, and this does at least make the show watchable.

The big problem is that this is the best part of the show. Seeing the fairytale world is fun, but the real world gets boring. The characters aren't strong enough and the writing isn't good enough to last as anything more than escapist fun, which is fine. But the potential is there to rise above a simple fantasy show.

2. Is it realistic?
Sure, who doesn't want to believe that Gepetto works at Home Depot? I see guys who look like him all the time.

The rules all make sense, characters behave like stupid people most of the time, but that's easy to chalk up to the fact that they were once one of the 7 dwarves.

The bottom line is that I haven't wanted to kill off any of the characters yet, but Prince Charming needs to watch himself.

3. Are immoral actions defended?
The Evil Queen killed her father to take his heart in order to enact the Curse of 1,000 Horrible Deaths or something like that, but you know what? She's the Evil Queen! That's what evil queens do. So I'm going to allow that to happen.

This is a fairytale world, and like comic books, fairy tales are usually pretty good about showing things that are black and white good and bad.

This is also a family show, marketed as a family show, and there are very few reasons to think of it otherwise.

4. How does the show deal with the family and traditional family values?
Family values appear to be upheld as well. Emma, Snow White's daughter, did have a child and is not married, and we don't meet the father (yet), that she gave up for adoption (the child, not the father. That one would be weird). The mayor (once the Evil Queen) adopted said child, which makes for sparks flying and "You haven't been around for 10 years in this boy's life, I don't care if you gave birth to him, I raised him so I am his father" kinda things. But that's all fine and dandy.

No one else in the town seems to have children, although there are lots of children running around the school, so at some point, various fairy tale characters must have procreated (come on, we were all hoping Robin Hood and Maid Marian would have kiddos).

Overall, the question with Once Upon a Time that remains is is this show going to get better? Is it going to get past "what fairy tale character is that?" as the most important and most intriguing aspect of the show? If it can do that, then it could rise above a lot of the mediocre dregs on television (and even farther above the crappy dregs (cough Whitney cough)) on television.

At least Horowitz and Kitsis get credit for using 108 as house number.


  1. Linked in through RAnn's. At you leisure I'd be interested in you commenting on The Wire, Mad Men, and Rome. My wife & I gave each of them a shot (along with The Sopranos) but were so turned off by what we regarded as gratuitous sex or crudeness that we didn't watch any of them beyond the first episodes.

  2. Very interesting! I have no time to get sucked into another Lost-esque series, but I've been intrigued. Thanks for this review!

  3. Thanks everyone for reading and for your comments!

    Kathleen, Once Upon a Time is not nearly as good as Lost, and does not exist on the same intellectual plane. But it is a serial show, and will require a weekly viewing, and time will tell if it is worth a longer view.

    Kkollwitz, I would love to comment on the shows you bring up.

    The Wire is, to me, the greatest show in the history of television. I found the sex to be minimal, but the language and violence realistic and rarely stylized. It is heartbreaking to watch, to see the demise of the city of Baltimore, the people involved and especially the kids. Season 4 is, in my opinion, the best single season ever to air on television. It is entirely worth it, even though it may take a while to fully get into and learn the characters. Exposition does not exist, and it will keep moving with or without you.

    Rome is also fantastic, although I agree about the sex. It is over the top at times, and is also unnecessary. But the scope of the times, the mythology and the culture is spot on, and the acting and writing are superior.

    Mad Men is a character study that does an excellent job of showing the moral decline represented by the 1960s. Don Draper is a drinking, smoking, womanizing ad executive in New York City, but no one would ever justify his actions. It does at times move at a slow pace, but it is also very deliberate, and the supporting cast is also above par.

    By far the Sopranos is the most controversial of the shows you mentioned, but it is worth it as well (whether or not you agree with creator David Chase's creative decision for the ending of the show). Any series that is dedicated to depicting the life of a mob leader is going to have its share of moral problems.

    All of these shows would be problematic for someone who doesn't have a strong moral compass, but if you know when actions are immoral, it allows for the ability to understand why a character makes these decisions and see the consequences immoral actions can have.

  4. Consequences are good to show. The Evil Queen should eventually get hers, don't you think?