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Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

What She said:

She

I’m just going to open with clearly stating, I had a heck of a time reviewing this show.  There are so many elements to it, and yet at times it’s extremely basic.  There are things I love, some that I don’t, and I don’t have much idea where they’re going to go with the program long term.

So let me start by backing up.  Once Upon a Time is a Disney/ABC produced fantasy/drama about classic fairy tale characters.  What’s nice about this show is that, since it’s driven by Disney, we can indulge in all the well-known staples—Snow White, Belle, Pinocchio, The Evil Queen, Prince Charming, and Rumplestiltskin, just to name a few.  The primary premise is this; all these characters live in Storeybrook, a small town in Maine where everyone seems to get along well enough under the leadership of their Mayor (who also happens to be The Evil Queen).  What most of them don’t realize is that this town is actually a spell, created by The Evil Queen to torture everyone but her.  Basically, these characters were previously living in wonderful fantasy land, but The Evil Queen didn’t want anyone to have happiness or love, so she put them in modern day America instead.  The Mayor/Queen’s adopted son, Henry, acquires a book that guides him into believing the truth, that this is all a spell, and he begins a quest to break it.  Meanwhile, Henry’s biological mom, Emma Swan, shows up.  She’s actually the only one who has the power to break the spell.  There’s tons of interweaving stories and lots of hatred all around, but the main beef is between the Queen, Emma, and Mary Margaret/Snow White. 

We’re fortunate that this show is an hour long, and that the season ran a full 22 episodes, cause there’s a lot of explaining to do.  I’m still not sure I get it all.  Every character, down to poor Grumpy the dwarf has their own tragic story, and the show explores each of these through the season.  Sometimes there are sidebars within episodes, other times their backgrounds are alluded to, and many times entire episodes are devoted to a singular character.  It doesn’t all seem to be culminating to one event, but it’s fascinating background to know.  The show takes liberties with the stories, not sticking to the traditional that we may have learned growing up.  This might be a bit confusing for character loyalists, but also enables the show to be a bit less predictable.

Once Upon a Time

Out of the gate, I was a little slow to pick up on Once Upon a Time.  I found some of the early episodes boring, and it wasn’t until several in that I started to get in the grove of what was actually going on.  In its most simplistic form, the show is about The Evil Queen and her various hateful relationships.  But things have a tendency to meander a little.  It is no surprise that the program was created by some of the same people who did Lost; it definitely feels that way with a similar structure and episodes one week that are riveting and other weeks that struggle to hold viewer interest.  Overall, the series picked up momentum around mid-season and got better during the months of March, April, and May.  The acting is very good—Robert Carlyle in particular as Rumplestiltskin is memorable—but you’ll have to excuse some super cheesy/circa-Sci-Fi (er, Syfy) Channel special effects.  There were times I was laughing more at the special effects and poorly choreographed fight scenes than I was actual intended humor.  But, for me, personally, I was able to move past that considering the show is on Sunday nights, when my expectations for television are fairly low to begin with. 

Overall, the first season of Once Upon a Time was an enjoyable diversion from the usual ominous dread of the impending work week.  It certainly has some weak points, including long-term integrity, but I’ll definitely be tuning in for Season Two.

Rating: Thumbs up.

 

 

 

What he said:

He

It would seem the fantasy genre has made something of a comeback in the last decade or so. Willow (review here), Legend, Conan, and many more fantasy films were all made during the 80s. There were still fantasy movies during the 90s, but they were nowhere near as mainstream as they were during previous decade. Fantasy films have not only become cool again, a new way of storytelling has been born.  

A genre within a genre has been created. Classic stories are being taken and retold in new and different ways. I don’t know exactly who started this trend, but I think it may have been Shrek. Once Upon a Time takes a queue from Shrek and kicks it up a notch. Just about every character you can think of from all different kinds of classic fairytales are not only real, they all exist in the same world. Snow White, The Evil Queen, Prince Charming, Rumplestiltskin, The Mad Hatter, Pinocchio, and many more characters from our childhoods live together in this magical world. If you thought the good guys and bad guys didn’t get along in their respective stories, wait until you see what happens when they are all thrown together in fairytale land. To put it mildly, there’s a lot of drama.

The Evil Queen (Lana Parilla) still has it in for Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), but there is a whole lot more going on in this case. She isn’t simply jealous of Snow White because the mirror (played by Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad) says she is, “The fairest of them all”, it’s much deeper than that. Initially the EQ (AKA Regina) goes the same route she does in the classic version of Snow White. She tries to poison Snow with a cursed apple and just like in the fairytale Prince Charming awakens her with a kiss. When that doesn’t work Regina decides she’s going to go for broke and punish everybody. She sends them all to a “horrible place” where none of them will be happy – Earth. However, before she had the chance to banish them all to our world, Snow White and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) are able to send their infant daughter Emma to our world before she is swallowed up by the curse like the rest of them.

Once Upon a Time

Fast-forward to the present day and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) is now grown and working as a bail bondsman, when she gets a visit from a stranger on her 28th birthday. Henry (Jared Gilmore) claims to be her son that she gave up for adoption several years ago. She is leery of that, but even more so when the kid claims she is the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming and he lives in a town with them and many other character from fairytale land. She thinks the kid is nuts, but still sees the need to get home back to his home. She drives him back to Storybrooke, ME and finds that his adoptive mother is the mayor – whom he also happens to despise – and is something of a town bully. Henry believes her to be the Evil Queen from Snow White. Emma of course thinks the kid is nuts, but can at least see what a nightmare Regina is and now having met he biological son feels bad for the kid. She never really wanted a relationship with the him, but after having seen his nightmare of a mother she begins to sympathize and decides to stick around for a while. She ends up becoming sheriff and that is when the battles between her and Regina really begin.

This is also when Regina starts to make Snow White’s (known as Mary Margaret in this world) life a living hell again. While certainly entertaining, this is actually one of my biggest complaints of the show. Regina knows who they all are, so why did she wait until Snow’s daughter showed up to resume the tormenting? Did the writers not realize that the main reason Regina sent them all there to begin with was to make their lives miserable? Its true Snow White does not remember who she is and thus cannot live happily ever after, but she seems to be pretty content as a school teacher. Then her daughter Emma shows up and Regina seemingly tries to actively make Snow’s life a living hell for the first time in our world. It’s a little annoying.

Once Upon a Time

Luckily for the show, there is a lot of other entertaining stuff going on, so you can kind of overlook what seems to be something of a plot hole. For example, Rumplestiltskin (now known as Mr. Gold) is still every bit as a thorn in everyone’s side here in our world as he was in fairytale land. He isn’t on anyone’s side but his own and will cut a deal with anybody to further his agenda. Robert Carlyle is absolutely wonderful as the sometimes ally and other times enemy of Regina. Watching the two of them is extremely entertaining. And speaking of Regina, Lana Parilla is the kind of character you love to hate. I smile with glee whenever she is on the screen cackling like a maniac and making someone’s life hell, but I absolutely hate the character. I want to see Emma punch her square in the face. Lana Parilla does a fantastic job of making me hate a character I am supposed to hate, but entertaining me while doing it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two of them were nominated for an award.

These are pretty much the main characters and this is the overall main storyline, but there’s a lot of other stuff going on. Pinocchio, Little Red Riding Hood, The Mad Hatter, and many others are connected to this in some way or another and some of their backstories are actually very entertaining. The backstories are used to tell you more about the character much in the same way LOST; which shouldn’t come as a surprise since two of the people who were involved with LOST are the creators of this show.  Once is quite similar to LOST only instead of a serious drama I would say this is much lighter. Both are ensemble casts and told through a series of flashbacks, but Once is not trying to be as deep or character driven as LOST and that’s a good thing. This is more soapy – and not in a bad way – with some action/adventure thrown in.  I don’t think it would work as well if it tried to be something other than what it is. If you are looking for some light fun on a Sunday night, give it a shot.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on May 18, 2012.